From the amazingly perverted mind of Kenichiro Takaki comes something that isn’t all about the ladies – on the surface at least. Uppers is a game about two best friends that end up on an island with some of the world’s best fighters, pitted in a perpetual battle… to impress those ladies the game doesn’t seem to be about. That’s right, even when almost all the playable characters are men the game is still all about the females; and let me tell you why that’s A-OK in my book.
Disclaimer: Being a Japanese language import title, I wasn’t able to glean the finer points of the story and ended up only catching bits and pieces. As such, this review will deal with the game from the perspective that aside from the basics I’ve got no idea about the story.
That said, the story was light on text – leading me to believe that it’s more of a tie-together than a large part of the game. Complimentary, the active gameplay seems like it’s where you’ll spend 90% or more of the game… so this game is one well suited for import despite the language barrier.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back into that review. 😉
In Uppers, you’re put in the shoes of Ranma and Mitsuru – two childhood friends that have attained the status of local bad-asses. Together they end up on an island lovingly called “Last Resort,” having to tag-team battle their way through a slew of other fighters. That’s pretty much all we know about the story, which seems to be quite light in nature as – for the most part – it’s only a few lines at the beginning and end of each mission. The story isn’t what fuels this game though, as the gameplay is where it’s at.
In the beginning, you only have access to the two main characters and a very limited amount of missions. You’ll take on some enemies and learn how to play in the process, getting the confidence to move up in the world and maybe some stuff from the One Point clothing shop in the process. You’ll learn that the game is basically a 3D version of the classic side-scrolling game Double Dragon – putting you against enemies with some simple attacks and a swap mechanic. Where Uppers shines however, is in making the gameplay over-the-top; where Uppers shines is in embracing its simplicity.
Using the square button to deliver light attacks, the triangle button to deliver heavy attacks, the circle button to grab your opponent, and the left and right d-pad directions to swap between teammates, you’ll take on each level as a chance to beat the pulp out of a bunch of enemies. You’ll be able to unlock some extra power once you’ve built up your power meter, which can then be unleashed using down on the d-pad for some super button-mashing finishers.
Sometimes beating up all the enemies will lead to a stronger level boss (or Street King, if you will), which are tougher, more aggressive, and less prone to taking your beatings lying down than the others you’ll fight. That said, in the end they’re probably still no match for you what-so-ever…
That’s ’cause while Uppers is certainly a fun game that’s simple, it’s also quite easy. It wasn’t until the very final levels of the game that I started having trouble, and I played the entire game taking on both hard and normal difficulty missions. I wanted to experience the entirety of what was there, and in doing so I saw just how easy the game could be; very. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy my time with the game, or that I wouldn’t go back and play it even once platinumed, ’cause I would – but it’s not as hard as I was expecting to say the least.
As I said though, it’s a fun game that’s simple – and where it shines is the ability to glean some difficulty from the challenges you’re given aside from just “beat the pulp out of your enemies.” With the help of some internet translation, or a translated guide (I haven’t found a good one yet), you’ll learn that each level has cheerleaders and each set of cheerleaders will have challenges you can complete to get a reward. The challenges they issue seem to be different depending on what cheerleaders you’re around and what difficulty you’re playing on, so obviously the point is to “impress” them all. Good luck without a guide!
Aside from the active gameplay bits and the cheerleaders, there are a few other elements that a player should be made aware of; like the mission select menu, your support queens, the gym you unlock later in the game, and the “Prime” menu.
The mission select menu is laid out like a map, with the player able to choose different locations based on what chapter they’re on and how far they’ve gotten in the game. There are also different levels of missions, with each endeavor offering the options of normal and hard. Personally, I think hard’s the way to go if you’re only going to play each level once… but at the same time I had a lot of fun playing them both. Being that the game isn’t overly long, and you’ll be needing lots of cash if you want to pick up all the costumes and upgrades, I recommend playing all the options you’re given.
Your support queens act like buffers between you and the act of failing. When you are beaten until your health bar reaches zero your support queen will “catch you” in a unique way, and power you back up for a bit of extra fighting with some renewed health. This isn’t a full revival though, as you’re left with only a partial health bar and no more “strikes” before you’re out. As for what happens if you get your health bar drained again, well… you get a nice view at least. 😉
The “gym” you unlock part way through the game is a means by which you can power up your character, their abilities, and their move repertoire. Purchasing skills and upgrades at the gym will enable you to take on tougher enemies easier, though being that you don’t really have to grind for it (especially if you’re playing all options) makes it a bit moot in the end. They could’ve just as easily upped the power of your characters after a certain point in the game, but I suppose this way makes more sense as some levels (like the cage match one) require your character to be at a certain level before participating. This gives you more things to aim for, aside from just clothing at One Point.
The alley between the One Point clothing shop and the arcade holds the “Prime” menu which allows you to select your primary characters, check the status of your characters, view details on the revealed ladies, check the database (which includes experienced events), save the game, and of course change some configuration settings. It’s sort of like a progress hub for your characters instead of the levels you need to take on. I didn’t use it much myself, but I definitely see how it could come in handy – so it’s worth checking out if you get the game yourself.
As for the presentation you’re offered with Uppers, it’s no less than stellar… aside from a few slowdowns in high-action sequences. The characters look crisp, the motions are swift but fluid, and there are flourishes everywhere; what’s not to love, right? Kenichiro Takaki and his team have definitely got skills when it comes to visuals on Vita, and Uppers is a perfect example of that.
Looking to the audio, there’s some edgy guitar riffs that are both hype-inducing and non-obtrusive, tons of quality sound effects, and even some decently acted Japanese voice-overs. All of the sound cues are completely on point, and you really couldn’t ask for too much more; there’s even a music menu for listening to the tracks at your leisure. If you’re in this one for the audio, then you won’t likely be disappointed.
As I come to the end of my playtime with Uppers, the verdict seems to be that the game is repetitive but strangely addictive. Despite the implied language barrier, you’ll find yourself wanting to up your ratings, unlock more content, and conquer hard mode before long; drawn in by the 3D Double Dragon feel of it, and hooked by both the spectacular finishes and fanservice-friendly ladies. There are other beat ’em up action games out there, but Uppers makes you feel like part of the best action movie ever – one you can act out however you want.
How many people want to kick some ass? I do, I do!
This review was sponsored by Play-Asia, who kindly provided the import copy for us to review. If you like the look of Uppers we suggest you give them a visit – both because they’re a quality import dealer, as well as because they’ve been kind enough to help us out!