Review: Graceful Explosion Machine

Graceful Explosion Machine
295 MB
Available On
Switch (Timed Exclusive)
Release Date
Vortex Pop
Vortex Pop
Single Player, Online Leaderboards

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 its core-gameplay is pure fun. As the first “shmup” on the Switch and at 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. The standard blaster shoots out small bullets that are great for taking out weak enemies or spraying into a massive hoard. The 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 weapon. When used it creates a quick barrier that circles around the ship. This also slices every enemy it touches as well as 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 too much it will overheat. Meanwhile, the remaining three weapons run on energy that can be collected by picking up yellow orbs that each enemy drops. There is also a boost that allows for quick dodges in and 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 initial 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 very rewarding. On a pure gameplay perspective, Graceful Explosion Machine is smooth, responsive and refined. 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 a bad move.

In true SHMUP form, the game also runs on a high score 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 challenging and stressful. I would have liked a boss at the end of each world, some massive creative alien monster that is stimulating and different. It’s a bit disappointing that the climax of each world is just a level that is slightly more difficult than an average level and that’s it. Once the world is beaten, a score attack version opens up in that world that gives a bit of a different feel. There’s also a warp + level that is an even more challenging version of the warp levels. All in all the gameplay is so much fun; I just wish there was another game mode 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. Finding out the best way to take them down plays out like a 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, but not overly special. They don’t have the same “pop” that a game like Geometry Wars has 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 this genre of games. Explosions look fantastic. And no matter how insane the action got, I never had a framerate issue or hiccup in any way, and that is 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, 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. But it gets more challenging by each level, and it paces itself in a way that by the third world the difficulty seems insane yet totally doable and incredibly gratifying. Graceful Explosion Machine is simplistically pretty and satisfying to the eye. It’s not deep when it comes to modes or replayability and the music is dull. 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



Review: Mr. Shifty

Mr Shifty
Release Date
3.6 GB
Play Modes
Pro Controller?
Team Shifty
Available On
Nintendo Switch

If you have ever wondered if a reviewer has actually finished a game before writing a review then Mr Shifty is here. I hope that everyone reviewing Mr. Shifty finished it first. The reason being the whole thing is a paltry 3 hours and 6 minutes. And you can ask out loud, “Swaggers, you must be estimating that!” And I would respond, “No. The game tells you your time for each stage and a total run time and whole thing took 3 hours and 6 minutes.” 

I am now going to go over all the many things that are wrong with Mr. Shifty and then hopefully I can come up with a few good things. 

Chairman Stone has the Mega Plutonium and he’s a bad guy so he definitely should not be allowed to have Mega Plutonium so we’re going to go get that Mega Plutonium from him. And go! That is the story and they work on it a bit in the first few levels and then all of a sudden the plot becomes Chairman Stone yelling at you and telling you that you will surely die this level. Every. Single. Level. “You are going to die now.” Anyone know who the Dread Pirate Roberts is? He said that to Westley every day.

You are left wondering the age old chicken vs egg questions. Which came first: The name Mr. Shifty or the ability to Shift? I believe that all the Council members (You get the fact that you are “employed” by a Council in maybe one line in the middle of a level so if you missed that it’s understandable.) were all gathered in the conference room looking over the final two applicants for taking their experimental shiftonium drug. It had been some kind of secret qualification process so no one knew much about anyone else. Both were extremely qualified. Had all the major markers for someone to go on a dangerous mission. One’s family business of 100s of years was probably ruined by the Chairman Stone’s illegal business practices driving the candidate’s dad to drinking and suicide. The other’s sister was murdered by the Chairman Stone’s entitled son during a night of coked up debauchery and Chairman Stone’s sleazy connections to the police chief got him off with no charges. You know, both typical backstory situations. 

Council Member: “Looking over these two reports you are both extremely qualified for this project. It’s going to be a tough decision. What’s your name son?” 
One: “My name is Jack Teleportation.” 
Council Member: “Ohh. That really works with the project. Clear leader here. And you?” 
Two: “Sam Shifty.” 
Council Member: “Your hired!” 
One: “But Teleportation works too!”  
Council Member: “Teleportation is good but this is really just more of a… shift. It’s like 5 feet tops. Shifty is our man. Welcome to the team Sam Shifty!” 

So there is no story Swaggers. That’s not really a big deal because it’s a speed running type game with timers and all that. A couple things get in the way of this speed style game. First there are no leaderboards. Is my 2:56.948 for Stage 1 any good? I really don’t know as there is no way to check it. (Zero deaths by the way. Yeah, I know, I’m that good.) Team Shifty replied to my question about it on Twitter with a, “Leaderboards are something we wanted to put in but had to leave out of the first release. We’ll try.” So at least they acknowledge the shortcoming but it’s not looking hopeful. I also like the “first release” part. DLC? What else is planned for Mr. Shifty? But as the game stands the only replayability is if you ADD and want to try to beat your own score. Leaderboards would go big towards replayability in Mr. Shifty. 

And during your super speedy run through, whether it’s your first time playing or your 10th (and why would you ever play any of these levels 10 times?) you are stuck in sections having to read through the same story over and over. Sometimes you are sitting waiting at the exit for a conversation to finish so you are being artificially held up for no good reason. 

As far as straight up bugs are concerned I had 2 game ending bugs. On one level the end door would not activate after eliminating all the enemies and on another the game simply froze when trying to leave the level. Now 2 bugs might not seem like a lot but when your whole game is only 3 hours long it’s too many. The biggest problem with stage ending bugs in Mr Shifty is there is no real continue. Continue simply means start the entire stage again no matter the reason you leave whether it was by choice or a bug.

I also experienced a LOT of framerate issues, especially in the final 5 or so levels where the number of enemies really ramps up. Framerate issues to the point of complete and total stoppage in the gameplay for seconds at a time. Team Shifty / Tiny Build say a patch is coming to fix this and I’ll re-visit this review if that every happens. 

The gameplay itself is interesting. There are really only 2 actions in the entire game. You are either shifting forward a set distance or hitting someone, preferably from behind. And with only these 2 actions I never really got bored playing. Frustrated at framerate and mad at the game ending bugs, but never bored. New mechanics are added as you go in the form of areas you can’t shift to and minor things like that and levels change slightly so it’s doesn’t get super repetitive but almost all of the stages the goal is simply to kill everyone even if that is not the stated goal. Now to be honest some levels you can fly through but it never really makes that clear so I usually just murdered / knocked out everyone to be safe.  

Mr. Shifty has seems to treat Stages 1 to 14 as the tutorial levels. I completed them all in under 10 minutes each with just a couple of deaths, and those mostly from gotcha type situations. Then from 15 to the finale at 18 my times are 20 minutes plus. It’s like the actual game is only 4 levels long. But those 4 levels show what the game could of been. They are long and involve a lot more planning and strategy to complete.

The graphics aren’t going to knock any socks off but they are detailed and from the first time to the last time it was a real joy to knock someone through a glass window and watch them drop into the oblivion below. That probably says something dark and sinister about me as a person.

In all honestly it doesn’t seems like it would take much to make this a better experience. They are already working on improving the framerates and adding leaderboards would at least add a competitive side. The final few levels are a real challenge but end too soon. Overall it’s just too short, too expensive for length and just too broken to be really enjoyable.

1) Final 4 levels are exciting
2) Graphics are simple but detailed

1) Lack of leaderboards
2) Lack of story
3) Serious framerate issues
4) Extremely short game