A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Graceful Explosion Machine is a simple downloadable space shoot-'em-up with cartoonish graphics and no blood or gore. Combat involves tiny, colorful ships doing battle with lasers and rockets. Explosions and smoke are shown by expanding diamond shapes. There isn't much of a story and there are no real characters, making the fast-paced fighting the only reason to play. But the game's design encourages players to develop and deploy strategies, and it rewards those with enough patience to practice and gradually develop their skills.
What's it about?
GRACEFUL EXPLOSION MACHINE is a side-scrolling shoot-'em-up that puts players in command of a nimble starship exploring a handful of alien worlds, each composed of about 10 sets of three levels. Your objective is simply to survive wave after wave of quickly spawning enemies, depicted as a mix of bulbous and geometric shapes that perpetually swarm toward your ship. At your disposal are a quartet of weapons, including a fast-firing blaster that depletes quickly but recharges on its own, plus three more powerful weapons: a sniper beam that releases a wide, sustained burst of energy, missiles, and an energy sword that rotates around your ship, sort of like a shield. These last three weapons require energy left behind and harvested from defeated foes. As the game progresses, players encounter more challenging enemies and environments, gradually unlocking special challenge modes -- such as score attack mode -- for each planet they complete. Beyond simply beating each set of levels, players can compete against each other by scoreboards by replaying levels, aiming for better grades and more points by finishing quicker and carrying out stylish combat moves.
Is it any good?
Find most space shoot 'em ups too challenging? Then Graceful Explosion Machine might be the game for you. The controls for moving around its two-dimensional environments couldn't be simpler, and each weapon -- aimed by pointing your ship in the direction you want to fire -- is assigned its own button. More than that, players are provided multiple lives for each set of short levels, as well as a trio of health bar pips for each of those lives. You can even replenish those pips by collecting green diamonds when they appear. It's a fair and forgiving system that ought to allow even side-scrolling space-shooter rookies to find their footing.
That said, it's not a walk in the park. Success requires players to constantly keep tabs on how much energy is left for both their blasters and special weapons and to take risks to harvest energy by diving into clouds of enemies to retrieve it. Sometimes the only way to avoid taking a hit is to nimbly thread your ship through a swarm. You will fail, and those failures will grow in frequency later in the game. But you'll likely never walk away thinking your failure was unfair. Practice is the key. A sense of repetition eventually begins to settle in -- aside from a few new enemies, what you see in the first half hour is largely what you get for the whole game -- but the core mechanics should prove gratifying enough to carry most fans of space-themed shoot-'em-ups through to the end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in the media. Players might believe that there are intelligent creatures aboard the ships they destroy, but do you wish the game provided more understanding of the combatants and their motives? Is it best not to think too hard about a game as simple as this?
Talk about strategizing. What sorts of activities in your life have given you reason to develop and employ complex strategies? Which do you prefer: creating strategies to solve a problem or to best another competitor?
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