Graze Counter GM Review – Shmups with Attitudes

    Title: Graze Counter GM
    Developer: Bikkuri Software
    Release Date: January 18, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Henteko Doujin, Sanuk Inc.
    Genre: Shmup

Graze Counter GM is an interesting surprise, one of those titles that are so under the radar that even Noisy Pixel almost missed it. It’s not a game-changer by any stretch, but genre purists will enjoy discovering this. There is no shortage of shmups, especially now, thanks to digital distribution, which has allowed Japanese indie developers from the Doujinshi scene to easily share their work internationally on modern gaming platforms. Despite being spoiled for choice, Graze Counter GM noticeably rises to the top.

The title of the game alludes to the primary gameplay mechanic, which involves barely ‘grazing’ by enemy projectiles, which then helps to build up a counterattack. It’s simple enough to explain; after all, shmups have always been about dodging a barrage of colored projectiles, but to turn it into a gameplay mechanic that feeds into the scoring system. It completely changes the way someone would typically play a bullet hell shooter.

Usually, it’s best to keep as much strategic distance as possible, and patterns get so progressively difficult that players have no choice but to barely scrape by. Graze Counter GM, however, basically dares players to live on the edge, egging them on to poke the bear. Getting close enough to projectiles will trigger visual feedback as the projectiles will start flashing red, and playing on the Switch means there’s also a helpful rumble feedback from the JoyCons. It’s a compelling play mechanic, encouraging a far riskier and daring play style than otherwise.

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This release is an upgrade of an earlier indie edition, and the presentation here has plenty of charm and style. The pixelated graphics are stylized yet practical, and the art style has a 90s sci-fi anime vibe about it. The character designs are cool too, and the main characters and the bosses have surprising personalities thanks to the translated script, which keeps the humor intact.

Keeping up with the stylized sci-fi theme is an energetic chiptune soundtrack that leans heavily on synthetic melodies. If all of that wasn’t sci-fi enough, the game has one of the coolest-looking user interfaces, but never to the point where it distracts from gameplay.

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There’s no shortage of variety in Graze Counter GM; there are two ships to choose from with several offensive and defensive multipliers variations. There’s a range of difficulty settings too, and as you play through the main campaign, there are more characters and ships to unlock; some of these are based on other established properties in the Japanese Doujinshi scene. With so much content and playstyles, there’s plenty of replay value to be enjoyed here.

The main campaign is a short but thoughtfully designed journey, and there are branching paths taking you to alternate stages too. The stages go through more than just visual changes; there is a structure to the level design and the way enemies use the playing field. The bosses have a decent variety too, and some of the smaller ones tend to be more difficult.

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Beyond the main campaign, there is a mission mode containing challenges that end up helping players improve their skills. Tied to these game modes are achievements that can be satisfying to pursue. This is a punishing game, to be sure, and will essentially attract genre enthusiasts, but there’s plenty of gameplay variety and difficulty balancing for casual players.

The most significant drawback to the experience is that most of the bosses and some of the larger enemies can be real sponges the first time around, which hurts the difficulty balance and the pacing of the action. Still, with enough mastery of the grazing and countering mechanics, these battles become a breeze in later playthroughs.

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There are numerous games from the Japanese Doujinshi scene to discover, and Graze Counter GM is one of the best examples from this underground gaming scene. It’s inexpensive, making it an easy recommendation to genre fans, but even a casual player will find the experience fun and easy to jump back into for repeated plays. Graze Counter GM offers plenty of content and an interesting gameplay hook for anyone seeking a little more thrill in their bullet hell.

Score:
8.5/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!