Two years ago, Antony Lavelle released Upgrade Complete. A mix of shoot em up and Space Invaders, the games main purpose was to unsubtly parody one of the more obnoxious aspects of modern gaming: the inclusion of unnecessary and convoluted upgrade systems. Everything came at a price and had to be bought: weapons, graphics, music, buttons... even the pre-loader. However, if Upgrade Complete was meant to be scathing indictment, then it was kind of a failure: it turns out that watching a game reconstruct itself from amateur-level to professional was quite engaging and, combined with the solid gameplay, made for an experience voters found worthy of a 2009 Best of Casual Gameplay award in the shooter category. However... it turns out that the developers weren't quite done... After all, what is an upgrade system without a sequel that requires you to start your progress from the beginning? Thus comes Upgrade Completer a game that advances the original's premise as much as its technology, no joke.
Upgrade Completer plays much the same as the original: using a combination of the [arrow keys] and the mouse, you speedily guide your plane across an enemy landscape, blasting everything in your path and collecting the credits that are released from the wreckage to upgrade the fighting power of your ship... and everything else in the game. And I do mean everything. Backgrounds. Weapons. Clouds. Flash Quality. Copyrights. Dead Pixels... everything is up for grabs. Want the interface to be nicer to you? We can arrange that. Want some voice acting from the likes of Egoraptor? You've got it. Want access to the even-more-satirical Indie or 3D modes? Sure. There's a hilarious amount of stuff to unlock, and it's all yours... if you have the credits.
Analysis: I think it was Dolly Parton who said, "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap". Well, Upgrade Completer clearly puts a lot of effort into looking as bad as it does at first. It starts as a clunky, slow, nearly-unplayable mess... which is exactly as it should be and it's terrific to behold. Never let anyone tell you that graphics, grammar and music don't matter in a game... they do and you'll want to be sure to upgrade them to a competent level as soon as possible. Upgrade Completer's developers clearly know all the newbie mistakes of game design, and are ready to demonstrate that they know what not to do (albeit by doing it as much as they can.)
However effective, If it was only a parody, Upgrade Completer wouldn't be worth a second look. However, there is quite a solid base underneath its initially terrible exterior, and its wonderful to see the reinvention of an interface with a click of a button. It's like going through a history of the possibilities of flash gaming from the primitive MSPaint works of years past to the artistic and technical glories of the near-future. Of course, most of the upgrades you buy do quite little: after all, this is still a game that parodies needless unlocking and arbitrarily hidden content. But by the time all the upgrade boxes are filled though, you'll marvel at how far the game has come, and as such, how far flash gaming has progressed as a whole.
In the end, however Upgrade Completer may be based around a single joke, it's a good joke and remains humorous even as the concept is taken to its absolute limits. I do have some general nitpicks about the specific mechanics of the shooting interface and the ship editor, but they almost seem beside the point. You shouldn't approach this game as a shooter, but as a commentary on upgrade systems, and how often they serve only to make a game easier just as you become skilled at it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some premium JiG content to upgrade.
Note: Please be warned that upgrading BPM causes the game to release a flashing "screamer"... i.e. loud noises etc. that will indeed cause the heart to pump faster. Though I generally enjoyed UC, I consider this to be a nasty joke, and think it fair to warn people in advance.