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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

Beat Hazard (Cold Beam Games)

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When I think about the combination of music and video games, I can’t help but think Konami and Harmonix.  Thanks to the Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) series by Konami – c’mon gamers, everyone tried it at one point – your love for music and games could be realized.  Unfortunately the series focused on techno music, many tracks from Japan, and there wasn’t that connection with the songs you really wanted (although there was this awesome DDR on the original Xbox that had a remix of the Neverending Story Theme).  Enter Harmonix, a company that made its humble beginnings in similar techno infused video games with titles like Frequency, and its idea to take a big cumbersome plastic guitar and mix it with hard rock tunes.  Guitar Hero and the slew of spin-offs that Activision juiced out of it had one painful flaw: you were still limited with the songs that were released.  Even today Rock Band has thousands of songs but you aren’t able to pick anything you want/like.  That’s where Beat Hazard comes in.  A twin-stick shmup that utilizes any music track you provide to create an entire level lasting the length of that track.

Okay, let’s get the setup clear because a “level” will be in a fixed location (Asteroids, Geometry Wars) and not a scrolling level (Gradius, R-Type).  Enemies will appear along with certain aspects of the code to generate the various obstacles that will be thrown at you – everything from actual asteroids to large bosses.  I don’t think that developer Cold Beam Games has released any info on how the game is able to take your music and create a level, but if I were the developer I’d keep that secret until my game had run its course.  Even more impressive is that Cold Beam Games CEO Steve Hunt appears to have created (and possibly developed) the game by himself, although I can’t find concrete evidence of that.  In addition, Hunt admits to taking the addictive concept in Geometry Wars and adapting it to taking codes from MP3 files.  As time has gone on he has updated the game as well as created a definitive version, Beat Hazard Ultra, which now supports many formats such as iTunes’ AAC format and even streaming formats like those found on Last FM.  The original, which can be found on the XNA community channel on Xbox Live, only supports MP3 files as far as I know.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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