Review by jeneki

"PowerUp Forever, literally"

Overview
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PowerUp Forever is an overhead-view shmup (shoot 'em up) with interesting concept. As you fight though an infinite number of stages, your ship grows and evolves, gaining new abilities and increasing in power. As you grow in size, smaller enemies will eventually disappear from view while larger enemies take notice of your presence.

Control
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PowerUp Forever uses dual-stick controls: One stick moves, the other stick shoots. It's a tried-and-true control scheme for this kind of game, and it works well here. Special weapons spice things up a bit, including a lock-on laser, a shield-penetrating plasma shot, a bomb that destroys all regular enemies on the screen, and a defensive shield. It's a lot to take in at first, but learning how and when to use each of these adds a bit of strategy to the game.

The menus have a large amount of input lag. You literally push a button, then wait, and finally the game responds. Once the game starts, however, this lag disappears. The in-game controls are nice and responsive, with no complaints from me.

Gameplay
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The object of the game is to defeat the guardian of each stage, claiming some of its power for your own, and last as long as possible through infinite stages. The play field is randomly generated and expands forever in every direction; sometimes enemies spawn close to each other, other times you can travel for long distances and only encounter minimal resistance.

Enemies around your size (colored enemies) will attack you with varying levels of aggressiveness, and will damage you if you collide with them or their bullets. Large, inactive creatures (grey colored) act as obstacles; your weapons are too small to hurt them and they ignore you completely. Small parasites (squid-like enemies) latch on to the large inactive creatures, then fly off.

The guardian will only appear once you destroy a set number of parasites. Defeat the guardian and you will absorb its power, either gaining a new weapon or powering up an existing weapon. You also grow in size, change shape, and the play field zooms out a bit. Eventually, you will grow enough for those large inactive enemies to attack you (rather ungrateful considering you were fighting off the parasites feeding on them), and the cycle continues as a new, bigger creature appears for the parasites to feed on.

If you hang out in a level for extended periods, more difficult enemies will appear and threaten to overwhelm you. Similar to the Smiley Face of Doom from Berzerk, these special enemies are there to keep you moving forward.

As you advance to higher levels in PowerUp Forever, you'll start to see a lot of recycled enemies. It's not too bad though; each enemy type is unique, with its own method of movement and attack. I suppose there's a limit to enemy variety, and when a game literally goes on forever you're bound to see repeats.

Only one life is allowed per game. Fortunately, there is a shield energy bar that takes hits for you until it runs out. This bar will regenerate if you can avoid taking any hits for a short time. This rewards defensive play, as taking risks can result in a quick game over.

Score multipliers are earned by finishing a stage quickly. A multiplier bar slowly decreases as you play each stage. Beat the guardian before this bar depletes and the multiplier will increase by one. If the bar depletes before defeating the guardian, the multiplier goes down by one. This gives the levels a sense of urgency and helps keep things moving at a reasonable pace. Risk-takers can also attempt to 'milk' stages for more points by sticking around in easier stages until just before the multiplier runs out.

Graphics
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The visual style is very nice. Enemies have an organic feel, similar to watching single-cell organisms though a microscope. Bullets and enemies leave wisps of multicolored smoke behind them, and ever changing colors give each stage a different look. It gives the game a very distinct and unique look, and is well executed overall.

Unfortunately, the frame rate is noticeably low for this type of game. Twitch-based shmups benefit greatly from a high frame rate to help follow the action. While the frame rate is playable, it's still very disappointing.

Sound
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The music ranges from mysterious to upbeat, and mixes well with the graphical style. Sound effects are very functional: Not large in variety, but different enough that I can instantly recognize what just happened.

Difficulty
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Difficulty is selectable, with Easy, Normal, and Hardcore modes.

Hardcore mode is noticeably harder than Easy mode, with many more enemies to contend with. However, even on easy mode the enemies and bosses are still very dangerous and can take you out fast if you put yourself in a bad position. Generally, one big mistake ends the game.

Replay
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PowerUp Forever has extra game modes to unlock, including Survival, Defender, Overkill, and Guardian Rush. Guardian Rush mode is the most useful extra, as it helps practice boss attack strategies, manage the special weapons and shields, and how to avoid killing yourself when the boss uses a deflect shield.

There are no online leaderboards, which really hurts the replay value for those who enjoy playing for score. Increasing my score and watching my rank slowly climb is addicting, however that's sadly absent here.

Summary
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PowerUp Forever is a decent dual-stick shooter on the PS3. There are better games in the genre, but it's not a waste of money by any means.

On the good side: The controls are responsive and well organized. The graphics are unique and pleasant to look at. The score multiplier sets a quick pace.

On the bad side: The frame rate is low for a shmup. There are no online leaderboards. The menus respond slowly.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/30/09

Game Release: PowerUp Forever (US, 12/11/08)


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