REVIEW: Graceful Explosion Machine

Graceful Explosion Machine is an old-school, arcade style shmup for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC. Developed by indie studio Vertex Pop, it sees the player take control of a spaceship, fighting off waves of enemies across 4 worlds and 48 levels.

These levels aren’t just regular side-scrolling fare but a variety of looping hallways and compact spaces. They’re fairly simplistic, but you don’t exactly have a great deal of time to stop and admire the scenery as enemies come at you thick and fast.

Players are armed with a basic blaster, that can overheat if you get too trigger happy, and four other weapons: a beam sword, that spins around your ship taking out foes that get too close and deflecting enemy fire, a cluster of missiles that fire off in all directions, and a long range charge beam that deals extra damage. These latter three weapons eat up varying amounts of an energy bar which is replenished by collecting the little diamonds that defeated enemies drop.

Battles get incredibly tense, and at times of the similarly chaotic Ikaruga, but the satisfaction to be gleaned by successfully shooting, beam swording, and dashing your way out of a hole is immense.

Working your way through the levels themselves is fairly straightforward, and shouldn’t take more than a few hours. But it’s the highscore mechanism here that’s truly addictive. In order to keep your score multiplier increasing you have to keep destroying enemies, and avoid taking damage. The second you do, or if you take too long between kills, an incredibly disheartening bong chimes and your multiplier resets.

The variety of things to shoot keeps things interesting throughout, whether it’s an elongated enemy that becomes impervious and charges at you on sight, or one stuck to the cave wall with regenerative flailing arms, the dangers are ever present and varied, making running up a competitive score and earning that S+ rank on each level a real challenge.

It is however a challenge I relished, and learning the patterns with which enemies reveal themselves, there’s no procedural generation here, and how to best despatch them, kept me coming back time and again for just one more run.

The game’s basic yet beautiful art style is great to look at, and makes following the action fairly easy, even when things get truly bonkers. The soundtrack has an eerie Metroid like feel to it which complements the action nicely, and HD rumble on the Switch version is utilised brilliantly.

The tech has been somewhat underused on Switch so far, but the variations in rumble compared to explosions, and feeling it ramp up as I used the charge shot, really added something special to the experience.

For a mere £9.99/$12.99 there’s a lot of fun to be had with Graceful Explosion Machine, and it’s perfect for dipping in and out of for a quick run when you’re out and about. Players can upload their score from each level to global leaderboards too, as well as seeing how they stack up against their friends, giving you a further challenge.

The variety in the weapons and the enemies give Graceful Explosion Machine it’s own unique character in the genre, and it strikes the perfect balance between kicking your arse and giving you that ‘one more go’ feeling. Juggling between your four weapons in order to rack up ever higher scores is incredibly addictive, and it’s a game I can see myself coming back to over and over again.

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