It’s all explodey.
Graceful Explosion Machine is an action game by Vertex Pop. And, despite appearances, is every bit as hectic as any other sidescrolling shmup.
The story is, well, something of a formality. It’s told through pictures, and has almost nothing to do with the gameplay in any way. The benefit is that it cuts down on any given translation work. Pretty much the only text in the game is in the menu.
There are also small descriptions of the weapons the first time you encounter them, but they’re also minimal. Overall, the devs managed to cast the widest net imaginable for their game this way.
The gameplay, however, is the meat of this one. It is an action game after all. You’re given access to several weapons over the course of the first few levels. And you’ll make good use of all of them, because you really have to. The game pulls no punches the further you go.
Your primary is a mid-range blaster; it’s unlimited, but it can overheat, so you can’t just hold down the button to win. You’ll need to ease up on it, or its fire rate plummets. Next up is the Energy Sword; it’s incredibly close range (about1.5 times the width of your ship in diameter).
It’s your go to when enemies get too close, especially in swarms, but it’s costly. There’s the Sniper Beam, a long range weapon which is great for nuking large, shielded opponents, but isn’t to great against swarms. Finally, you have the missiles. You can fire a cloud of them for crowd control, and even fire them continuously. But they are something of an energy hog, so you want to save them for emergency clearance.
With the exception of the blaster and the short dash (which can pass through enemies, but not bullets), all of your weapons work off the same energy bar. The bar does recharge after being depleted, but it does so slowly. The other option is to pick up the crystals dropped from enemies.
That, however, requires you to defeat them and also get close enough to pick up the crystals. What that means is you can’t say, spam missiles like this was an episode of Macross or something. You need to be smart about where and when you fight enemies.
Speaking of, there’s a good number of them. The game’s pretty good about stepping things up every couple of levels. That being said, the most dangerous enemies, in my opinion, are the green guys you wind up murdering by the thousands from the get go.
They only take one hit to kill, and can only damage through contact, but they frequently attack in clusters. It’s very easy to get tunnel vision going and not notice one in the explosion effects. And that’s a problem, since three hits and you lose a life. And you only get two of those a level. It starts you back from the beginning of the phase but using them is best avoided.
The levels are different from what you commonly see in the genre, in that they’re small and looping. You can only face two directions anyway, though you have full range of motion laterally. Still, the game really feels like it’s meant to be a twin stick shooter like Vertex Pop’s previous game WE ARE DOOMED.
An about face is a single button press away, but you just fell like you ought to be able to fire on the Y axis as well. But, since missiles can be directed on continuous fire, I suppose that would lessen their niche.
Graphics are bright and colorful. Almost too much so. The first world is very fuchsia, and in that sense, bright. Many of the enemies are as well. Things are a little simplistic in form, but that’s okay. It’s clear where all of the effort went.
The sound is alright. There’s certainly nothing wrong about it. Sound effects are good enough, and the synth soundtrack is pretty good. Nothing, however, really stands out in my mind. Though that may be because my focus was on the game itself.
Overall, Graceful Explosion Machine is easily top of the heap when it comes to indie shmups. It offers a good challenge without feeling unfair, as well as a host of ways to deal with enemies. I can definitely give it my recommendation without fear.
*We were provided a copy of this game for review*