Power-Up

The timing on being asked to look over this game was impeccable as I recently watched the movie “100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience” which featured a section on the classic Japanese bullet hell shooters. I have had a craving to play one ever since, and Power-Up helped fill that need.

Powerup1
Power-Up is a throwback to the classic space shoot ‘em ups of yesterday such as R-Type and Gradius. There are aliens, upgrades to your ships or weapons, and bullets galore to dodge. It’s a tried and true formula and a general description of most of these games that have come out over the past thirty years.

In Power-Up there are five weapon types that you can select at any time: straight ahead, straight back, straight up/down, a forward spread, and a plasma weapon that… does something? I’ll get back to that in a moment. Each weapon can be “powered-up” to give it an incremental boost from items that fly onto the screen as is tradition. From what I could tell, for the most part, these upgrades only increase the rate of fire and lengthen the beam for each shot. If weapons actually do increase in strength it was a small enough increase that they never felt stronger to me. Enemies appeared to take just as long to kill as with “weaker” weapons. The upgrades you collect also don’t appear to be based on anything such as killing a particular enemy; they appear on a set schedule. It took me a number of plays to realize this: “What did I just do to make the bonus points appear? Did I kill something to spawn that power-up?”

Although there are five weapons, you really only need two of them to advance far into the game: the forward spread and the reverse laser. I was able to cheese my way easily through the first three chapters by upgrading my spread weapon before I touched the reverse-firing weapon. It wasn’t until chapter 4, and those little assholes running around on the ground shooting at me, that I needed to work on the up/down-firing weapons. I felt severely outgunned when trying to play with only the single forward shot, and even worse, I never quite figured out what the plasma weapon was supposed to be good for. Its firing range is extremely short so you have to get very close to enemies to be able to use it. I thought perhaps it would deflect bullets like one of the weapons in the classic game 1942 but nope. It felt useless except to fill my screen with a pretty purple.

Purple lasers of ???

Purple lasers of ???

One final problem with the weapons: the fully-charged shots all make the outside of the screen glow white when fired — the faster the shot, the more intense the flashing. I could usually ignore it under normal conditions, but when I was playing while tired one night, the flashing really got to me to the point that I had to turn off the game.

The story isn’t going to win the award for the next Lord of the Rings (that’s an award, right?), but it feels like a classic shooter tale. You’re one of the last humans alive, trying to destroy the people who destroyed Earth. The pilot is a bit easy to rile up and gets himself into trouble. It’s amusing listening to the pilot talk with his computer AI as they determine what to do next.

You don’t have access to a high score list like I would have hoped. The game keeps track of your high score, but the only time you ever get to see it is when you lose all of your lives. It would be nice either to see this score on the title screen or to be able to see a list of them somewhere.

This is beginning to sound like a long gripe-fest but to be honest, I had fun playing this game and it’s a good piece of work for a one-person entry. There are a number of things I feel could be improved upon, but it’s a good value for the price and there is plenty of fun to be had. None of the issues I describe above really make the game bad in any sense. If you’re a fan of shoot ‘em ups, definitely give this one a try.

xboxboxartPower-Up was developed by Psychotic Software.

IGTlogo-01For $1 you, too, can shit yourself when the logo appears at the launch of the game.

Power-Up has earned has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval by Miko. Leaderboards for Indie Game Team are coming soon.

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Spoids (Second Chance with the Chick)

I reviewed Spoids back in April and it aggravated the ever-loving shit out of me so much that I wrote an editorial on game difficulty in part because of it.  Well, Spoids is back, all patched up and ready to kick your ass some more.  Why?  Because all the changes implemented are so miniscule in their scope that you’ll hardly notice them.  Since I had a fairly big list of complaints last time, I’ll do what I’ve done in the past and go over every concern one by one.

Original: The enemies are too bullet-spongy.

New Build: The enemies are still too bullet-spongy.  I can spam whole sections of the board with all sorts of firepower and the fuckers still can walk through entire hallways with minimal damage.  The bosses are allegedly less tough, but it doesn’t really seem that way in practice.  The bosses that unleash five extremely fast-moving enemies when they die are still able to absorb entire rows of gunfire without so much as blinking.  They’re usually pretty close to an exit when they die, leaving no time for your defenses to stand a reasonable chance at stopping half the shit they drop, no matter how many things you put to slow stuff down.  Speaking of which, the slowdown stuff is ironically too slow to activate.  When the fast-moving “zoomers” show up, they often cruise a few spaces past the slow-down-thingies before they actually do yield.  We call this “Getting a Yellow Light in California Syndrome.”

