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Review: Power-Up

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powerup_boxConsole: Xbox 360 (XBLA Indie Games)
Released: September 13, 2013
Developer: Psychotic Psoftware
Publisher: Psychotic Psoftware
Difficulty: Hard
Price: $1.00
Similar Titles: Sine Mora, Deathsmiles, eXceed

In full disclosure I have been watching Power-Up since it was first discussed about a year ago, along with my push to support the game on Kickstarter, and contact with the developer.  Still, like so many other games one can get jazzed about in concept art and developer interviews it really comes down to the released product (and I never show favor to a project I back).  I assumed that with the title and art design Power-Up was going to be a Gradius clone – which definitely isn’t a bad thing since I’ve been dying for a true sequel – but what I received instead was a delightful surprise.  Power-Up has a hook that feels unique, and coupled with the beatiful art, aggressive design, and a momentum-inducing soundtrack it stands alone as its own property.  The fact that it sells for a mere dollar only stresses even more that developer Psychotic Psoftware is almost giving away a product that would be a steal at ten times the amount.

powerup_1Naturally as the title implies, Power-Up is a side-scrolling shmup that is all about building up weapons and raking in the highest possible score.  What’s unique about the way it handles power-ups is the fact that you have five weapons to choose from, all available from the beginning, and it’s up to you how you upgrade them.  Swapping weapons at will is easy, simply tap the left or right bumper to move to the previous or next weapon, and whatever you have active when you collect a power-up will level it up.  While this may seem somewhat simple, especially since most shmup players are acutely aware of their preferred shot, the level and enemy spawn design forces you to utilize each weapon at certain times.  This combination of having all the right tools at your disposal and requiring you to know when and how to use them is why I’m so impressed with this game.  All of the so-called rules of shmups are broken, enemies flying in from every direction attempting to shoot down or even kamikaze their way into your ship makes for a frantic game of cat and mouse.  Not only that, but play tactics depend solely upon you, so if you can handle enemies from behind without relying on the reverse shot or above/below without a vertical shot then success can really be had any way you want it.  There are times – namely boss battles, flurries of enemies, or scenarios – where I couldn’t see how you wouldn’t use a specific weapon, but if there’s one thing I know about shmups it’s that nothing is impossible.

powerup_3You can’t really categorize the title either, it’s not a “bullet hell,” “cute ’em up,” or any other fun nickname we give to the overall design of a game because it simply tries to be everything at once.  Bright beatiful sprites float onto the screen and although it can get quite frantic and real estate becomes rare, the color scheme assures that both enemies, bullets, and your fighter are clearly defined.  This is a problem many contemporary shmups have and with the screenshots I initially saw it was a concern, but never did a background or enemy type allow for hidden obstacles.  On top of all that the art is beatiful.  I had seen design sketches and screen grabs and it all paid off with a gorgeous game that knows how to utilize 2D sprites with correct hit detection.  In the end it’s an addictive title that quickly justifies some of the deeper unlocks (like a skin that’s available after 20 hours of total gameplay).  Difficulty is no exception to its peers – Power-Up is a tough game – but you really need to play quite a bit and get used to the upgrade weapon system before even thinking about getting through the game’s graciously large levels.  I found this game best in small, one hour doses in the beginning to get warmed up and after a while I was able to get only a play or two in with that little time.  I was a bit bummed with no continue system, something I don’t see the damage in adding, and without it I was more tempted to give up after each game over if my run had gone on more than 45 minutes.  Fortunately the responsive controls assured that any failure was my fault and mine alone, and I someday hope to drop to my knees in triumph upon completing the title.


Shmups have fallen to the wayside, especially in the United States, these days and with fewer and fewer developers on the horizon I fear the extinction of the genre.  Furthermore what remains are predominantly Japanese developers like Cave that refuse to think outside of the box and let go of the now too common “bullet hell” subgenre.  Power-Up restores my faith that with enough effort, some flexibility, and just a tweak to an established system new life can breathe back into the world of shmups.  With this price point we may even see those not too keen on the genre taking the dip, but with the sea of pathetic clones of titles like DoDonPachi crowding the XBL Indie space it’s important to let word of mouth set this title free.  I hope to see Power-Up sell a bit better at a more appropriate $10 price tag because I’m certain most developers won’t put the care and love that Psychotic Psoftware has at this price point, but who knows.  Either way, fans of shmups and even those wondering if they can still love the genre after being away for so long should support this project and developer by picking it up.  It’s a drop in the bucket from a cost perspective, what can you lose?

Final Score: 4 out 5

Written by Fred Rojas

September 30, 2013 at 7:07 pm

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