Spaceship shoot’em ups have become my thing these past few years. I despised them as a kid because they weren’t “fun” enough, but some developers (Housemarque) have shown me that this gaming genre can be incredibly fun. Plus, just having these games at home and in your hands rather than at arcades definitely helps the enjoyment factor. So lo and behold another one of these titles arrives, and a port from the Nintendo Switch no less, Graceful Explosion Machine. Thankfully, my tastes in entertainment have matured (since being a child who wanted FUN! FUN! FUN! all the time) and learned to appreciate what each piece of art brings to the table. For better or worse, Vertex Pop’s baby is fun, but something my younger self would have hated.
As I mentioned, Graceful Explosion Machine is essentially a 2D, side-to-side, spaceship shoot’em up. The story won’t win any awards, or even make much of an appearance after you boot up the game, but that’s never been what this genre’s about. Instead these types of adventures are all about the gameplay and GEM has it to a fault. You control a spaceship in a tunnel designed map. Your primary mode of direction will be either left or right while, of course, evading and killing enemies. The ship itself handles fine although it does have multicolored shadows. I just chalked this up to the vessel being in multiple dimensions to entertain myself. Yes, readers should know I’m a little weird by now. In the movement department you’ll be able to dash when death starts to close in and flip your ship’s direction. Pretty typical stuff.
Where Graceful Explosion Machine differentiates itself comes from the weaponry you’ll wield. Your ship will have a total of four abilities that make you feel like quite the badass. Glossing over your basic blast attack, you’ll be able to surround the immediate ship with a minor area attack, a giant laser that can essentially wipe out anything if focused on a single target, and an awesome missile barrage that will get you out of any pickle. Wicked glees all around. Unfortunately, these guys require power that can be depleted to which killing enemies nets you more of. These weapons were a ton of fun to use and are easily the best aspect of the game.
Other than that, the title’s setup is pretty straightforward as well. You’ll only have three health bars and two lives going into any given level. Each hit takes out a health bar and losing both lives restarts the level. There are health pickups periodically, but aren’t something that can entirely be relied upon. Additionally, combos can be strung together by continually taking out opponents and a grade based system will judge your progress at the end of each run. Each run meaning when you kill the necessary amount of enemies and not reaching the end to an area.
Another unique aspect is the game’s minimalist, elegant color design. It’s pretty simple, but bright and beautiful. Something that kids can adore and adults can appreciate. Sadly, that’s where this minimalist design stops being a good thing. I mentioned being in a “tunnel shaped map repeatedly” and I more than meant that. Across the game’s four worlds and fluffed up 36 level count, the map design remains the same except with a different colored hue. The same problem crops up with the enemies as well. Sure they grow more challenging and somewhat new as time goes on, but they all feel so uninspired after a while. There was no real challenge to work around other than an increased difficulty level that only happens because Graceful Explosion Machine just throws more enemies at you. At the game’s core, there’s not much diversity and things can grow really stale.
With that said, the replayability factor is only here if you want to experience a spaceship shoot-’em-[up for a gaming session. There is a challenge mode, but by the time you complete the majority of the levels you’ll grow tired of the same old, same old. The soundtrack might get stuck in your ear, as it is catchy and well-made, but that’s the only positive takeaway from playing this game for an extended period of time. A lower level count and maybe co-op would have alleviated these problems.
Graceful Explosion Machine PS4 Review
This spaceship shoot'em up will draw you in with interesting sounds, nice art design, wonderful weapons, and acceptable gameplay from industry standards. Just after it does, you might be kicked out by the repetitive levels, enemies, and lack of appropriate difficulty though. This is definitely one fans of the genre will enjoy and might even make a few new fans. However, if you were like me as a child Graceful Explosion Machine won't change your mind about these types of games. There's just not enough diversity going for it to have that effect.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.