God this stage pissed me off. Fucking gloriously addictive piece of shit.

Original: The flying enemies and their associated tower are way unbalanced.

New Build: Efforts were made to fix this, but they failed.  The only tower that attacks flying creatures is the Homing Missile.  Before, they cost $125 a unit, which was way overpriced for a tower that is useless against the vast, vast, vast majority of enemies.  The guys at AirWave took this advice to heart and discounted the tower that is useless against most of the enemies and slow to react to the ones it is effective against to a generous $110.  Gee, thanks guys.  Meanwhile, you still need to occasionally couple them with radar towers, which cost $50.  So the discount you gave us isn’t even enough to make a down payment on one of those.  Hell, it’s barely a third of the cost of the weakest offensive tower in the game.  Why not just suck the fillings out of my teeth while you’re at it?

Meanwhile, the flying guys are allegedly weaker and attack less frequently.  I will admit that the flyers are  slightly more tolerable, but they still are overpowered compared to the price and effectiveness of the towers that can attack them.  A problem with Spoids in general is the important, single-functional towers are slow to react to everything.  The radar stuff takes too long to make the invisible enemies visible.  The slow-down stuff takes too long to slow down the zoomers.  The missiles take too long to fire on the flyers, and they don’t put out enough bullets or fire often enough.  I once again spammed entire sections of the screen with the worthless-against-99%-of-the-enemies missile towers and radar and still had entire strings of flyers just shrug them off and cause damage.

Original: Money doesn’t accumulate fast enough.

New Build: It still doesn’t.  In a game that has so many enemies that require special, non-offensive towers just to open up their vulnerability, you really don’t get enough resources in Spoids.  In the stages where enemies hit you from two different starting points, you often have to pick and choose which side to “let go of” and hope you can catch up later.  You often can’t.  When guys who phase in and out of view are around, you have to set up radar towers, which are costly and don’t fire.  The phasers are every bit as spongy as everything else, so you often have to set up multiple towers just to pick off the front line.  When the zoomers come in, not only do they take more damage to kill than Jason Voorhees but they run faster than your towers can shoot.  To have a chance, you have to put the slowdown towers in, but they come at a cost of $100.  However, their range of effectiveness is small and they don’t activate fast enough, meaning that most of them will receive minimal damage.  You have to cover every corner with the slow-down-thingies, but if you do that you won’t have the money for guns.  It sucks that the tougher enemies don’t pay in proportion to how much they cost to kill.

Don’t count on being able to cover the map like this during story mode. Not even close.

Original: The game cost 240 Microsoft Points.

New Build: The game costs 80 Microsoft Points.  Thus I now feel comfortable recommending Spoids.  For all of its faults, and those faults are massive, Spoids is every bit as fun and addictive as tower defense games can be.  If you’re into these things, that is.  Haters of the genre won’t be converted by it.  But, I liked it.  Don’t get me wrong, if I ever encounter the developers I might give this whole “strangle a fellow human being” thing a test drive, but it will be because I liked the game.  Just not as much as I could have.  AirWave Games has talent.  I just wish the next time they say they’re going to fix a game, they do more than drop the price.  Which was admittedly enough to sway me to say “okay, it’s worth buying” but that’s not the point.  I’m not even sure if the game is better.  I did beat it this time, but it still took me over a dozen tries to finish the 8th and final stage.  After that many tries, you don’t feel a sense of satisfaction.  You feel a sense of “thank Christ I don’t have to start all over with it again.”  Games should never leave you feeling that.  Ever.  They’re entertainment, not dental surgery.  Still, Spoids is one of the most polished looking games on the market, and it’s very playable.  And it’s made by some really cool developers whose necks I’m hoping will be very wringable.

Spoids was developed by AirWave Games

IGC_Approved80 Microsoft Points have always wanted to try the Vulcan Nerve Pinch on someone in the making of this review.  Oh Mommy, come here for a moment. 

