Shoot ‘em up games used to be staples at arcades. Piloting a ship through space, shooting down everything in your path, and achieving high scores; there is still an audience for these experiences, and the developers at Vertex Pop try to reach that with Graceful Explosion Machine, a fast-paced 2D horizontal shooter with colorful geometric designs.
With little introduction, the game wastes no time in plunging you into the fray. As in classic shoot ‘em ups, you pilot a spaceship through four different planets, each with nine levels. Every level plays out the same: shoot your way through three phases filled with wave after wave of enemies. Unlike the old-school classics like Gradius or Galaga, you aren’t chained to an auto-scrolling screen. You are free to move about and even shift your direction, which is crucial because these horizontal zones loop endlessly. There is no escape beyond blasting all baddies into oblivion.
Luckily, you have an array of weapons at your disposal. The standard blaster is your go-to, but it can overheat. The energy sword is a close-range
Graceful Explosion Machine is no slouch in difficulty. Your ship can only afford three hits before destruction, and you must make it intact through three phases per level. You get two continues and occasional health refills, but survival is otherwise a huge component to this game. Your ship can do a warp-speed teleport dash through enemies, and timing each dash to weave in and out of swarms is pure exhilaration. Note that you can’t dash past bullets, again promoting this title’s mental warfare element as you carefully search for safe places to prepare your counterattack.
As satisfying as the fast-paced action is, the game lacks variety. Every level looks similar and features similar enemies. While playing through an entire planet, everything started to blend together. Yes, new creatures eventually appear, and the layout and hazard vary slightly. But once you’ve played one level within a planet, you’ve essentially experienced them all, barring a few tweaks. And since there’s only four planets, the game quickly wears thin. At least the final level of a 360-degree lays on the difficulty, forcing you to survive one extended phase without dying. There are no boss encounters, unfortunately.
I had little desire to replay levels, even though the enemy placements change every time. However, if you love playing for points, the score attack is what will keep bringing you back. Graceful Explosion Machine was designed for aficionados of arcade shoot ‘em ups, and you can achieve ridiculous score multipliers by eliminating enemy waves continuously. Your built-up combo resets if you go too long without killing; and if you use up a continue, your score completely resets – a great way to add to the pressure of survival. Meanwhile, a nonstop barrage can easily raise your combo to high double digits, racking up your score. Challenge mode opens up more difficult level variations and score attack gauntlets. Neither mode is endless, which I found to be a strange omission, but they will appease the most hardcore. In all cases, you can easily share your score on online leaderboards, a must for this type of game.
The visuals are top-notch, blending bright neon hues with sharp geometric figures. Every hit creates a dazzling display of explosions, and combos are effectively a stunning light show of shapes and colors. There were always many enemies on-screen at once, several simultaneously shooting bullets, and yet there was never any slowdown – a testament to the game’s performance. The techno tunes are catchy and provide pleasing background as you blast creatures.
Graceful Explosion Machine is a twitch-based shooter that is one part mentally stimulating and another part emotionally exhilarating. It’s not for everyone, though. You have to play through levels over and over again, trying to achieve combos and the best grades, to get the most out of this title. If you don’t dabble in score attack games, then you won’t enjoy the repetitive looping levels filled with the same enemies. A lack of bosses and endless mode leave something to be desired as well. But if you appreciate the fine art of racking up high scores, then this shoot ‘em up is a true gem.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!