When your brand new console launches with a single marquee game, you need to do something in the ensuing weeks and months to hold the interest of all those early adopters. Most Nintendo Switch owners (approximately 89%, according to GameStop) are busy exploring every corner of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but the consolemaker’s “Nindies” program has also given the eShop a boost in these early days thanks to exclusive and semi-exclusive software like Snipperclips, FAST RMX, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, and Blaster Master Zero.
Available today, Vertex Pop’s Graceful Explosion Machine is the latest title to join this steady stream of smaller Switch launches.
Publisher: Vertex Pop
Developer: Vertex Pop
Genre: Multi-Weapon Side-Scrolling Shooter
Release Date: April 6, 2017
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Vertex Pop burst onto the scene in 2015 with We Are Doomed, a twin-stick shooter with a chill soundtrack and a unique visual style that resembled construction paper cutouts. Graceful Explosion Machine swaps out the twin-stick shooting for side-scrolling movement, but the excellent soundtrack and colorful artwork will look familiar to anyone who played their previous game.
In Graceful Explosion Machine, players must help an astronaut find his way home by acquiring four Warp Crystals from deep within the bowels of four alien planets. Each Warp Crystal is hidden in a cave system that loops back around on itself similar to Defender, but pilots of the Graceful Explosion Machine (yes, that’s also the name of the ship) will be more concerned with blasting away at the monsters who are constantly closing in from all sides.
Thankfully, the GEM is equipped with four different weapons, and each is specifically suited to dealing with the various cave creatures. Your basic Blaster shoots a rapid-fire burst of laser bolts and works well against normal baddies; however, it overheats with excessive use. The Sniper Beam takes it a step further and offers a concentrated beam that powers through larger monsters. My favorite might be the Missiles, which fly off in every direction before homing in on their targets. Finally, the Energy Sword is a close range attack that swipes at nearby enemies while also blocking incoming bullets.
With four offensive options, the secret to Graceful Explosion Machine’s combat is to find the correct flow for each level. Each enemy type has a weakness against at least one of the weapons, so constantly switching tactics is the best way to build an impressive high score… and stay alive. Shooting down a few smaller creatures with the Blaster, dashing ahead to collect their Crystals, and then flipping direction to challenge the creatures sneaking up on you from the rear makes Graceful Explosion Machine work really well. This kind of dance makes up the bulk of the game’s 40 levels (and four Challenge Modes), providing an exciting, if somewhat repetitive, experience.
It’s also possible the chaotic nature of the battles might be too much for some players. The Blaster has its own temperature meter, but the other three weapons are recharged by collecting Crystals dropped by the cave creatures. This setup means that the game is very concerned with meter management, and the swirling vortex of colors on the screen sometimes makes the meters easy to miss. Also, for some reason, the weapon meter operates just like your phone. If you drain the meter down to zero, just like your phone, you’ll need to build up a baseline charge before you can continue using the Sniper Beam, Missiles, or Energy Sword.
The well-defined shapes used to create the environments and enemies in Graceful Explosion Machine feel like a more sophisticated step up from We Are Doomed’s style. And the cutout creatures pop on the Switch’s screen, as the game is particularly well-suited to the console’s Handheld Mode. It’s close, but I’d say I actually prefer playing Graceful Explosion Machine on the go. Not bad for a game that was originally unveiled before anybody knew what the Switch was.
Sportswriters like to talk about “The Leap,” that moment when an athlete makes the transition from being pretty good to all-time greatness. For Vertex Pop, We Are Doomed was a pretty good start, and Graceful Explosion Machine is an amazing followup. They haven’t quite made “The Leap” yet, but it’s coming.
If you’re a fan of arcade shooters, I can’t recommend Graceful Explosion Machine enough. Whether you’re at home or on the road, it’ll provide hours of side-scrolling thrills and plenty of high score chasing. Its bright colors and bold style look fantastic on the Switch, and the game is a welcome addition to the console’s growing lineup of “Nindies.”
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Graceful Explosion Machine was provided by Vertex Pop for the purposes of this review.