If you look into the current work of Japanese game developer Kenichiro Takaki you’ll see some impressive projects. Joining CyGames 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 upcoming adventure game titled Project Awakening. Before becoming such a prestigious talent at CyGames, though, Takaki was responsible for a totally unrelated series over at Marvelous and Honey Parade Games – Senran Kagura. The source of the quote “Tits are life, ass is hometown.” has worked on a wide breadth of Senran Kagura spinoffs and original games during his time at Marvelous, but they all circled back to the same sort of hyper-sexualized, pervy adventure that some will love and others will despite.
Uppers, at first glance, seems like the one game in his recent reportoire to buck that trend. Originally released as a PS Vita title quite a few years ago, a localisation was announced in 2018 leading to a surprising stealth release last month, the game focuses on two beefy brothers who are on a quest to kick the ass of every dude in town and become the top brawlers in the city.
The story is paper-thin, but the gritty world and hot-blooded style of the game are a huge departure from the typical bright and pastel schoolgirl antics that Honey Parade Games is usually known for. The one similarity between the presentation of these games is the focus on partnership. There are over a dozen characters in the game, and plenty of them are pairs of pals or brothers who look out for each other. Unfortunately, while the unique characters 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 attack, heavy attack, and a grab, but on top of that is a Rise-Up mechanic that lets you temporarily power-up to extend your combos, unleash button-mashing finishing blows, and even tag your partner character in to extend the finishing attack or take over the fight.
It’s nice to be able to swap between characters on the fly, but there are rarely situational advantages to this. Characters all feel and work in a similar fashion, as opposed to the varied play-styles and mechanics of Senran Kagura or Valkyrie Drive characters. Still, the action in Uppers is anything but mindless, especially on higher difficulties.
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 everyones asses is because, in this town, chicks go nuts for dudes who fight real good. During missions, you’ll see crowds of girls watching you fight, and if you fulfill 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 up skirts 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, collecting panties, and thumbing through cutscenes about how badly your heroes want to bust skulls and grab boobs. It’s a weird, 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 quick. There aren’t nearly as much upgrades or customisation options 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.
When I went into playing Uppers, which is a PC port of an aged PlayStation Vita game, I was expecting it to look a lot worse than it actually does. While minor characters and nameless grunts have clunky character models, all of the major characters and playable brawlers look pretty dang astounding. Textures in the game are sharp, and the frame rate effortlessly locks to a smooth 60fps the entire time. While it’s a shame that this game won’t be able to be experienced in English on the original hardware, the quality of this port makes it feel right at home on a PC setup.