Self-parody as a genre may seem like a strange idea, but it's one that's crept up rather successfully in gaming over the past year. Taking standard gameplay concepts and exploiting their ridiculousness for our amusement has proven highly successful in the world of flash games. Web-based parodies like You Have to Burn the Rope or Super Press Space to Win Action RPG 2009 have made us chuckle more than we'd like to admit, but they all seem to suffer from one fatal flaw: they don't offer much more than a punchline. That's where Upgrade Complete is different.
Upgrade Complete takes the mechanic of purchasing upgrades to an insanely silly level. Everything in the game requires an in-game purchase to upgrade. Want music? You'll have to pay for that. Want a title screen? You'll have to pay for that too. Copyright text, better graphics, menu buttons — you'll need to pay for all of it. It's a very tongue-in-cheek take on the endless upgrades that so many characters needs to purchase in traditional games, and yet this simple and amusing concept actually comes wrapped around a surprisingly addictive game.
While the humorous concept of Upgrade Complete is what will draw you in, the gameplay is what will keep you there. Once you get passed the required menu purchases, Upgrade Complete offers a bite-sized vertical space shooter that makes up the true core of the game. Unlike most shooters of this nature, the space combat in Upgrade Complete is incredibly simple. Since you can't die, your level of skill with this sort of game is really irrelevant here. Obliterating enemy ships is your sole means of earning money, which you'll need to continue making all of the required upgrades. The game is over once, as the name suggests, all of the upgrades are completed.
Money is earned for every ship killed, but to advance to the next wave you'll need to destroy all of the ships presented in each level. Luckily the upgrades aren't just a part of the presentation — you'll be able to upgrade your ship with up to 12 weapons and attachments, each of which can be upgraded even further to improve their effectiveness. If you ever find your ship too weak to complete a level, just play that level a few times to earn some cash and use those newly acquired funds to arm yourself to the teeth. Since you can always earn more funds, you can always build up your strength. Because of this it's virtually impossible to lose the game.
Getting from start to finish in Upgrade Complete will probably take you about half an hour depending on how quickly you've upgraded your weaponry. During that time you'll delight in seeing some genuine improvements to the games presentation due to the upgrades you've purchased. Everything from the evolution of the title screen to the addition of music makes the package just that much tighter, and gives the player a real sense of reward for the time they've invested.
Of all the improvements you'll purchase, none seem quite as noticeable as the graphics. Beginning with late 1970's Atari-era visuals, you'll purchase your way through four distinct art styles that seem to act as a history of video games. Armor Games made a brilliant decision in making the graphics engine an upgradable feature. My only complaint is that there weren't more styles to purchase. I would have loved to have seen a Starfox style faux-3D take on the gameplay, or a highly-polished Ikaruga inspired art.
Though it's not fantastic by any traditional sense, Upgrade Complete offers up exceptionally rewarding gameplay while it pokes traditional gaming conventions with the big sharp stick of satire. If you're looking for a ridiculous chuckle this afternoon that you'll enjoy from start to finish, Upgrade Complete is definitely the way to go.