The Steam Green Light program gives start-up video game designers a platform to demonstrate their skills and show off their abilities to an audience formerly unthinkable. In late 2013, Psychotic Psoftware created the game Power Up and released it through Steam, using the Green Light platform. Power Up is a retro-styled side scrolling shooter reminiscent of old quarter based arcade games like Galaga. Power Up uses older conventions such as a life counter that restarts the game after a certain number of deaths and gives power ups throughout each level giving it a retro feel. However, unlike these older games, Power up uses RPG-lite mechanics to scale different types of lasers throughout the game, which make the increasingly difficult levels more manageable. Power up by Psychotic Psoftware is a very interesting attempt to recreate a genre often forgotten in this world of massively multiplayer experiences and movie like graphical fidelity.
In a game like Power Up, the mechanics are the big selling point as many other aspects are underfunded or underdeveloped. While the gameplay is adequate, it does little to keep the player engaged. The mechanics quickly deteriorate into spamming abilities and using the in-game power ups to maximize the effectiveness of certain guns that shred through enemies. Due to this easily abused system, the game quickly deteriorates into a boring, repetitive, scrolling shooter with nice backgrounds that fall to the wayside as the player’s ship tears through wave after wave of ships, debris, and lasers. While the game makes an attempt at keeping things interesting through the variety of lasers you can fire and the strength of each laser dependent on the number of power ups you pick up during levels, the different types do not all stand up well. Several of the gun types are easily abused and others are too weak to use without multiple power ups. Although the RPG-lite mechanics are an interesting idea, the lack of immersive gameplay mechanics and the disparity between laser qualities hurts the game substantially in the area it most needed to shine.
Power Up is the story of the last human alive that must seek revenge on those who destroyed Earth by ripping through alien ships and the hazardous debris littering space. The idea behind the narrative, much like the idea behind the gameplay, is very strong. However, the execution falls flat in such a way that leaves the player disinterested. Text comes on-screen next to the picture of the person or alien speaking without any sound or impact. While this style of story presentation lines up with the classic arcade style of narration found in the 1980’s, it lacks any sort of punch in today’s market and genuinely left me uninterested in the overall narrative after a few mediocre lines with nothing additional to pull it from bland to engaging or immersive. While story was clearly not the main point of Power Up, it certainly shows as the narrative and delivery fall flat, continuing the game’s theme of interesting concepts left unpolished and undone.
The one saving grace of Power Up for me is the graphical and sound design, which stands out against the weakness of the game’s other parts. The graphics for each individual ship and piece of ruble are not particularly strong and often seem like quickly designed sprites, but the background designs and boss designs look spectacular. The bosses themselves are rather easy and do not take much more than spamming of lasers and dodging some projectiles, but the designs for each boss are interesting and even if they are not always original, they look rather nice. The different backgrounds, which scrolls through as you traverse each level, are interesting and often colorfully designed with moments of cold darkness, matching the overall tone of the game. The sounds of each laser and ship exploding are visceral, but after a few minutes begin to wear. After about twenty minutes, I had to mute the sound due to the repetitive nature of the admittedly well done sound design. While I do not think interesting graphical design is enough to save Power Up from its other more serious flaws, it was a piece of the game that stood out as well done and deserves commendation.
Power Up by Psychotic Psoftware is a game based on old concepts with an even older story that functions fine, but leaves the player bored and uninterested quickly as the levels start to blur together and the game becomes nothing but a time sink emulating a relic of the past. While the graphics were very interesting and often a positive focal point for the game, the other more fundamental parts of the game crashed and burned. Though I think the idea was interesting enough to carry a game, the lack of strong gameplay mechanics, the imbalance of laser strengths and weaknesses, and the sub par writing sink this ship and leave it floating among an intergalactic pile of debris. Skip this game, it does little in the ways of originality or entertainment and leaves a sour taste of time wasted after playing though the first few levels of the game, let alone by the time you reach the later stages.