Developer: Vertex Pop
Publisher: Vertex Pop
Platforms: Switch, PC, PS4
Rating: E for Everyone
A classic arcade shooter seeking to be so much more, Graceful Explosion Machine is a title that’s expanding its reach. Originally only on Switch, Graceful Explosion Machine is out on PC and PS4. It’s colorful, funky, and incredibly fun to run through. Much of the hype about it on the Switch stems from it being one of the many indie games to come out for it as the console endures a drought of “big name” games. The developer, Mobeen Fikree, hoped to make something truly special and wonderful to play, but did he succeed? With reviews popping up all over and countless Youtube videos about it, did Graceful Explosion Machine export to PC effectively? The answer is… mostly.
You spend the whole game killing aliens that blow into little pixel bits. There’s no blood, guts, or gore, just pure lasers and hexagonal carnage.
Maybe the pixels of the freshly killed aliens stroke each other lovingly, but there’s nothing remotely sexual in this game.
Graceful Explosion Machine is pure fun to play; it builds character to sit there trying to collect as many kills as you can. It really does, man—takes some perseverance to keep going after the umpteenth time all the evil buggers killed you. Again.
Graceful Explosion Machine tricks you with its apparent simplicity, but it is so much more beyond that. Full of color and action, the game provides the perfect equation for a solid experience. It starts you out watching the short but not so sweet story behind the action to come. There are aliens and planets and an angry rocket who’s out to avenge his planet. You’re then thrust into a tutorial where you learn some incredibly simple controls and start playing the first level. Here is where I have my first (and main) complaint. If you have small arrow keys, a wide keyboard, or small hands, be wary. The game will be a little clunky to play and require some adaptation. If you can find a position that works for you and doesn’t stretch your hands too badly, you’re all set. But that really depends on your preferences. It took time to find a position that was comfortable and made playing easier, but once I finally did, it felt great like a candy store—a fun, vibrant, dream-like, and increasingly challenging, yet satisfying as you collect more kills, candy. You’re given four guns to use and a power bar to maintain. Everything is so simple but yet so pure.
The whole system is satisfying, as there are combos you can get and interesting enemies to run into, and the whole system is genuinely satisfying. If you keep moving, it’s fairly easy to regain power for your bigger guns. The flashes of color unleashed as you swish and shoot your way through enemies is reward enough. The dying system works like baseball: three strikes, and you’re out, with those strikes being three hits from enemies around you. At first, it’s really easy to die because the switching directions mechanic is still clunky to you as the player. However, this does get better as time goes on, and if you lost progress, it usually doesn’t feel all THAT damaging. You just get to shoot more of the same sorts of enemies.
Graceful Explosion Machine may seem like a classic 2D shoot em’ up, and in many ways it is, but it’s the little additions that make it special. Different enemies have different personalities even though they’re all just geometric shapes. You have to be on your toes whenever you encounter a new enemy just to see what they’ll do. The personality in the enemies, in the unique combos, in the gameplay, and in the different worlds really make this game stand out. While some of the features of gameplay are not available on PC (such as the controller rumbling when you shoot, etc), the thoughtfulness put into Graceful Explosion Machine is still evident. You as the player can tell that Vertex Pop put in some time to make this a unique take on a classic type of game, making it all the more enjoyable.
Just like a good book, Graceful Explosion Machine makes you feel satisfied and interested in moving forward because it’s great. You just want to keep turning the pages and moving on with the levels. You also feel like no time has passed while hours zip by as you rack up combos. However, you don’t just zone out either. You have to stay on your toes and keep up with the game. Different weapons have different advantages and disadvantages for you as the player. This comes into play, especially with the unique enemies you face. The 360 degree energy sword is great when surrounded by a horde of enemies but it’s not energy efficient if you’re up against one big boss. While the shotgun is great against far off baddies but a horrible idea to use against faster enemies because of how slow it makes you fly. The altering strategies needed for the game makes it a lot more enjoyable for long sittings and make replays less of a chore when you die.
As a final note, I’ll admit that I’m definitely not a shooting game type person. I do best with games when there’s a clear story to follow or puzzles to solve. So, at first, this game was a bit of a challenge to convince myself to play over and over. I don’t love having to restart a whole area every time I die and this isn’t the sort of game I’d prefer to play on the PC. But, I eventually got into it. I kept pushing, got the hang of it, and ended up really enjoying it. So even if you’re not sure you’d be into an arcade shooter (cause I know they aren’t my cup of tea), don’t be afraid to give Graceful Explosion Machine a shot. It was still super, super fun once I got a feel for it. And it would be for you too, whether you’re more a shooter type or wouldn’t say that this sort of game is always your favorite.
Either way, Graceful Explosion Machine is a purely fun game with tons of personality to explore. It’s another addition to an already loved genre of games that just takes it the extra mile to make it something truly lovable in almost every way.
The Bottom Line
If your PC is ready for this gem, Graceful Exploding Machine is a satisfying game that'll make your day.