Spoids is also available on Desura for $2.99.  This version is unverified by Indie Gamer Chick.  The XBLIG version is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Manic Miner 360

Let’s travel back to 1983.  It was a dark time in the world.  A time when people lived in fear of communism, nuclear annihilation, and Walter Mondale.  A time when kids had to play their Ataris in three feet of snow, and do their math homework using solar-powered calculators like savages instead of their cell phones.  A time when the most high-tech consoles had “vision” in them instead of “box” or “station.”  A time when “playing with your Wii” sounded like a shameful act, as opposed to today where.. nevermind.  Most importantly to me, it was a time where I wasn’t born yet.  Thus, I’m not particularly nostalgic for what the early 80s had to offer.

Party like it’s 1983! Let’s all freebase cocaine and watch Knight Rider!

So Manic Miner 360, an XBLIG port of a 1983 ZX Spectrum game, isn’t something that would make me get all warm and gushy.  My reader base might feel otherwise.  Oddly enough, the average reader of Indie Gamer Chick tends to be about ten years older than I am.  In a way, I’m tickled pink over that.  I mean, it’s pretty cool that so many older people are interested in what I, some snooty little shit who wasn’t weened on Space Invaders and text-based RPGs, thinks about gaming.  On the other hand, it can be a bit of a curse at times, especially when it comes to nostalgic releases like this.  When I started to complain about the flaky controls and unforgiving design, I was immediately hit with several “it was good back in the day” tweets.  Somehow, I’m guessing a response of “this isn’t back in the day!  It’s today!” won’t be a sufficient explanation for why I’m not having fun.

I guess there’s no point in debating whether people who liked this game thirty years ago will still enjoy it today.  They obviously do.  I do question whether they really enjoy it on the same level they did as kids.  You mean to tell me that all the evolution gaming has gone through in 30 years doesn’t change your perception of Manic Miner?  Look, I can’t see things your way on this.  Without the perspective of nostalgia, I kind of have to take games like this on face value.  It controls like shit.  Movement and jumping are very stiff.  The levels are frustrating.  The game centers around “gotcha” game design, where you can’t possibly know about a hidden trap until it activates.  Manic Miner isn’t really a platformer or a punisher.  It’s a trial-and-error memory test.  Each level typically has one specific path that you have to follow, and enemies have predictable patterns that you have to memorize.  Once you have that shit down, it’s just a matter of keeping it all together and fighting with the abysmal controls.  Some people liked it.  A few people told me they knew of people who could beat it without the infinite lives cheat (which is thankfully built-in and optional).  Yea, that is impressive.  So is being able to fart the Star-Spangled Banner on command, but I don’t want to take the time to learn how to do it.

Mind you, I’m told this is a truly faithful port, so if you loved the broken controls and restrictive design thirty years ago, nothing has changed here.  Same graphics, same sound effects, same clunky jumping, same dick-moves.  For some people, that’s all they want.  This is a game made for them.  Can a new audience from my generation get behind this game?  Some weirdos might, in the same way there are people my age that have Pac-Man tattoos and dress like Don Johnson.  I’m not saying everything from the 80s was terrible.  I can’t think of anything that wasn’t off the top of my head, but I’m sure there’s something from that decade didn’t suck.

After beating a level that featured things that were certainly not Pac-Man, I entered a stage that featured something that was definitely not Donkey Kong.

I know it’s aggravating for older people to have to listen to people my age say intolerant, obviously erroneous statements like “everything from the 80s sucked.”  The 80s probably didn’t suck any more or less than the 90s or whatever the fuck the last decade was called.  Did anyone ever come to a consensus on the name for the last decade?  If not, may I suggest the Goobers.  No reason why, I just think that would be funny.  My point is, nostalgia is whatever you make of it.  Like any form of entertainment, one Indie Gamer Chick’s trash is another geriatric’s treasure.  Maybe people my age need re-releases like Manic Miner to show us whippersnappers just how lucky we are.  Lucky that we didn’t grow up in an era where games had bad control inputs, shoddy design level design, load times of six minutes, install times upwards of hours and, uh, nevermind.

Manic Miner 360 was developed by Elite Systems

240 Microsoft Points should have probably been 80 Microsoft Points instead in the making of this review.

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