Review: Powerup Forever
Not as much fun as Geometry Wars 2 for same the cost of Geometry Wars 2.
One of the strongest contenders for Xbox Live Arcade game of the year in 2008 is Geometry Wars 2 which took the original’s twin-stick shooter gameplay and added heaps of variation and polish to it. The end result was a genuinely stunning arcade title that continues to delight and frustrate in equal measure. In others words, the bar has been set high. And by high I mean a German athlete breaking the word record directly after partying with Cypress Hill in the 2016 Amsterdam Olympics.
So how does PowerUp Forever stack up? Well a direct comparison may seem unfair on the newcomer but they cost the same, have similar gameplay and Namco (spit) have had a few extra months to refine this after Bizarre Creations’ effort. But let’s assume you’ve not played that game. What the fuck are you playing at? Buy it immediately. And you can add a point to our review of GW2. It starts off as a nine but is a grower. Trust me. Ten all the way.
We’re talking twin-stick shooting here. You know… Robotron, Smash TV, Crystal Quest, Assault Heroes, Mutant Storm etc etc etc etc. Fuck me, will it ever end? Well, GW2 reignited the genre after a year or two of utter mediocrity. Anyway, this time the action takes place in an infinitely large, multi-directional scrolling area and sees you taking out a range of creatures that are styled somewere between alien beasties and biological defenses. The setting is never really explained but has a definite spacey but organic feel to it.
The gimmick here is that the gameplay is ‘procedurally-driven’ meaning that no two games of it are the same. Also, your ship evolves differently every time it powers up. Not that you’ll notice. As gimmicks, these don’t really make any difference and (sorry to keep harping on about it) but no two games of Geometry Wars 2 were the same (apart from in ‘Sequence’ mode) so I’m not sure why they’re making a fuss about this.
That said, the gameplay is actually a little smarter than it first appears. Whilst you are be-set on all sides by
the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men all sorts of horrid-looking buggers intent on making your stay in this game as unpleasant as possible, your main targets are the parasites. These fellas stick to the larger, dormant enemies and occasionally detach and fling themselves onto other dormant enemies. Destroying them raises up the ‘guardian rage’ bar. Fill the bar and a guardian ship (a nippy fighter with decent firepower and maneuverability) will come after you.
Defeating the guardian offers a trio of noteable benefits. Firstly, you’ll gain new weoponary (or upgrade what you’ve got already), secondly, you’ll get bigger (to the point where the large, dormant enemies will now come after you) and finally your multiplier will go up by one. The multiplier is what it’s all about here. When you start a new level your multiplier bar will start to drain. If it empties completely, your multiplier goes down by one and so it’s up to you destroy enough parasites, and the guardian, before this happens.
Like all good XBLA shooters, this game is all about the highscore leaderboards and so the pressure of keeping your multiplier up leads to some fantastic risk vs reward gameplay. You have to strike a good balance between seeking out parasites and actually using that multiplier and taking out the game’s regular enemies. Add to this the fact that you only have one life (although your energy recharges if you don’t take damage for a few seconds) and you’ve got a recipe for some tight, tense gameplay.
I really enjoyed playing Powerup Forever. It’s nowhere near as feature-rich and downright entertaining as Geometry Wars, but as a twin stick shooter in its own right, I like it. There’s plenty of scope for serious high score chasing with its infinite nature, and the moveable shield is a great little feature â€“ especially when you start deflecting enemy fire back at them. The ever-growing ship idea is one that I enjoyed in flOw, and it’s good to see it used well here instead of amongst a load of poncey underwater bollocks.
Admittedly, it’s far from perfect with some “special” powerups shoe-horned in that just don’t need to be there (I honestly don’t remember using any of them effectively more than once), and at the same price as GW2, it’s very bare in the feature department. But, it’s graphically interesting, easy to pick up and play for a quick game or an extended session, and it has leader boards. I’m not bored of twin stick shooters yet, keep making them.
Secondary Score: 7/10
Unfortunately this begins to unravel pretty quickly as the difficulty has a habit of ramping up a lot when you get your 5x multiplier (the maximum amount on the ‘Normal’ difficulty setting) as suddenly you find the screen full of bullets and enemies. You do have a shield mapped to the left trigger but this only works on bullets and is less helpful against pissed-off looking snake things.
Also, the weapons that you acquire are mostly useless and far too short-lived to bother with. Your standard cannon remains far more effective instead of losing your rhythm whilst switching to another type of gun. Weapons are earned by defeating the guardians but are powered up by shooting the regular enemies. Your best bet is to use save that secondary energy for your smartbombs as these are pretty much essential on later levels.
Other game modes are unlocked such as Guardian (a boss-rush mode), defender (shields only), overkill (unlimited weapons) and Survival but these are all variations on the same theme rather which means the overall package lacks the sort of longevity that GW2 has gotten us used to. Most people will stick with the standard mode and compete for highscores and achievements but the leaderboards are showing that not that many people bothered picking this up last week, so don’t expect this one to keep you playing.
On the plus side though, the game is utterly beautiful. Whilst the ships themselves are fairly average, the beautiful, fluid backdrops look stunning (especially on later levels) and the sound is fairly good also, if a little predictable with it’s ambient-techno flavoured music. Without this kind of presentation, PowerUp Forever might actually be a bit more humdrum than it appears to be but with it it feels like a decent, trippy shooter that is a fair bit better than most of this year’s XBLA releases but not really a patch on GW2.