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Graze Counter GM

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Shoot-'Em-Up
Publisher: Henteko Doujin
Developer: Bikkuri Software
Release Date: Jan. 18, 2023


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PC Review - 'Graze Counter GM'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 20, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Graze Counter GM is a refreshing and highly replayable "bullet hell"-style shooter that WANTS you to play dangerously!

Released in the summer of 2017, the original Graze Counter on PC became a cult hit for genre fans. The shooting and bullet patterns were nice, as was the variety, with eight different ships with their own unique attack patterns. It was the graze mechanic that endeared players of all skill levels to the gameplay. Paired with the different difficulty levels, it ensured the game could still be finished by novices while also giving experts the high-scoring action they crave. Almost six years later, the game has returned as Graze Counter GM for both PC and consoles, and there's more to offer this time around.

The story fits with the characters' anime aesthetics. In the 23rd century, hundreds of millions of users are connected to the VR network known as EDEN. The network was supposed to help mankind flourish, but those same people are all trapped inside when the system suddenly disconnects from the greater outside network. To help save them, a task force called Saviours has infiltrated the system using virtual fighter craft to destroy whatever is causing the problems.

The core gameplay loop is that of a bullet hell shooter but with a few twists. Your character choices dictate bullet spread and movement speed, making you alter your gameplay depending on who you use. The game uses a grazing mechanic similar to other shooters like Psyvariar and Danmaku Unlimited, where getting close to a bullet without letting it touch you results in the filling of a graze meter. The game has no bombs, but unleashing the power of the graze meter results in a large beam that provides extra damage and kills any incoming enemy bullets. Using this weapon produces stars, and when collected, the stars power up a Break meter that lets you unleash even more powerful bullets until that meter gets drained. In lieu of power-ups, some enemies drop items that will either give you an extra life, a shield so you can take on a few hits, a refill of your graze meter, or an immediate maxing out of your combo meter.

For shooting game aficionados, the hook comes from discovering how the system encourages the use of its special weapons. The bullets are plentiful enough that filling up the graze meter is quick, and unless you run into an unlucky spot where no enemies are around, unleashing the firepower from the graze meter also ensures that the Break meter gets filled up quickly. Using the Break meter's firepower doesn't negate you from earning energy for the graze meter, so you are toggling between meters almost constantly, making you almost unstoppable in the lower difficulty levels. One interesting wrinkle is that using the graze meter's firepower while the Break meter's firepower is active negates the latter; this might seem counterproductive, but since graze power kills enemy bullets and Break power doesn't, the mechanic is strategic rather than restrictive. Fans of the original game will be familiar with what they're seeing, and they'll be pleased to know that the gameplay hasn't been watered down. The constant meter juggling and intense firepower still make the experience enjoyable.

While there is no word on any type of loyalty discount for owners of the original (at least at the time of this writing), Graze Counter GM does its best to entice with more content in just about every area. The different difficulty levels have increased to four, and the game has seen a bit of a rebalance, so the easiest mode really is easy for newcomers to conquer, while the higher modes are perfect for more experienced players. The campaign is still five levels long, but levels two and four have alternate versions, giving you more of a reason to replay the campaign. Speaking of which, the roster has doubled to 16 different ships, and while there may only be minute differences in the firing patterns and speed of each craft, the variety and new dialogue for the campaign is appreciated.

There are a few other modes that the game offers once you go through all of the campaign's storylines. Boss rush makes a return, with the new bosses from the new levels being added into the mix. Mission mode gets revamped, with 30 missions that take on a mix of easy tasks and maddening ones that experts will enjoy. Speaking of which, the game now has a bonus level that's been made more difficult than any of the other existing missions. Players can play through all of the missions in one go, as opposed to having to choose a fork in the road. All in all, it's enough to keep players busy, even if they aren't into score chasing.

If you're a hardcore fan, there are parts of the game that could have used more work. For one thing, the game features no TATE mode despite being a vertical shooter with a limited playfield. You can actually use this to your advantage, as you have an easier time seeing enemies come in from the sides before you can blast them, but for those hoping to rotate their monitors or have a dedicated shooting arcade built with a vertical screen — or even those hoping to use the Steam Deck for the job — this will be disappointing. Another mark against the game is the lack of online leaderboards. While the title does have leaderboards for just about every mode, they're all local, so there's no chance of seeing how high the scores can be at the hands of more seasoned players.

The presentation touches up the game just enough to make it fit in 2023. With a more console-like interface, which does away with a pre-load PC menu and more resolutions being supported, the game does a better job of ensuring its pixel art gets shown properly across a variety of displays. The result is some-sharp looking ships and bullets, and on-screen enemies still move at a high frame rate. The music has been touched up, but the bigger improvement is the fact that the sound is much louder now, so you won't have to turn up your speakers to hear the music.

If you're planning on playing the game on the Steam Deck, you'll be in for an awesome time. The game may not offer any graphical options beyond the resolution, and the one that fits the Steam Deck the most is slightly smaller than the expected 1280x720, but the clean pixel art makes that more of a non-issue. The game easily runs at a constant 60fps with no dips in frame rate and no ghosting. Cloud saving is present, and with a footprint of under 80MB, even the cheapest Steam Deck can install the game without a microSD card. Best of all, on a full battery, you're getting roughly over six hours with the game before needing a recharge. The game really is a perfect fit for the system.

Graze Counter GM takes an already solid shooting experience and makes it shine even more. The addition of more content all around gives the game much more replayability, and the fact that it accommodates players of all skill types makes it more inviting. The lack of things like an online leaderboard and TATE mode may be off-putting for very hardcore shooting fans, but for everyone else with an interest in the genre, this is well worth looking into.

Score: 8.5/10

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