I do not believe in pulling punches in reviews regardless of the type of studio, budget, or any other such crutch often used in the gaming industry. I judge each game I play based on what I’d like to see in games, what I’ve seen in games, and how games compare to other games old and current. With all that in mind I hope this review gives you some clarity on whether or not this is the game for you.
I gotta say for a retro shooter this game is beautiful. It’s simple, yet not. At first glance you might not be impressed, but after a good look you notice some things. Everything is crisp and clean. The menus, the in game objects, the weapons fire. Even the little talking character heads look great. There’s no bit look here. Round edges where appropriate. And there’s also a lot of variation. Yes there are some repeat enemies and reskinned ones, but there is a large variety of things to shoot at and get killed by. And I especially appreciated the fact that you can noticeably see a difference in the strength of your weapons as you upgrade them.
. . . for a retro shooter this game is beautiful.
Even the graphics for things blowing up, including the player’s ship, look very nice. The little flame clouds are a nice touch. But even more impressive in my opinion are the extras. The stuff not directly involved in gameplay has been so subtly and yet beautifully crafted that you might not notice. Such as the fact that when you move the ship it looks different then when you are stationary to simulate that you are actually flying a ship. The background smoke in the menu screen. The background landscapes, each of which is unique to its chapter. What really impressed me was when I first noticed it in the first level, which is set in outer space.
The background, though repeating, has so much going on in it. There’s stars and asteroids that are moving through space above the actual background picture which in and of itself is quite impressive and quite stunning visually. Even though it’s a small game in scope, Psychotic Psoftware has taken the time to craft an entire world. And in some ways it’s interactive. When the ship at the beginning blows up and falls away in the background you think the debris might kill you. And parts of it can. In the fourth chapter there’s little people walking around on the ground of the level and you can actually kill them. Something you don’t usually see in games like this. The only other example I can think of in the same genre of play is Jetpack Joyride, which is not nearly as intricate overall. And the bosses look awesome. Each one is innovative, different, and yet reminiscent of the genre. I was very much reminded of StarFox while playing this game.
The gameplay is classic and easy to pick up. Now I played this with a keyboard, so I can’t comment on how it plays with a gamepad. But one thing I wasn’t happy about was the fact that it only works with an XBOX 360 gamepad. This makes sense because the game is only available on PC and XBOX Live at this point, but in the current age of PC gaming, where you can hook basically any type of controller to your machine, I feel that it’s important for devs to make their games playable with at least the top 2 gamepads currently on the market which would be XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3, even if the game won’t actually be on both or either console.
I appreciate the fact that there are 2 sets of keyboard controls (modern and retro), but with a game like this I would much rather see customizable button mapping. I personally felt that the modern keys were mapped ok, but could have been better. My biggest issue with the commands was the weapons selection. There are 5 types of weapons, 4 of which I felt to be very different in use and necessary in different scenarios and I really appreciate the versatility of gameplay styles available. I have yet to find a use for number 5 (purple).
But the weapons selection commands were very troublesome. The first issue is that instead of being able to select each weapon by choice such as through the number keys, which would be expected, you have to scroll through them until you get the one you want. This is a problem for a few reasons.
A) It’s very inconvenient to have to scroll in the middle of play while focusing on not getting killed, because you often over shoot the weapon you want.
B) The scroll buttons are right next to the fire button so you often will try to scroll and accidently hit fire or worse try to fire and accidently hit scroll. You can scroll in either direction though.
C) You can upgrade weapons by collecting power ups, but once you max a weapon the power ups don’t carry over so you have to scroll to the weapon you want to power up even if it’s not the one you need/want at that moment, since power ups come during battle. This is a very common thing in many games, but because you have to scroll to the weapon you want it can be quite inconvenient during play.
If I can’t map my own buttons, I would have at least liked to have been able to pick the order of my weapons in the scroll so that I could easily power up the weapons I want to in the order I need them powered up.
The one thing that’s always important in these types of games is the issue of latency. PowerUp has none. It has been coded well and the command response time is perfect. Unlike a lot of games in this genre there are unlockables which are gained by either time played or accomplishments, thus giving me a reason to want to play again. I currently only have 5 prizes unlocked, but I’m definitely going for more. The in game power ups are very good. There’s one for improving weapons, one for improving speed (kudos because that’s a rare one in this genre, but much appreciated), one for bombs, one for force field, and one for extra points.
I would have liked it if there was also a way to get extra lives, but hardcore players of this genre might disagree with that one. The weapons upgrades are great in this game. When you power up you actually power up by leaps and bounds. The 5 different weapons very in usefulness and situation, causing you to have to think strategically for the future, because there are only so many power ups. I really liked the force field in this game even though I don’t use it much. Instead of the classic timed bubble or take as much damage until it’s knocked out, Psychotic Psoftware did something much more reminiscent of sci-fi movies. You have force field energy which runs out with use. You can choose when to use it and when to turn it off by holding or releasing a button. Though it takes some getting used to because it’s different from any other shielding system I’ve played in these types of games, I really appreciated the innovation.
And lastly let’s talk difficulty. This is a fair game. I appreciate that because many devs make these too hard and some make them too easy. PowerUp is well balanced. It’s quite challenging and honestly I still haven’t beaten it. But at no point does it feel unbalanced or unfairly difficult. Funny enough is the fact that if you YouTube PowerUp most plays I’ve seen end with Game Over so a lot of people can’t seem to beat it yet.
