Twin stick shooters have become synonymous with Xbox Live Arcade ever since the inception of the service. When the Xbox 360 launched Geometry Wars emerged onto the scene and created a following that has lasted throughout the console’s lifecycle. There is rarely a month that goes by that we are not greeted by yet another mindlessly addictive shooter and PowerUp Forever brings yet a different concept to the mix. Like the name implies Namco Bandai’s latest XBLA offering delivers an endless stream of enemies and levels for a game that lasts only as long as you can manage to stay alive. The end result is a unique, albeit somewhat flawed take on the genre.
What separates PowerUp Forever from other games of this type is the premise. Instead of level after level of progression Forever throws endless waves of enemies at you until you face off against the Guardian. If you manage to survive the attack and take down the Guardian you are rewarded with a ship upgrade, making your vessel larger and shrinking some of the opposition down. Think of it as an evolution shooter and you will get the idea. Some of the larger enemies appear as landmarks when you are smaller and regular-sized enemies become cannon fodder as you increase in size. This is also highlighted by a change of background colors and music. The overall presentation is enough to keep you interested from wave to wave.
For the most part this hook works in keeping things fresh, but it doesn’t come without a price. After so long you begin to wonder what else the title has to offer so you begin testing out the other modes. Sadly you quickly realize that no matter which variation you choose, they all feel strikingly familiar. These range from simply defeating wave after wave of Guardians to the more casual Overkill, where the developers give you an unlimited number of smart bombs that make the game a bit more manageable and chaotic. While these modes will certainly give you something else to practice at they are hardly distinct enough to keep you coming back for more. In essence PowerUp Forever is all about getting better at one particular aspect of the game, much like the fabled Geometry Wars.
Unlike the aforementioned juggernaut though Forever instead employs a much less stressful battleground. The controls are nearly identical with the left stick used for movement and the right stick dedicated to firing your weapons, which is where the similarities end. There are no one-hit kills and the enemies don’t feel as aggressive (outside of the Guardians) making the overall atmosphere much more inviting for novice shooter fans. However, the lack of progression will likely frustrate modern gamers as they are not used to having to start all the way over each time they die, so in a way PowerUp Forever feels like an old school game dressed up in next-gen visuals.
The visuals are easily the highlight of the entire package as they serve both as a part of the game and eye candy. Each time you take down a Guardian the background color switches and the viewpoint feels like it pans out to give you a bigger look at the level. The way the game handles perspective is reminiscent of the PSN title flow in that each level you progress to feels slightly larger than the last. The lighting is one of the brighter points as it meshes so well with the style that everything on the screen quickly becomes a visual delight.
The music is equally impressive mixing a wide range of techno beats and dance music that changes from wave to wave creating a true sense of immersion. The sound effects though feel like something ripped out of the generic shooter toolkit. Laser blasts and smart bombs simply do not have the impact they do in other games and there are times where sound effects feel almost absent altogether.
There are a lot of things to love about PowerUp Forever: the trippy visuals, addictive old-school style of gameplay, but there are also some things that tend to weight it down. Lack of multi-player, repetitive gameplay and generic sound effects keep this one from being a classic in its genre. However, if you are a fan of games like Mutant Storm and Geometry Wars then PowerUp Forever is likely to satisfy your need for twin-stick shooters. Trying to reach one more level can be addictive and the visuals alone are worth at least checking out the demo.