Defender has inspired a number of games over the years. Resogun from Housemarque and Astro Tripper from Pom Pom Games are more recent examples and both worked incredibly well to emulate that style of gameplay. Graceful Explosion Machine takes a lot of the base mechanics of Defender, adds a nice coat of paint, and creates an incredibly fun and difficult arcade experience.
Graceful Explosion Machine is a horizontal scrolling shooter, but rather than progressing you through a level, the stage loops around on itself, allowing you to circle around enemies as they spawn in. Enemies spawn in in waves, broken across three different checkpointed phases.
You get four different weapons. Your main gun is a laser that can shoot an infinite amount of bullets but will overheat over time. The three other weapons; a large sword that swipes in a circle around you, a laser cannon that fires a single powerful blast, and a missile barrage that targets multiple enemies, all are powered by crystals you collect from killing enemies.
Each wave begins fairly slow, with only a few enemies you’ll have to deal with. However, eventually you will get swamped by enemies, leading to you having to choose whether to stay and fight or to use a speed boost to avoid being surrounded. If you escape, your score multiplier may decrease, but if you get hit, it will as well. Each bit of combat has the potential to be decided by split second decisions and as the enemies pile up, your choices will determine your score.
The art looks incredible and also serves to give decent distinction to what types of enemies you are fighting and which weapon will work best in each situation. Smaller enemies can be grouped together and taken out with a swing of your sword, while larger enemies will require using your charged laser in order to do any decent damage.
A massive part of the game focuses on how exactly you move your ship through a level. Avoiding enemies and shots is only part of the equation, as some enemies will explode and propel surrounding enemies towards you. This can lead to you narrowly avoiding being hit, or losing a point of damage from an unexpected enemy being propelled towards you.
The score chase aspect of Graceful Explosion Machine is where a lot of players will be sucked into. While you have multiple hits and multiple lives, dying in the middle of the stage will knock your score back down to 0. Restarting runs becomes critical if you make any amount of mistakes.
The art looks fantastic on the PC, as well as the Switch version, which has been out for a few months at this point. While I absolutely loved playing with a full sized controller, there’s something about playing it portably that made me way more excited to keep going. Either way, if you enjoy these types of arcade-style shooters, Graceful Explosion Machine is an incredibly pleasant and difficult game that looks as well as it plays.
SCORE: 9.0 out of 10
A code for Graceful Explosion Machine was provided to Pixel Related for review.