PowerUp Heroes Review
Posted by James Newton
Here to save the world?
It's easy to see the big difference here: whereas Uncaged was set in the dirty world of street-fighting, PowerUp transports you to a world of malevolent beings and heroes in super-powered suits. It's Power Rangers, Ben 10 and a thousand childish fantasies rolled into one, and does an admirable job of catering to the superhero wish fulfilment we all harbour.
In the game's campaign mode you play a human being – your Avatar, in fact – who must use super-powered suits to fend off an invasion by the evil alien Malignance. It's pulpy and unobtrusive, and absolutely ideal as a result, with a few comic book-style interludes and a cheesy voice over fitting the theme perfectly. You work your way through Malignance's minions, absorbing their abilities and gaining experience until you're ready to take on the big boss himself. It's fast-paced and simplistic, and thankfully easy to navigate thanks to implementation of the Dance Central menu system.
Combat is responsive and engaging: you select two power suits, each with unique special powers activated by gestures, swapping between suits by raising your left arm. Gestures are distinct enough for the game to pick up your intentions reliably and are, crucially, fun to pull off – Necro smashes a staff into the ground, Scorch breathes fire and, best of all, Volta fires a lightning bolt, hadouken-style. There's also basic punch moves to fire projectiles and a kick that rushes towards your opponent, but the key to success is chaining special moves.
If you successfully land a special move, your opponent is stunned and the game invites you to chain another attack: pulling off a different move from the same suit will work, but swapping suits does more damage and allows you to chain as many as three attacks together. Learning which moves flow together and managing their recharge rates is about as tactical as things get, but it's always satisfying to put together a string of unblockable, highly damaging super attacks.
It's not so satisfying to be on the receiving end of course, and although PowerUp Heroes has no block it does let you interrupt opponents' moves with a dash, projectile or super attack of your own. You can also parry strikes if your opponent rushes in close, though these do so little damage it's hardly worth worrying about. You can also dodge by leaning your torso to either side, with the camera auto-locking on your opponent so you needn't worry about losing track of them.
Fights are energetic and enjoyable, but for the most part too easy, and here's where PowerUp starts to power down. The campaign mode is a meagre two or three hours long, and although you can level your character up as high as level 10 we clocked it at level 3. Once you've finished you can rematch against previous opponents to continue levelling up, but if you could defeat the end boss at level 3, where's the incentive to get up to 10? Granted there are power-ups and extra suits to unlock – including neat nods to Assassin's Creed II and Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands – but if you're a solo player you'll find yourself finishing the story once and never again. Replayability is further limited by the fact that half your opponents are just powered-up versions of the other half: Scorch and Scorch X, Necro and Necro X etc., with mostly the same moves.
It's not really until you face off against Malignance at the end that the game throws any challenge your way, with a typical fighting game boss who has an answer to every attack and can execute them fast and flawlessly. As you take damage your in-game Rage meter builds, but by the time your opponent has landed his third unblockable combo your real-life rage meter will be off the charts. If more enemies put up this kind of challenge the campaign may have lasted longer than two or three hours, though it should be noted that's far longer than many other fighting games.
When you've clocked single-player there's local and Xbox Live multiplayer to try your hand at too, with vertical split-screen for two local players to make things a little fairer. Online multiplayer has a few issues with input lag but is still a welcome chance to face off against others with your offline skills, with leaderboards and online achievements for those ready to answer the call.
PowerUp Heroes is an 8-year old boy's dream come true, with super powers, evil villains and the ability to see a cartoon version of yourself throw fireballs. It's fun in a knockabout kind of way, and a welcome indication that Ubisoft's starting to get a grip on Kinect's capabilities.