One thing that I really liked about it is that the difficulty levels are in reference to starting lives, not gameplay. Whether you beat it on easy or on Psychotic (IMPOSSIBLE!), you get the same experience. I hate games that force you to beat them on multiple modes for differences in plot and gameplay, especially for something smaller like this. And the gameplay is quite different from other space shooters in the fact that it takes into account many realistic issues. For example, you can change weapons, move, and die during “cut scenes” and when other characters are talking to you.
Though it’s the most annoying thing ever in any game, I liked the fact that I died after defeating a boss once because I was hit by a stray laser after the fight. Things in the game distract you. You often get hit with a stray beam because your beams were so bright that you didn’t notice it. That’s not bad design or lazy programming. On the contrary. It’s realistic programming because if you were actually flying a ship in battle those are the sorts of accidents that you would have to look out for because they can and do really happen. Button mapping issues aside, this game is quite fun to play.
The sound in this game is phenomenal. I would be remiss to say it was anything less than professional grade. And Psychotic Psoftware didn’t leave out anything. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s loud. Like I can’t play it with my shitty laptop on full volume or it overwhelms my ears. I play at around half volume or less depending on whether or not my girlfriend is home. But it’s also high quality sound. It’s crisp and clear. There’s no scratchiness or fuzzy mixing. It’s also blended quite well. Almost too well. Each of the 5 levels has its own similar, but different soundtrack. But you can’t really hear it during active gameplay because the gameplay sound effects are so strong.
The game lacks sound options so that was disappointing, because the background music is quite good. But you can hear it in the travel points of the game when you’re flying but not being attacked by enemies. The sound effects are done excellently. It’s matched pretty much perfectly with your actions whether it’s shooting, blowing things up, or dying. But what’s also nice is that Psychotic Psoftware took the time to use a slightly different sound for each type of weapon. And the sound gets more powerful as the weapon does so as you “Power Up” play gets louder.
Technically I can tell which weapon is active with my eyes closed, but you don’t have to because there’s also a Cortana-esque voice that narrates your actions. Whenever you change your weapons or grab a power up she tells you what you’re doing. She calls each power up and weapon by name even during the talking scenes. The sound for the talking scenes is simple, but effective. It is very clear that talking is occurring even though it’s in text form. I must say that sound is one of the strongest, most impressive parts of this game.
PowerUp is short, but well written. With just a Star Wars style opening title sequence and 5 chapters of short text-based cut scenes appearing only at the beginning and end of each as well as right before boss fights, you are still given a very well fleshed out plot and character development. The plot is about an evil race of aliens that go around destroying planets. Their last victim was Earth and you are the sole survivor. The main character is a space pilot with a snarky, shoot first, ask questions later attitude. With only his piloting skills and the help of his on board AI (HATI), he sets out on a quest for revenge.
The character is not bent on victory and knows that there’s no hope of survival. He merely wishes to do as much damage to the race as possible in order to avenge his fallen people. But it’s not just a straight forward story about going in and killing a bunch of unknown aliens. The evil race is developed as well. As the game progresses you learn more and more about them and a secret that they hold within the core of their planet. I won’t spoil it. You’ll just have to beat it and find out for yourself. If you can.
With literally 1-2 pages of text maximum Psychotic Psoftware has created a story filled with emotion, pain, motivation, revenge, friendship, and an epic struggle between good and evil in a sort of Kratos-esque way. PowerUp is written based on the concept that less is more and in this case Psychotic Psoftware was absolutely right. In a genre such as this where writing is often not done at all past the opening sequence, I really appreciated the presence of a story and more so the fact that the story was done well.
PowerUp has a ton of replay value. Firstly there’s 14 unlockables. All of them are only skins, but that’s more than many games of this type offer. There are also 4 difficulty settings, each considerably more challenging than the last so the motivation to practice, retry, and improve is not lacking. Also each of the different types of weapons allows for a completely different gameplay experience. You could spend hours trying to beat the game with different combinations of weapons and play styles. Plus there’s a high score, as there should be, so you’re gonna want to beat yours over and over again. And lastly it’s so easy to jump in and play, as is the nature of the genre, that it’s a nice way to spend a few minutes here and there when you don’t have time for a much larger commitment. I will definitely be playing this game a lot more before I’m through with it.
I think that how a game compares to other games in its genre is an important part of the grade. Even if you make something really impressive and fun, it still has to stand up to the competition and predecessors. People don’t play Fifa because it’s Fifa. They play it because it’s better than Pro Evolution Soccer. If it wasn’t they’d play that instead.
PowerUp definitely compares. It’s innovative, well made, has a lot of replay value, and is easy to jump in to. Obviously this is a subjective category and each gamer may or may not agree, but I include it as I would with any other review because even if a game is great, that doesn’t necessarily mean you like it. Because of this I have and will always leave this category unscored in my numerical grade of all titles I review. We all must admit that Madden is a well-made football game, but in reality it’s not my favorite football game to play. I prefer something close to NFL Blitz on the Nintendo 64.
I like this game in comparison to other games of the same nature. All in all I think PowerUp is a great game and definitely worth checking out. It’s only $2.99 so it won’t break the bank and it will give you at least a few solid hours of gameplay unless you’re a prodigy. I am very impressed with what the one man army known as Psychotic Psoftware has accomplished and I look forward to seeing more games from him in the future.
*Please note video is sped up and silent.
- Great Sound Effects
- Beautiful Graphics
- Challenging, but manageable gameplay.
- Unmappable Controls
- 1/5 weapons is useless.
- Only 5 levels