Graceful Explosion Machine is, to its credit, the only Switch game so far to yank me free from Breath of the Wild’s iron grip. I’ve played a few quick sessions on Fast RMX and Snipperclips here and there, but thanks to the addictive high-scoring nature of Graceful Explosion Machine, I’ve been blowing up aliens for hours on end.
A relatively simplistic game in nature, Graceful Explosion Machine is a side-scrolling 2D shooter spanning 36 enclosed levels over 4 planets, each of which is split into 3 phases. These phases contain waves of enemies in increasing numbers for you to take out. There’s no time limit to speak of here – the primary goal is to consistently destroy enemies in order to keep your score multiplier going. Get hit by enemy projectiles or take too long between kills, and your multiplier will reset.
After a while, a bar will appear indicating the approximate number of enemies left in the current wave. Simply keep up the pace and you’ll be rewarded with a short break between phases – but don’t worry, your score multiplier will not reset during this period. After the third phase, the level will finish and you’ll be awarded a grade based on your performance. This is where most of the replayability comes in – the game isn’t particularly difficult or lengthy if you’re just worried about getting through the levels, but chasing after that coveted ‘S’ rank can be a challenging endeavour – albeit a hugely satisfying one.
Your ship has four weapons at its disposal – the main gun is an automatic blaster which simply shoots ahead in a straight line. This can overheat with continued fire, so it’s important to keep this in mind if you’re looking to build up your score. Shorter bursts are key here, and it’s vital to keep moving as the blaster doesn’t have particularly great range.
The three other weapons are primarily there to get you out of difficult spots. There’s a close quarters energy sword, which spins 360 degrees around your ship, taking out enemies in the immediate vicinity and allowing you to make a hasty retreat if you find yourself surrounded.
The sniper beam is a powerful weapon that is best saved for armoured enemies – it works wonders against large, single foes, but can prove ineffective if you’re up against several at once thanks to its slow, deliberate nature.
The last weapon is my favourite – a barrage of homing missiles. Holding down ‘X’ will immediately target multiple enemies onscreen and launch missiles in all directions. It’s great if you need a bit of room to breath, and invaluable for hitting those out-of-reach enemies to keep that score multiplier going.
Unlike the standard blaster, the three special weapons don’t overheat. Instead, an energy bar will deplete with continued use and can only be replenished by picking up coloured orbs dropped by downed enemies. These are very plentiful, so don’t worry if you find yourself low on energy – it’ll soon build up again.
Visually, the game is really nice. It’s colourful and simple enough to keep the focus on the action itself, with each enemy type sporting a distinctive colour for easy identification. The game runs at a smooth 60FPS with little to no slowdown that I could make out. This is all bolstered by a great futuristic soundtrack and effective sound design for the weapons/explosions.
My main disappointment lies in the game’s use of HD Rumble – which in itself, between this and Fast RMX (the only HD Rumble games I’ve played), is a tad overrated so far. I’m not sure if I’m missing something, but it doesn’t feel particularly more involving than any rumble feature you’d find on competitor consoles. I feel like advertising the inclusion of HD Rumble as a feature is building up my expectations to unrealistic levels. Nevertheless, I wasn’t impressed.
For the asking price of £9.99, you could do a lot worse than Graceful Explosion Machine. Whilst it’s not on the same level as, say, Resogun in terms of graphical fidelity, it’s certainly just as involving and addictive. It’s not a very long game, but taking the time to replay and smash high scores will extend its length drastically. Online leaderboards also allow for a certain degree of competitiveness, but this is something I’ve yet to properly delve into.
More than anything, it feels like Graceful Explosion Machine is the first Switch game that just feels right in handheld mode. It’s definitely geared towards short play sessions when you have a spare ten or twenty minutes, but you’ll soon find yourself gripped with high-scoring addiction for lengthy periods of time. If you’re after something other than Zelda to play on the Switch for a while, look no further – this will keep you busy for hours.