Before we’ve all agreed upon the fact that each and every title with a price point anywhere below the standard £39.99, is an indie product – we used to have a wide array of different types of games. Titles between £19.99 and £34.99 used to be treated as AA, whereas anything between £7.99 and £19.98 was treated as an indie game. However, for a brief period of time, we’ve also had something called ‘MINIS’ especially on the SONY platforms. These titles usually didn’t have a widely agreed upon price range, but could cost you from £0.20 at the low end, up to £4.99 on the upper end of the scale. And these games usually refrained to simplistic gameplay mechanics, and 2D graphics, with few exceptions. And now, after all these years it looks like the so-called ‘MINIS’ are making a comeback, with the recently released Graceful Explosion Machine.
Graceful Explosion Machine has been released on the PlayStation 4, on the 8th of August alongside titles such as Lawbreakers, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But where those two are regarded as the ‘big hitters’, then Graceful Explosion Machine can only be seen as a ‘MINIS’. As in comparison, it is a microscopic title. And the only difference between it, and the minis of old, is the price tag, as Graceful Explosion Machine will cost you £9.99.
The price of Graceful Explosion Machine could be debated for hours, but to summarise it in few simple words, it has to be said that it matches the current economic climate of the digital store fronts, as the prices have gone up for all types of games in recent years. And in addition, it offers a little more than your average ‘MINIS’.
When it comes to the audio-visual façade of Graceful Explosion Machine, there is not a lot that can be said. It refers to a minimalistic design when it comes to its art style, as in its entirety, this particular title is taking place on a flat, 2D platform. Some could see the design of it as cheap, however, it fits the purpose of the game, and follows the trends of the bullet hell genre, within which Graceful Explosion Machine is situated. The use of simple geometry and vibrant colours is also pleasant to look at, however, it is unfortunately not entirely uniform.
Within the world of Graceful Explosion Machine, all enemies and arenas which are represented as planets in game, are full of sharp edges, and pointy ends, whereas the spaceship which you’ll be using to fend off hordes of aliens, doesn’t have a single sharp edge – it looks just like a balloon. And Yes – one could argue that the ship does stands out from the environments and alien ships, because it quite literally is from a different planet. Additionally, some could argue that the round shape has been used to signify to the player that anything with a sharp edge can hurt it. And that’s OK, but if that was the desired effect, it could have been achieved in a much more effective, and uniform way.
When it comes to the audio-visual side of Graceful Explosion Machine, there is still a lot of room for improvement. But fortunately, the most important part of the title, which in this case is the core gameplay mechanic, is superior to all the other aspects of the game, and especially the audio-visual portions of it.
At its core, Graceful Explosion Machine is a simple bullet hell shoot ‘em up, but while it resembles such on the mechanical level, it outperforms majority of the genre’s titles when the push comes to shove. And this is because unlike other titles from the same field, it doesn’t reward the player for careful manoeuvres, but rather daredevil like stunts, as all gameplay mechanics are centred around making the player push forwards at all times, instead of taking a step back and hiding behind obstacles.
Within the first two tutorial stages, the game will allow you to familiarise yourself with its core gameplay mechanics, basic weapon, rockets, laser beam, and last but not least, the sword. And very quickly you’ll learn that all weapons besides the basic AA gun, use up your power meter, and the only way to replenish it to its completion, is to collect cells which are dropped by deceased enemies. But to do so, you’ll usually have to push forward, meaning that instead of avoiding enemy fire, you’ll have to dive right into it. But for doing so you’ll be rewarded with a full ability meter, and few notches to the combo multiplier.
At the beginning, Graceful Explosion Machine goes easy on you, as it allows you to master the hostile playstyle which is necessary in order to succeed. And once you’re ready to take on the world, or rather worlds, it is only then when you can experience the true nature of Graceful Explosion Machine. It is tough, frantic, and unforgiving, but at the same time it is satisfying, and rewarding. And this is because every action will grant you with a reward of some kind. Whether you gain an additional life, couple of energy cells for your meter, or simply a second to take a breath, you are always given something. But rewards as meaningless as a break from the action, or a single use of the sword, may not be enough to persuade some players to stick with the title, especially when one takes into the consideration the latter stages of this title, which are rather painful and at times infuriatingly unfair.
In summary, Graceful Explosion Machine is a title which is right on the edge between a ‘MINIS’ and an indie game. Its audio-visual façade while pleasing, will not satisfy all, especially ones who value uniformity over artistic vision. And it could be said that the division created within the title’s art style, carries over to the rest of the game. The gameplay is frantic and satisfying, but it can also prove to be too difficult for some players. Yes – the combat, and the premise of the title are rewarding to an extent, but unfortunately, they’re not rewarding enough for all. And even the price proves to be divisive as some could say that it is fitting for the modern day indie title, but perhaps, it is just a little too high considering the title’s flaws and content.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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