GRACEFUL EXPLOSION MACHINE
A GEM of a side-scrolling shooter
At its best, this makes you feel like a tightrope walker, deftly strutting the line of combat with a jar of sweets in one hand and a boombox pumping techno in the other. You zip a spaceship around colourful, side-scrolling levels, blasting away at baddies big and small. Some enemies try to ram you, some fire bullets at your ship. It all adds up to a frantic scramble through the hordes to reach the end of each level1 – and then you do it all over again to try for a high score, and bragging rights.
It looks fantastic, all explosions of purple and yellow, but GEM’s real strength is the balance of its combat. You’ve got four flashy weapons: a blaster, a swirling energy sword, missiles, and a powerful laser beam. The blaster overheats if you spam it while the other three consume energy, which you collect from dead enemies. So, use your weapons too much and you’ll run out of juice, but at the same time aggression nets you more kills, earning back energy and boosting your combo score. You’re always teetering on the edge of that balance, and getting it right so you can shoot your way out of a tight spot feels great.
The two black spots are the lack of level variety – all 36 look basically the same2 except for the colour palette – and the pacing of each stage. Kill a certain number of enemies and they’ll stop spawning, slowing the pace as you hunt down the strays. It’s anticlimactic. But overall, this is a satisfying shoot-'em-up. It won’t grip you for hours on end, but its combat will keep you dipping back in occasionally to blast your friends off the leaderboards. Samuel Horti
FOOTNOTES1 Dash is a lifesaver: squeeze RT to zoom forward through enemies without taking any damage. 2 Each level is an infinite loop, so it doesn’t matter whether you head left or right.