Ah, Upgrade Complete. If ever a game was crying out for a sequel, that wasn’t it. But that’s exactly where we find ourselves with Upgrade Completer – Armor Games’s follow-up to the highly amusing and original, um, original.
For those of you that may have missed the first game, Upgrade Complete was a simplistic vertically scrolling shooter tacked on the end of a well-observed parody of the modern day gamer’s thirst for meaningless achievements, trophies and unlockable content. Players were forced to purchase and upgrade literally EVERYTHING in the game, including menu items, background music and even copyright smallprint. It was very amusing, clever stuff… but surely a sequel would stretch the joke a little thin?
Cue Upgrade Completer, where nothing’s really changed. It’s a bit like George Lucas going back to tamper with the Star Wars movies to fit in all the bits he couldn’t manage the first time round - thankfully with much better results. The whole thing manages to engender such goodwill from the off that despite the sense that you’ve seen it all before, you’re quickly glad to be back along for the ride.
Whilst primarily the same joke you’ve already heard, with Upgrade Completer the dials have all been ramped up to 11 – this time you even have to buy the mouse cursor.
Graphics, menu items, sound effects - everything has to be purchased and upgraded. Driven by an utterly pointless sense of completism, it’s possible to obtain a strange sense of achievement as you unlock more and more items, accompanied by an urge to see all the game has to offer, even though the results can often be underwhelming (how interested are you in a slightly flashier Armor Games animated logo? Really?).
When you start working through the levels of the shooter itself, upgrading your ship (of course) and adding new weapons along the way, killing wave after wave of coin-dropping enemies becomes as much of an exercise in hoarding enough cash to purchase a new background image for the menu screen as the satisfaction of the task itself. And like the rest of the game, oddly satisfying it is. Once you’ve purchased and upgraded enough weapons, waving your mouse around to blast enemy ships with laser beams is about as energetic as it gets. Missiles and canons fire automatically so it’s barely worth even using the cursor keys to move. Yet somehow, the simplistic destruction is appealing, if not particularly challenging.
Despite the variety of upgrades, the game itself remains essentially the same throughout. The action will gradually start to look and sound better as you progress, almost mirroring the progression of Flash games themselves, but the shooter side of things isn’t really the main pull here – it’s more of a vehicle to hang the joke on. It’s an experience rather than a game. Amusing rather than challenging. Zip through the upgrades too fast and you’ll miss some decent jokes.
Upgrade Completer isn’t a game you’ll necessarily want to return to, but it’s clever and distracting enough to be worth your time. Just don’t think too much about how it might be better spent.