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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.

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Written by Fred Rojas

September 30, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Podcast: Game Club – Salamander/Life Force

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This week Fred flies solo to discuss the shoot-em-up (shmup) series Salamander, better known as Life Force in the United States.  He discusses the various games from the arcade titles to the NES/Famicom port, to even the MSX and PC-Engine (Turbografx-16) ports.  Additionally the connections to series Gradius are discussed and the various ways to play the games today.  He also announces April’s game club title.

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

Retro Game Challenge: Stinger (NES)

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stinger_boxConsole: NES
Released: 1987
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? No
Value: $3.65 (used), ???? (new) (
Other Releases: Yes – as Muero! TwinBee in Japan on the Famicom Disc System and Famicom (cart version)
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console for Wii (Japan only)

Below is the completion of the hybrid horizontal/vertical shmup Stinger, better known in Japan as Muero! TwinBee due to the fact that it is a sequel to the original TwinBee set 100 years after the events of the original.  Since we did not get TwinBee in this country, the title was changed to Stinger and a different back story was given, the title belonging to the given name of the ship you pilot.  It’s clearly a TwinBee title, though, with the distinctive bells that you juggle to gather power-ups and point bonuses.  Other interesting differences between the American and Japanese version were multiple difficulty settings, selectable as medium or hard in Japan and eventually an easy option was added for the Famicom cart release.  In America we only received one default difficulty (medium) but the game immediately starts over upon completion on the hard difficulty, easy does not exist in the US version.  This title was intended to support up to three players and in Japan the cartridge had an extra controller port for the third player.  Since carts loaded out of the top on the Famicom this was possible, however at this point there was only a side load for NES carts and thus the game was forced into a two player only mode.  If you had the optional accessory, the four score, which added four more port to the console, Stinger would still only support two players.  In the video below I complete the entire game although I do not replay the harder difficulty as it does not give more content or a different ending.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 29, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Top 5 Shmups on Portable Consoles

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Given the frantic and brief nature of most shmups, the genre is perfect for the portable platform, much like it was perfect for the arcade. For one reason or another, these titles can be rare to find on traditional handhelds and even harder to find actually good ones. On the other hand some of my favorite shmups are exclusive to portables (at least in the United States) so we’ve compiled a list of the portable shmups actually worth playing.

5. Space Invaders Extreme (Nintendo DS)

space_invaders_extremeWhen Taito decided it would re-invent the Space Invaders formula I was skeptical. We were told in previews that the game would feature an upbeat techno soundtrack, plenty of screen tricks and explosions, dual screen integration on DS, and a hybrid between modern game mechanics and the original title. Just in case that sounds tempting to you, it’s almost verbatim what no gamer wants to hear when a beloved franchise is rebooting. Somehow Taito pulled it off and with no updates save for that fearful list Space Invaders Extreme was an addicting masterpiece. It released in a few forms on a few consoles but bar none the Nintendo DS version is the one to get. With non-linear level progression and utilization of dual screen to make the DS function more like a vertical arcade monitor, it’s like having Space Invaders on speed. Bonus rounds, boss battles, and power-ups were simple tweaks to the original formula that switched up gameplay without being a specific reason to play the game. Needless to say if you haven’t played Space Invaders Extreme, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the original, you should give this handheld game that’s easy to learn and brutal to master a try. It will keep you occupied for many a train, plane, or bus ride to come.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

Review: Espgaluda (PS2)

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espgaludaConsole: Playstation 2 (Japan Only)
Released: 2004
Developer: Cave (original arcade design, port by Arika)
Publisher: Arika (PS2 version only)
Difficulty: Moderate
Price: $60-$100 (used, unknown new)
Digital Release? No

Aside from its Japan only status and the incredibly difficult pronunciation, Espgaluda (pronounced “esu-pu-galuda” in English) has so much going for it. A second generation shmup from Cave, the development studio responsible for DoDonPachi, this is when the studio began to think outside the box and expand its audience to the masses. This game is made easier than most titles in its genre with the slowing of bullets and shields to assist the player in getting familiar with the danmaku (bullet hell) genre. Wrap it all together and it truly is a shame this title has never made its way stateside because it’s much more approachable than the titles we have received.

The roots of Espgaluda stem from the arcade (and Japan) only title ESP Ra.De. (pronounced “esu-pu-rye-do”) about a group of young girls with super human powers. It all takes place in the not-too-distant future (2018) on a remote island called Tokyo-2 off the shores of an overpopulated Japan. It appears the Japanese police force is hunting down these “ESPers” that are capable of psychic powers and the story takes place over a 24-hour period of time for three escaping females. None of this matters all that much since the game was only in Japanese (not localized on the MAME versions I’ve found), but the game is notable for several reasons. For starters the fact that you control a flying girl instead of a ship or vehicle will be the first thing you notice, and given the 1998 release of the title it’s quite possibly the first time this type of character is used in a shmup. Each girl has a barrier power, which allows them to temporarily absorb the power of the bullets coming at them and then release that energy back at their opponents. Aside from that the game is relatively a standard vertical shmup with plenty of explosions, bullets to dodge, and massive boss battles.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

Top 5 Shmups Worth Importing

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Ah March, shmuppreciation is back and in full effect on Gaming History 101.  If this is your first time hearing the phrase, shmuppreciation is for the love of the shoot-em-up genre (shmup for short) and is celebrated all March on the site.  If you missed Shmuppreciation 2012 I highly recommend you check it out as we provided more than 30 articles dedicated to introducing you to genre specifics and the myriad of popular series in the most triumphant genre of all time.

This year we’re going past introductions and into the intermediate world of shmups, which requires more skill, dedication, and money than the games covered last year.  While I would hardly call the games we will be covering obscure by any stretch, these titles are much less known outside of enthusiastic shmup fans.  To kick it off we’re featuring the top 5 games worth importing.  Shmups are of the most expensive games out there so you can expect a bit of sticker shock even with the games mentioned here.  Just keep in mind that you’re currently dropping $60 for day one releases and sometimes even more if you’re into that special edition stuff.  The titles in this list are unique because they have not seen a release, even digital, within the United States and thus require some sort of special circumstances to play today.  There’s a great list of import games that have released digitally on PSN, XBLA, and Wii Virtual Console as well so be sure to check out our article on those titles as well.  In order to play these games you have to either import them or get access to a digital service outside of your region.  The links in each title will take you to the games’ review or video on our site.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm