With some games you start out with a set of rules and expectations that you then ride through to the end to success. This is often true with arcade-style games, which I’d thought Graceful Explosion Machine (GEM from here on out) simply was. I’d seen screen shots and some video of gameplay and, probably like everyone else, I was drawn to the distinctive art style and the concept of having 4 different weapons at my disposal. It wasn’t until I stopped playing it casually, and begin playing it for scores, that it dawned on me that the game was far more intense and challenging than I (and I’d say even some reviews I’d seen) had given it credit for. Beneath the beautiful exterior, within GEM, there very much beats the heart of something far more beastly.
Before getting into what sets it apart, though, we’ll cover what’s at the core. Graphically the game is absolutely unique among the games of its’ type, looking far more artsy and pretty than any other shooter I can think of. To go with the distinctive look of GEM the soundtrack is also quite a bit of a surprise. Where most games would pair the action on-screen with some intense sounds, techno pulsing, or upbeat tempos the music for GEM is positively placid overall. While there are certainly many explosions of enemies in the game even the sounds for these are “graceful” in nature, registering a distinctive sound but still in that very subtle way so as not to significantly take you off your cloud.
The controls, overall, do take a little getting used to but they absolutely make sense and they do work. While I’ve seen some people thrown off by the very old-school decision to make the turning of the ship tied the left shoulder button, instead of which direction you’re moving in, I found many cases where it was perfect. Just because I change the direction of my movement doesn’t mean that I want to stop shooting in a different direction. The runaway shot is invaluable and prevents situations where, to shoot in different directions, you would need to move towards danger when you’d be capable of making the same shot while moving away from it. About the only issue I’d have, on occasion, would be that I’d lose track of which weapon was tied to which button but that’s more on me than anything (there’s a legend on the lower-right of the screen), it’s just a note.
Now, with the formalities out of the way, let’s get down to the business of what sets this game apart from the competition. Up to this point in the review the game is a pretty good one, providing engaging gameplay in a gorgeous package, and all for a very reasonable price. If you are a somewhat casual shooting game fan, and the aesthetics catch your eye, GEM is a pretty easy impulse buy you’ll probably enjoy playing off and on between other things (it is great for playing on the go, with rounds that generally clock in under 4 minutes). If that’s you, I’d probably give the game a solid 8 overall.
If, however, you’re like me and want to drive up your score I’m here to tell you that this game is something very special. As a general note, while I’ve never really been into pattern-based shooter hell games from the classic arcade and beyond, I am a huge fan of many classic arcade shooters and their modern counterparts. Typically twin-stick shooters like Geometry Wars are what I really dig into, but GEM has made a very strong case to be in that same top tier for me despite it very much not having the twin-stick style. What makes it stand out from the rest is the very delicate, and generally perfect, balancing of risk/reward and that it outright forces to you be very aggressive to get the highest scores.
Each weapon has a very specific use and a very specific cost. Anything other than your main gun costs you on your power meter, and once you drop low enough you won’t be able to use any of your more powerful weapons until either you slowly get power back or collect crystals from enemies you’ve destroyed. Your main gun actually works very effectively as well, and doesn’t deplete your power, but if you use it too much too quickly it will overheat and begin firing at an enormously slow rate. It is thriving while honoring this balancing act, darting in and out of enemy formations to replenish your power and then rushing to the next group of enemies to also maintain your bonus multiplier, that makes this game both unique and special to me.
To me that’s what fascinates and has surprised me about GEM, it has somehow has created a serene experience for more casual players while providing the means for maximum intensity for the people who’ll chase scores. Aside from people who dislike shooters entirely I don’t see where the game has any downside. Graceful Explosion Machine has both style and challenge to spare, and at its low cost of entry it is very easy to recommend to casual and intense gamers alike.
Score: 8 (Casual Gamers) / 9 (Hard-core Gamers)
- Brings something to the table for both casual and more hardcore gamers
- In terms of game mechanics GEM is a Master’s class in creating balance and forcing players pursuing high scores to continue to be aggressive
- As the game progresses the variety in enemy types, and their challenges, continues to evolve
- Some will likely be turned off by the look of the game, always a risk for looking different
- Depending on how you like to consume an arcade-style game like this it could take a relatively short amount of time for some people to “beat it”, though that shouldn’t be the point