|July 14, 2016
|Arena Brawler / Beat ‘Em Up
Kenichiro Takaki is best known for being the “Righteous Boob Producer” of the Senran Kagura series, a titillating and fun brawler action series that’s become a cult hit over here in the West. The Senran Kagura games charmed both niche gamers and those who were just curious to see what it was about. Its main draws were the cute ninja high school girl characters and surprisingly deep and intriguing story. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gratuitous amounts of shameless fanservice that went along with it (not that I believe there’s anything TO be ashamed of there). Uppers is one of Takaki-san’s latest arena brawler games, this time featuring delinquent young men brawling in the inner city, the kind of guys who’d be right at home in a shonen manga like Yu Yu Hakusho or Great Teacher Onizuka.
This doesn’t mean that the fanservice is gone, it’s just handled differently. The gameplay of Uppers has you control a pair of characters who set out to beat up other guys in small scale stages, about the size of those found in Shinovi Versus, and as you fight groups of them, there are girls who cheer you on from the sidelines – your goal is to impress them somehow. This can involve a number of different methods, whether it’s beating up a certain amount of enemies, getting a specific combo count or using a special move or the environment itself to take down your foes. Sadly I don’t have much knowledge of Japanese, so it took some guessing to figure out what each of them wanted me to do. What I did notice was that some of the story content was gated off until I achieved a certain percentage of girls whom I impressed, so I had to go back and figure out what I was missing.
At times what will happen is a a slot machine-like event occurs, and if you get three pairs of matching panties, you’re treated to some upskirt shots of the girls. Sexy! But believe it or not, the amount of fanservice in this game still isn’t as much as what you’d find in a typical Senran Kagura game. One last thing worth mentioning here is that there’s a “second wind” mechanic where if you’re downed, there’s a chance your character will get knocked away towards your chosen “support girl”, landing face first in her chest or crotch. She ends up hitting you away, but the sensation is so wonderful that your character gets reinvigorated and ready for another round of fighting. That’s how you know this is a Kenichiro Takaki game – never underestimate the power of Life and Hometown.
The story of Uppers is told in a visual novel format, much like Senran Kagura is. While I couldn’t understand much of what was happening, I was still able to play it well enough to figure out what I needed to do in each stage. The fighting system is pretty easy to figure out, too. You have your strong and weak attacks, throws, and you can basically just button mash your way to victory. You also have a Voltage meter on the left that fills as you fight and impress the girls – once you activate a charge of it, you go into this super mode with a blue afterimage, and you can pummel your opponent Kenshiro-style to rack up big points. At the end of each stage, you’re given a rating. I didn’t find it too difficult to achieve A, S/SS rankings on the normal difficulty, so all in all I think this is pretty accessible for newbies, despite the whole language barrier issue.
Sadly, this game isn’t without its problems. While the character models look good enough on the Vita, when the action gets too intense, there’s some serious slowdown going on. To be fair, this is a recurring issue with Vita games in general, but when I’m trying to enjoy a brawler action game, I don’t want anything to put a drag on the combat. And while the characters all technically use different combat styles, in the end you don’t play them any differently, since, as I mentioned, you can literally just button mash to win. In short, deeper combat would have improved this game quite a bit.
Overall, I think fans of Takaki-san’s previous work should find much to enjoy in Uppers, but it feels like a lesser game compared to Senran Kagura. I’m not sure if that’s because Tamsoft wasn’t involved this time, or there was just too much of an emphasis of making it easy to get into. If you just like simple beat em up games, by all means, pick it up. Others should maybe look elsewhere for their arena brawler fix. Now if only I could impress girls with superhuman anime fighting skills in real life… You can buy this for $44.99 on Play Asia (who was kind enough to provide a copy for us for review). I got a good 10 hours out of it for the purpose of this review.
Review copy was provided by Play-Asia