Graceful Explosion Machine Review – Rocket Ride Rumble

Credit: Vertex Pop
Credit: Vertex Pop /

One of only a small handful of Nintendo Switch exclusives, Graceful Explosion Machine tempts you for that reason alone. But its repetitive gameplay may tire you quickly.

Developer: Vertex Pop

Publisher: Vertex Pop

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Release Date: April 6, 2017

The Nintendo Switch has been busy padding its eShop in the month (only a month!) since its release, though its library largely consists of remakes and compilations at this point. Graceful Explosion Machine is a rare exception: an indie made exclusively for the Switch and brand new, thus of interest to anyone who paid up for the console and is finishing up Breath of the Wild right about now. As a low-cost title with some mellow-sounding trailers full of explosions, there’s more than just exclusivity to draw someone toward Graceful Explosion Machine, though I’m afraid its appeal may not last you until Mario Kart later this month.

Graceful Explosion Machine puts you behind the controls of a tiny orange spaceship lost in a system of gem-encrusted planets–four, to be exact, making up the game’s “worlds.” Each world contains eight levels with three phases apiece, plus a final “Warp” level on a timer. Your goal in each of the eight regular levels is to defeat all the enemies in each of the three phases, one after another, without being destroyed. In the Warp levels, your goal is to survive until the end of the timer.

graceful explosion machine
Credit: Vertex Pop /

You’ve equipped your little rocket ship well with four types of weapons. B shoots a basic blaster shot forward for a considerable distance–it has infinite charges but can overheat if fired too much. The remainder of your weapons operate with power from a gauge that fills with pick-ups from enemies you kill. A fires a powerful beam that does its best work when focused on a single target; Y spins a beam sword in a circle around your rocket; X fires a set of missiles that bounce off walls and seek out targets. You can use ZR to briefly become invincible and fly quickly in the direction you’re facing, and ZL to do a 180 and face the other way.

All this rocket power comes in handy because each level is stuffed to the brimmed with enemies. Most of them resemble what I imagine germs must look like, though a few don cute faces as if looking stupid and innocent will stop me from dodging their tentacles and blasting them into the next galaxy. 100% of your time in Graceful Explosion Machine will be spent dodging these germ-blobs and attempting to blow them up using your four weapons. Some of them, like the tiny turquoise blobs, will die in one shot. Some will hold still, but have armor, making them good targets for your super-powerful A-button shot. Fast enemies are best dispatched with missiles, and your beam sword is great for deflecting enemy blasts and getting out of a swarm safely.

graceful explosion machine
Credit: Vertex Pop /

Vertex Pop’s approach to level design leaves something to be desired here. Each level consists of a largely one-color, rocky, non-descript loop, into which you and an enormous quantity of enemies are dumped. More enemies will spawn in waves as you kill them off, almost always in quantities that will make you feel overwhelmed, especially since they will generally bounce and flail their way in your direction. You’ll quickly find yourself doing fast loops around the tiny caves, trying to get all the enemies on one side so you can fire indiscriminately into the pile and quell their numbers to avoid another frustrating death from which there was no reasonable escape.

The tiny orange rocket maneuvers with finesse through enormous crowds of foes, pulling off tight squeezes between enemy shots that make you feel like a badass space ninja.

Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to Graceful Explosion Machine. A scoring system with online leaderboards encourages you, arcade-style, to keep trying for better scores by dispatching enemies in combos, and there are Challenges to complete multiple levels in a row in the lowest time with the highest score.

But neither of these play options alters the fact that you’ll be spending three to five hours (more if you’re bad, like me) circling through same-ish caves and shooting down mobs of the same enemies again and again. The progression of the game occasionally throws new enemy types into the mix, but once you’ve mastered the four weapon types, none of them change the formula in any dramatic way. There’s nothing to unlock, nothing new to master, and many of the endgame levels end up resembling the beginning ones, just with more germ-blobs thrown in. Even the music is the same track with slight variations, over and over again.

graceful explosion machine
Credit: Vertex Pop /

Graceful Explosion Machine bored me after the first handful of levels, full stop. But I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that its repetitive, score-based style may appeal to some, especially at its low price point. And that’s further emphasized by the fact that in spite of the dull level design, the controls themselves feel tight and polished. The tiny orange rocket maneuvers with finesse through enormous crowds of foes, pulling off tight squeezes between enemy shots that make you feel like a badass space ninja.

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And then there’s the HD Rumble, which is simultaneously so subtle that you won’t notice it right away, while also fitting the scenarios perfectly. For as long as you can stand the repetition of the levels, blowing up enormous crowds of enemies is fun. You’ll feel gentle pulses to alert you that you’re low on ammo, and full shakes when you’re hit, as well as several different degrees in between depending on what you’re shooting, with what, and how badass the explosion is. It’s difficult to explain the intricacies of HD Rumble if you’ve not had a chance to try it, but suffice to say it was as close an approximation to the feel of controlling a space ship as we’re likely to get.

I did not enjoy Graceful Explosion Machine. But you might. It hearkens back to arcade shooters in its repetitive presentation and simplicity, but if you aren’t bothered by that loop, the gameplay itself may be enough to hook you. The controls feel smooth as silk, HD Rumble makes each explosion tangibly satisfying, and the music is chill, if samey. If racking up high scores creating massive alien explosions again and again is your cup of space tea, Graceful Explosion Machine may be the Switch exclusive you need for the time being.. Vertex Pop. . Graceful Explosion Machine. 6.5

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.