When you hear bullet hell, what comes to mind? I immediately draw back to my arcade days playing Ikaruga, a classic in its own genre. Most of these games have a more serious tone to them and the colors are darker. Fast forward to 2017 and here comes this marvelous, bullet hell game by the name of Graceful Explosion Machine to completely change all of this. Disclaimer, I didn’t get the chance to play this one on the Nintendo Switch, where it really makes great use of the HD rumble, but I did get to enjoy it on the Playstation 4. There isn’t a whole lot to Graceful Explosion Machine, but for everything that is there, the people at vertexPop really knocked it out of the park.
Right off the bat you will notice the bright colors that nearly pop out of the screen. The colors in Graceful Explosion Machine can turn anyone’s bad day into a better one. They are all vibrant and instantly pop. Each level has a colored back drop based on the planet that you are currently on. On top of these back drops is your tiny yellow/orange ship. We’ll get to combat in a second, but, whenever you destroy enemies you get these beautiful explosions depending on what weapon you used. This creates an aesthetic to the game that is just mind bogglingly gorgeous. There were some points, very rarely I might add, that the exuberant explosions took my attention away from the game in front of me. The sound matched beautifully with the visuals to the game, they took a very smart art direction with Graceful Explosion Machine and it shows.
As with most bullet hell games, there are tons of power ups to pick up and bullets to fill the screen. This usually leaves these sort of games left with confusing screens and hard to follow gameplay. This is not the case for Graceful Explosion Machine, for the most part. The first couple of levels are meant as a tutorial to introduce you to the madness in this game. Your ship is equip with four different weapons. The first, is a basic laser gun that utilizes an overheating bar to measure an ammo count. This is your basic attack, while the other three attacks use energy that you gather from destroying enemies. The second move they teach you is a 360 degree blade that takes care of enemies at a short distance and also destroys projectiles shot at you. Next they introduce you to a long range, sniper-like laser used for focusing on enemies. This one was particularly helpful when put against enemies with a shield. The last and most useful in the game are homing rockets. You are able to hold down the fire button for this weapon to continuously fire them, but at a great cost to your energy. Your ship is equip with a booster that can boost you through enemies for a short period of time, which comes in handy when you are being surrounded by enemies.
There is a combo system in the game that rewards you for not being hit. As you destroy more and more enemies, your combo counter will fill up. Be careful though, once you are hit, your combo will drop down. For high score junkies, this is how you get your score in Graceful Explosion Machine. It is truly addicting, to want to keep coming back to the game to try and get an ‘A’ ranking on every level. Your score will also very depending on how you vary up using your weapons. At the end of a game is shows a circle graph of the weapons that you used that round. Your score, along with the combo multiplier, are affected by your multi-faceted use of the ship’s weapons.
Your ship can take a total of three hits. When you are up against a horde of enemies that are actually smart, this becomes an issue. You can pick up health drops when you kill enemies but the drop rates seems to be pretty low. I’ve counted a couple times where I had one health left and didn’t pick up a health drop for at least two minutes. There are tons of enemy types, from ones that are stationary that shoot projectiles at you to the blue aliens that lock in on your signal and come rushing in on you. Graceful Explosion Machine keeps you on your toes from start to finish. Though there were times where I wanted to throw my controller, I always wanted to go back for just one more go at the action. I’ve come across a few particularly hard levels that, with persistence, I was able to clear just fine! There isn’t much story wise to the game, but, it doesn’t really need it. Graceful Explosion Machine is great fun for all gamers, casual and hardcore. I highly suggest this one if you like fast-paced, beautiful, bullet hell action!
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Review statement: The copy of this game was supplied by the developer for the sake of this review, on the Playstation 4.