PowerUp Forever (Xbox Live Arcade)
Developed by Blitz Arcade
Published by Namco-Bandai
Released on December 11, 2008
PowerUp Forever is a mosaic title, characterized the most by its Geometry Wars gameplay concepts wrapped around a visual style reminiscent of fl0w. Like Geometry Wars, it relies on you wanting to kill an endless horde of enemies for points. Like fl0w, PowerUp insists that you want to navigate a perpetually shifting visual environment endlessly in search of something to damage. As a dual-stick shooter the game operates smoothly and a perfected control scheme won’t have anyone up in arms. Despite its perfected mechanisms, uninspired and dull enemies clutter the forefront of an ultimately ugly backdrop. PowerUp Forever is definitely a clever mix of two highly touted games, but the execution should have wielded something special – not insipid.
The game puts you in the driver seat of a gun-laden spaceship in search of enemies called Guardians. Guardians are essentially larger versions of your spaceships, outfitted with better gear and driven by retarded AI. Finding a Guardian isn’t exactly thirsty work – they come to you if you kill enough of a specific enemy.
The enemies in PowerUp Forever aren’t numerous and can be described as nothing more than obstructions. The enemy that blots the majority of the landscape is spherical and does nothing more than float endlessly towards your vehicle. The more interesting variety is a centipede. Its segmented body throws random bullets from hidden guns as it scampers randomly throughout the map with no objective or real purpose. They rarely respond to your actions and never attempt to escape from your hail of bullets.
There are only two enemies in the game that threaten to be engaging. One is a special spherical enemy that only appears if the game believes you have been searching for slaves too long. In a sense, it’s a punishment. They automatically avoid your bullets and hound your ship. The Guardian is the only real enemy, simply because it targets you and forces you to out maneuver it.
Guardians are the catalysts of change. Once dead the visuals fade to different color, your ship grows in size, and you are granted an upgrade or a special ability to use on the next guardian. These power-ups are limited in usage and range from lasers, explosives, to shielding. The upgrades earned run out of gas quite quickly, forcing you to stop between Guardians to kill the many defenseless and dumb-witted enemies.
Unfortunately, the power-ups from Guardians aren’t forever. There are a finite amount of power-ups and the game will tell you that with a “maxed out” prompt after 20 minutes of continual play. This threw me when I played for the first time. It’s felt like someone told me that Santa wasn’t real or something equally as crazy.
Progress in the game is nothing more than a circular effort. Search the level, find slaves, and kill the Guardian. Its monotony is never broken and it is quite easy to survive for longer-than-expected durations. The game’s HUD delightfully spells out everything you need to know (shielding, kills until a Guardian appears, points, etc.) and while very informative, serves to only dull the impact of a Guardian’s appearance. A small part of the game that should have been pronounced is scale. After killing a Guardian, your ship grows but it is almost imperceptible. The only cue is a funny little animation. As the ship grows, the monolithic fossil-structures that once held slaves come alive and turn into the same dumb (but bigger) centipede enemies that you have been fighting for minutes on end. It is an interesting dynamic, left wholly unexplored.
The visual flair is certainly interesting, but I never felt any special admiration of it. The rippling, ever changing background has a dirty, watercolor quality unpleasing to the eye. Enemies swap colors akin to the background, but their unchanging physical appearance is definitely noted. Weapon and particle effects have an unnatural, fiery quality within the context of the visuals at the moment. I would have liked to see a bit more vibrant color or sharper contrasts between the background and foreground objects.
There isn’t a multiplayer component to speak of – despite how the game seems to scream cooperative play. It also lacks bonus modes with any real substance. The other modes in the game are simple time attack or versus challenges that you have to unlock by playing the campaign portion of the game. They’re just little slices of what you have already been doing.
PowerUp Forever is a medicore game that occasionally engages. The interesting fl0w-inspired visual style isn’t remarkable as a result of the bland and dirty color choices. The core mechanics of the game operate perfectly, but don’t translate to a fun or challenging experience. Aside from the boss creatures, the enemies are dull and seemingly serve to only occupy space on the screen. The gameplay is hampered by its circular nature that can quickly become all-too-familiar within minutes of play. PowerUp certainly isn’t the worst XBLA arcade shooter, but it is hard to recommend.
Score: 5 -- Mediocre (5s are an exercise in apathy, neither Solid nor Liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.)
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