Graceful Explosion Machine is a shoot ‘em up developed by Vertex Pop. It is a colorful fast paced space shooter that tests the gamer’s skills, reflexes, and sometimes patience. The game in general is rather simplistic. It doesn’t have deep gameplay or a plethora of variety in game modes—but it’s core-gameplay is pure fun. As the first “shmup” on the Switch and a fairly low price-point, it is definitely worth your consideration and it’s a great addition to the Switch library.
Graceful Explosion Machine’s gameplay is both simple and fresh. The shooting mechanics are smart and genuinely fun. Each of the four face buttons (a,b,x,y) control a different weapon. Your standard blaster shoots out small bullets that are great for taking out weak enemies or spraying into a large hoard. Your sniper beam is perhaps the most satisfying to shoot and creates a massive “Kamehameha” like blast that is essential for taking out the toughest bad guys. The energy sword is the most versatile weapons. When used it creates a quick barrier that circles around your ship that kills all enemies around it slices and also deflects incoming bullets. The missiles are the deadliest weapon, as it seeks out and hits enemies all over the screen. The standard blaster runs on a cooldown, if shot to much it will overheat. Meanwhile the remaining three weapons run on an energy that is collected by picking up yellow orbs that each enemy drops. There is also a boost that allows you to quickly get out of trouble by flying through the enemies without taking damage, however a bullet will still kill. At first all of this is rather overwhelming, but the first world is easy enough that I was able to pick up the skill and improve rather quickly. By the second world the game gets very intense and the battles are just plain fun. The dance of cycling through different weapons, boosting out of trouble, picking up orbs, and blasting through enemies is really rewarding. On a pure gameplay perspective, Graceful Explosion Machine is smooth, responsive and pure. Rarely did I feel like my death was my own cause, instead it feels like every moment I am in total control and my deaths come from a split second poor decision or bad move.
In true SHMUP form the game also runs on a highscore and online leaderboard system that adds to the entertainment. The added pressure of trying to keep a combo going only amplifies the fast-paced frantic action. There are four worlds and at the end of each world there is a warp level. These levels have no check points. Normal levels work on a three phase system, each phase saves your progress. But the warp levels are much more difficult and stressful. I would have liked a boss at the end of each world, some massive creative alien monster that is challenging and different. It’s a bit disappointing that the climax of each world is just a level that is slightly more difficult than a normal level and that’s it. Once a world is beaten you can try a score attack level in that world that gives a bit of a different feel and also a warp + level that is just an even more difficult version of the warp levels. All in all the gameplay is so much fun, I just there was another gamemode or two that changed things up a bit.
The enemy diversity is another strong point. Very quickly I learned all the different enemies and how they attack in diverse ways and finding out the best way to take them down was a fun puzzle. Meanwhile when the screen is filled with hundreds of enemies the challenge of taking down each diverse enemy strategically and ruthlessly with the different weapons is satisfying.
The graphics are good, maybe not overly special. They don’t have the same “pop” that a game like Geometry Wars or the same polish and gorgeousness of Rezogun. However the simplistic art style is very appealing. Enemies stand out and don’t seem to get lost which can sometimes be a problem in these types of games. Explosions look wonderful. And no matter how insane the action got, I never had a framerate issue or hiccup in any way and that is really impressive. The music is rather dull and not memorable, it’s one area I would have liked to see an improvement in. But the sound effects are great. The “HD” rumble features were bragged about by the developer and seconded in some media outlets but I personally didn’t feel a difference between this and any other “rumble” in any other controller.
Overall Vortex Pop has a fun game on its hands. Graceful Explosion Machine has very satisfying fast paced gameplay that is a great mix of challenging and fun. It doesn’t have difficulty that seems unfair or over the top, meanwhile it gets more difficult by each level and paces itself in a way that by the third world the difficulty seems insane yet totally doable and incredibly gratifying. It’s simplistically pretty and satisfying to the eye. It’s not deep when it comes to modes or replayablility and the music is bland. But the second to second gameplay trumps all and it’s a game I recommend if you like frantic fast paced fun.
1) Fantastic Fluid Gameplay
2) Simple pretty art-style
3) No frame-rate issues
1) Little varity in game modes
2) Bland music