The (as of now) Switch exclusive shoot-em-up Graceful Explosion Machine attempts to bring back the good times we’ve had with shooters like Defender, Fantasy Zone and the more recent Resogun with a few new twists. Given the currently scarce library on the eShop, it’s the only shooter you can get that’s not a Neo Geo port. Is it worth the 13 dollars the publisher is asking for it?
Right from the get go, you’ll probably feel unimpressed by G.E.M.‘s presentation. While very colorful and having the most adorable little ship ever since the one from Fantasy Zone, the game looks extremely simplistic, with loads of archaic shapes and simplistic enemy models. The explosions and projectiles are also very uninspiring in nature, usually being simplistic shapes with just one color. The world also lacks severely in design variation, being usually just a simple palette swap from the previous one.
The sound department is also not that impressive, being comprised of very few and very repetitive tunes, a recurring theme among the vast ocean that is the 5 to 15 dollar eShop game library. Simply put, G.E.M. isn’t a very interesting game artistically-speaking. But we’re not here for the art department, as the game has some very big qualities in other aspects.
The biggest draw in G.E.M. is its gameplay. To be blunt: it’s awesome. Like Defender and Fantasy Zone before it, it’s a free roaming side-scrolling shooter set in looping levels. The objective is simple: get rid of all enemies in a level by using all of your four different weapons: a standard shot, a fully charged sniper beam, a sword attack, and homing missiles. Each weapon has advantages and weaknesses depending on which enemy you’re dealing with, which forces you to strategize a bit during the levels, all while you’re constantly running away from the barrage of baddies chasing after you.
The controls are excellent. All of your weapons are unlocked from the start, and each one is assigned to one of the Switch’s main four buttons. Controlling the ship is easy and feels great, with very responsive controls. Shooting baddies is also great due to the use of the joycon’s HD rumble. You can feel each and every shot you deal to your opponent, and the rumbles are never so strong that they’ll annoy you. The only issue I had with the controls is the fact that you need to press the L (or ZL) button in order to make your ship change aiming directions, which is quite annoying until you finally get used to it.
G.E.M. features 36 levels scattered throughout 4 worlds. Each level is quite short, being only a few minutes long, so you can easily beat the game’s single player campaign in a few hours. While indeed disappointing, this isn’t the best mode the game has to offer. The game features a great endurance mode in which you’ll keep fighting enemies until your ship blows up. Given how easy the main campaign is, this mode is by far the most challenging and most entertaining bit the game has to offer, and it’ll make you spend hours in it.
If you can ignore the very simplistic graphics and soundtrack, then Graceful Explosion Machine is a quite interesting game to own for your Switch. Even though its main campaign isn’t as engaging as it should be, its time attack and endurance modes provide a ton of replayability.
Graceful Explosion Machine isn’t a very expensive game, and it’s a fun little game to have on-the-go on your Switch, or at least until a proper R-Type or Gradius show up. Knowing their IP owners, my guess is “never.”