WHAT UP INTERNET?!
I was fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the soon-to-be-released Graceful Explosion Machine (Nintendo Switch, http://www.vertexpop.com/gem/) at PAX East 2017, and I vehemently believe it’s a game best described (in my retro, old-gamer head) as a mix of Lifeforce and the Gummy ship from Kingdom Hearts. Both of those references too obscure, you say? To break it down: Graceful Explosion Machine is a colorful 2D side-scrolling shooter where the objective is to plow through enemies and reach the end of the level, keeping your kill-count high and strung together in order to maximize your score.
The aesthetics of the title are absolutely gorgeous and in my mind, perfect for the Nintendo Switch-the colors pop off the screen and are reminiscent of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. While the colors and visuals looked positively stellar on full-screen, I’d imagine it would look simply killer on mobile-the ship designs are blocky (hence my reference to the Gummy ship-see it’s all tied together!) and bright, and the appearance of each weapon shot are bold and unique. The colors are cartoony and airy, yet never struck me as being overbearing. Unfortunately, due to the crowded and loud show floor, I was unable to discern any of the in-game audio.
As discussed previously, the action is simple: players control a ship which can shoot forwards or backwards (a simple trigger click makes your ship do a 180) but do not have a 360 degree range of motion, so this is not a twin-stick shooter. Your ship only fires in a straight line, so your basic laser (which can overheat-a simple and nifty bar warns you when this is about to occur) can only hit most enemies when you move your ship up or down. I personally am a big fan of this control scheme, as having the full-range of motion of a twin-stick shooter while navigating your ship to avoid enemy fire can get real hectic real fast. The controls are simple, intuitive and undeniably old-school-gamers of all varieties would be able to pick this game up and feel right at home within seconds.
While player ships are armed with the aforementioned primary laser, there are a litany of pickups which provide you with additional firepower, all of which are powered by crystals the player earns after defeating enemies. My personal favorite was a 360-degree sword attack which made quick-work of all enemies within my immediate vicinity, making it an extremely efficient defensive maneuver when you find yourself being surrounded by enemy ships on all sides. There was also a sniping laser which packed a strong punch and was ideal for tearing through heavily armored adversaries. Being able to switch between various “power weapons” on the fly was a nifty design choice, as typically old-school shooters such as this limit the player to a primary weapon which is replaced when a power-up is acquired. Giving the player the option to switch between various weapons-all of which are limited in use meaning players cannot just spam the fire button-provides an added layer of strategy and encourages players to use weapons situationally. I’m interested to see which-if any-additional power-weapons are acquired and how they are managed, as I’d imagine leveraging a tried-and-true tactic such as a weapon wheel would throw a wrench in the action.
The gameplay moves quickly, although levels progress naturally and never does the action feel overwhelming. Granted I only got to play initial tutorial levels, I would assume in later levels the challenge grows significantly and the player would get more of the old-school difficulty and play tropes most typically associated with this type of game. The title has a distinctly old-school vibe as any 2D side-scrolling shooter would, however the visuals and gameplay mechanics are modern and conversely make the title feel familiar, yet anything but trite.
If you own a Nintendo Switch, Graceful Explosion Machine is a title you should be watching for. The gameplay is retro with a modern twist, the visuals are unique and eye-catching and I’d bet good money they will look slick when the Switch is mobile. Like many Bros, I’m waiting to get my hands on a Nintendo Switch (NOT BY CHOICE) but when I do, you can bet Graceful Explosion Machine is a title I’ll grab along with Breath of the Wild. Until next time, Bros!