This 2D shoot-em-up is a smart, addictive shooter and one of the best showcases of HD Rumble on Nintendo Switch so far.
All high-scoring runs inevitably come to an end in Graceful Explosion Machine, but the process of stringing together a killer run is a satisfying adrenaline rush. The action looks straightforward, but the smart and distinctive weapon system of this 2D shoot-em-up fuels some clever combat ideas and adds a thrilling edge to battles with colorful alien spaceships.
The mechanics behind Graceful Explosion Machine are deceptively simple, but you can see how it draws inspiration from other standout games like Resogun and Geometry Wars. It creates variety by setting its crowded ship battles inside of looping hallways or tight confined spaces instead of setting them all on a regular sidescrolling map. The vibrant 2D graphics are based on simple geometry that looks clean whether you’re playing on a TV or in handheld mode, and I enjoyed the small ripple effects that trigger after explosions.
Enemies are composed of basic shapes, but they each have unique attack behaviors that give them loads of personality. Some foes will rush in the minute they lock on your position, while others switch to evasive maneuvers to distract you while others – such as one of my favorites, which looks like an adorable mini Death Star – slowly move into position before firing a powerful laser at you. The variety of enemies could be a little better since the tougher ones don’t appear until the last two worlds, but overall you’ll still see plenty to shoot in the 36-level campaign. Based on your skills, each stage could take anywhere from five to 10 minutes to complete, but the old-school requirement to clear each of them with only two retries per level before you’re sent all the way back to the beginning is a challenging task that kept me coming back.
Like any good 2D shmup, every shot fired is an opportunity to build up your score multiplier
Like any good 2D shmup, every shot fired is an opportunity to chain together enemy kills and build up your score multiplier, but this is where Graceful Explosion Machine’s combat branches off into its own with some clever ideas. In addition to your basic gun you have access to four unique weapons, but each one comes with a limitation that makes you consider when to use it beyond simply what’s most effective against which enemy. The Blaster, for instance, is a close-to-mid range option that doesn’t use a lot of power, but it can overheat quickly. The Energy Sword delivers a satisfying 360-degree attack that cuts through alien ships and destroys incoming bullets, but it uses up more power. The long-range Sniper Beam significantly slows your movement speed, making it dangerous to use around any fast-moving enemies, while the burst-fire missiles will burn through your energy meter faster than anything else if fired frequently.
Spamming these powerful weapons can kill an immediate threat, but it will also leave you vulnerable until your power recharges on its own. The challenge comes not just from staying alive, but from continually rotating through all of your weapons, grabbing replenishing energy crystals from downed enemies, and building strategies based on the situation.
The way you can feel different explosions adds texture to the intense shootouts
For example, prioritizing my Sniper Beam to take out a tough shielded enemy can quickly free up a large chunk of screen space to give you room to breathe. But that’s no good against the giant blue centipede creatures that dash forward the minute it gets a lock on your tiny ship – you have to quickly switch to Missiles or the Energy Blade to counter that, and make sure you have power available to make use of it when you need it. Some combinations of foes can be pure evil in a crowded space, making quick switching between weapons essential. The fact that you’re wrestling away secure areas for your ship to run to while keeping an eye on your power meter makes it an intense game compared to other shoot-em-ups I’ve played.
Graceful Explosion Machine is also the first game outside of 1-2-Switch to make use of the Switch’s HD Rumble. It’s not an essential feature, but the way you can feel different explosions and the way ship’s boost thrusters ramp up and down adds texture to all the intense shootouts.