Power-Up ($1.00) represents an interesting case study. It’s one of the few indie games I’ve seen that lacks a grandiose idea (it claims only to be a side-scrolling shooter created in the classic sense), yet was still able to secure funding (and then some) on Kickstarter. That’s not to say that Power-Up is any less deserving, but it’s usually the genre mashups, the games with nostalgic pixels, the outrageous claims to originality while simultaneously giving the middle finger to big publishers, that successfully clinch their crowd-funding campaigns.
That developer Psychotic Psoftware (captained by one Mike Hanson) found that success isn’t surprising. It looked great, and he’s kept everyone updated on its progress throughout development. I was just shy of backing the game myself, save for it lacking that ‘one thing’; the one big idea that could make the game stand out against an army of shoot ‘em ups readily available on the indie channel, and really, anywhere you turn to for games. My reticence then has some basis now, as Power-Up is an enjoyable, but hardly original, shooter.
The storyline is familiar events; the human race, scattered and nearly extinct thanks to an invading alien race, made all the more familiar by the presence of a stiff, yet wise-cracking AI companion onboard your (also familiar) experimental spaceship, one that‘s just well-enough equipped to tackle an entire alien army that all of humanity combined could not defeat. Predictable Sci-Fi trappings aside, the focus in Power-Up is on the weapons, five in all, that you can swap back and forth from at will, using their unique properties (firing backwards, or diagonal, etc.) to counter enemy forces that attack from all sides. They can be further upgraded by collecting ’P’ items that drift onto the battlefield, increasing their shot output and / or damage.
In reality, though, you’ll only really need to use two or three of the weapons to best the game, which is a rather short (but hard, on the higher difficulties) adventure, filled in by pre / post-mission banter and multi-stage boss fights. Replayability is buoyed by the prize of unlocking new paintjobs for your ship, for finishing on certain difficulties, or earned by cumulative time spent playing. Otherwise, the usual mechanics are in place, with powerups for screen-clearing bombs, shields, and forcefields, the latter of which is essential on said higher difficulties.
As the retro vibe portends, old school rules apply; your progress is not saved, and there are no continues, meaning you’ll have to trek through the entire game again should you die near the end. Part of the thrill comes in that challenge, though for those of you not versed in shooters, it can be a little frustrating and repetitive. And while the effects here are generally excellent, the flashing that comes from weapons that are fully-powered tends to mask enemy fire and / or annoy over time.
In the end, Power-Up is a well-designed, fun, just merely standard, shooter. It does what it sets out to do, without any risk. Competence in craft is important, and certainly laudable, but without a unique angle to stand on, there’s very little in Power-Up that makes it a must-play.