REVIEW : UPPERS (PC)
If you look into the current work of Japanese game developer Kenichiro Takaki you’ll see some impressive projects. Joining games in 2019, Takaki has served as an advisor on Granblue Fantasy Versus and upcoming action-adventure Granblue Fantasy: Relink, alongside a producer credit on another seemingly major forthcoming adventure game titled Project Awakening.
Uppers, at first glance, seems like the one game in his recent repertoire to buck that trend.
The narrative is paper-thin, but the gritty atmosphere and hot-blooded style of the play is a huge departure from the typical bright and pastel schoolgirl antics that Honey Parade Games is normally known for. The one similarity among the presentation of these games is the focus on partnership. There are over a dozen characters in the play, and lots of them are pairs of friends or siblings who look out for each other. Sadly, while the unique characteristics and personalities are a major highlight of the Senran Kagura series, your protagonists in Uppers are a bit more one-dimensional.
This theme of partnership extends to the surprisingly deep gameplay. Uppers is more of a focused-in traditional 3D brawler than the Dynasty Warriors-style hack-and-slash action of other Honey Parade Studios games. You’ve got a light strike, heavy attack, and a grab, but on top of that is a Rise-Up mechanic that allows you tentatively power-up to extend your combos. Unleash button-mashing finishing blows, and even tag your partner character in to extend the final attack or take over the battle.
It’s helpful to be capable to swap among characters on the fly, but there are rarely situational benefits to this. Characters all feel and work similarly, as opposed to the varied play-styles and mechanics of Senran Kagura or Valkyrie Drive characters. Still, the action in Uppers is anything but stupid, especially on higher challenges.
You’ve even got micro-missions and requests to fulfil mid-battle, and this is where the life&hometown signature of Honey Parade Games shines through. See, the reason our protagonists want to rise to the top and kick everyone’s asses is that, in this town, chicks go nuts for dudes who fight real good. During missions, you’ll see crowds of girls seeing you fight, and if you fulfil their requests like throwing someone a certain amount of times or breaking a wall, they’ll flip out, give you a health-boosting love letter, and likely trigger a pervy animation in the process.
Oh, you also collect panties during battles by flipping upskirts with gusts of wind, and any girl you get a love letter from can be visited outside of missions to customize their clothes and mess with their character model in a dressing room. It’s…a lot. It’s nothing new if you’ve played any other Honey Parade Game, but the contrast between the dude-power presentation of the game and the cliche anime fanservice will likely turn plenty of people off.
And so you go, brawling baddies, gathering panties, and thumbing through cutscenes about how severely your heroes want to bust skulls and grab boobs. It’s a mysterious, simple-minded and ultra-hammy game, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Unless you challenge yourself by maxing out the difficulty or going for every love-letter request, the loop of the game can get pretty monotonous and simply pretty fast. There aren’t nearly as many upgrades or customisation choices to pursue in this game as there are in other Honey Parade Games titles, so the incentive to stick with the game ’til the end is pretty low.