Punches And Pantsu

HIGH It has a great sense of style.

LOW The framerate tanks this badly on a Vita port?

WTF ‘Chicken Constable Honetsuki Juju’.

Question time, fellow men! What’s the best method of attracting women? Lots of money? A chiseled, herculean body? Classical good looks? Having something even vaguely resembling a personality? Actually talking to them once in a while?

No, idiots! Women can only be impressed by smashing other strong men into the ground with terrifying force before dumping a car on top of them or kicking them through a nearby window. The more shattered bones, detached retinas and dislodged teeth, the better. Trust me fellas, women love that shit.

Well, maybe not in real life. In the world of Uppers, though, it’s the sole driving force for our two girl-hungry heroes Ranma Kamishiro and Michiru Sakurai.

As luck would have it, hordes of young women line the streets of Last Resort Island, praying that someone will get the absolute shit kicked out of them nearby. And get the shit kicked out of them they will, because fights kick off in this area at a frequency of every three nanoseconds. Delinquents, hoodlums, ne’er-do-wells and paid assassins lurk on every street corner, so it’s up to our heroes to crush them all in the name of potentially hooking up with the fairer sex.

The combat in Uppers is simple 3D brawler fare. Players enter an arena then face down a horde of punks armed with weak attacks, strong attacks, a throw button, occasional contextual attacks utilising the environment and the occasional superpowered beatdown once they power up from punching dudes in the face.

Weak attacks chain into a fast combo, strong attacks can absorb enemy blows before bashing them across the battlefield, throws break through guarding opponents and might smack them into a helicopter or the like depending on what’s nearby, and triggering the super via building up a meter results in a massively damaging buttonmashing QTE event where players can optionally swap over to their partner for a neat tag team finisher.

If that sounds like a perfunctory rundown of how the game plays, that’s entirely appropriate. It’s a perfunctory experience without many surprises during its runtime. Clear some stages, whallop a boss, occasionally pick up a new ‘Queen’ (a support character who revives downed players by having their crotch act as a cushion for the defeated character’s face to land on) and occasionally buy a new T-shirt or dress for these Queens between stages.

Probably the most unique aspect of Uppers involves fulfilling the requests of cheering onlookers. This is fine if the requests are simple, such as defeating a couple of enemies, but it loses its appeal once players have to start hunting down enemies across the stage, kiting them back to whichever group is making demands, then trying to complete more awkward requests like doing homing attacks off the walls or winning the panty slot lottery multiple times in a row.

Oh, I didn’t mention that?

There’s a strange slot machine mechanic where blasting an opponent near a horde of cheering girls will cause the shockwave to flip their skirts up. Matching three colors and patterns together will bestow a number of bonuses such as restoring health or making attacks more powerful.

Occasionally the underwear slots will fill up the screen and require a button mashing minigame to power the shockwave up enough to get that third skirt up.  I’m assuming it’s done for comedy rather than titillation, because most players will likely find it about as erotic as a dead monkey in the passenger seat of their car.

The AI is disappointing. Enemies often stand around staring off into space, aside from one immensely annoying quirk — they LOVE to punch players in the back of the skull to prematurely end a combo. Sure, they can be countered using a slightly cumbersome dodge mechanic, but it’s annoying to deal with. The camera doesn’t help when things get busy, either. It often zooms in far too close or gets hung up on environmental features, and the framerate can utterly tank down to single digits when a lot of characters are on screen, even on a PC with decent specifications. 

Uppers also constantly feels like it comes up with the beginning of a good idea, then fails to follow through appropriately. There’s a gym unlocked about halfway through the story, but the upgrades available are minimal. New outfits are rarely anything more exciting than a palette swap, the Queens all feel more or less identical to one another despite allegedly offering different bonuses as their affection levels up, and each stage feels incredibly similar, save that some of them feature bosses with massive health pools to slowly whittle down.

The storyline occasionally branches off to introduce new characters and their aspirations, but these are always abandoned so quickly that it’s confusing as to why they tried to give these characters a backstory in the first place. Also, most of them play almost exactly the same with an abundance of recycled moves which doesn’t really help matters.

Uppers is a tough game to recommend. As much as I love the settling and style, the gameplay, writing and progression path leave much to be desired. It also becomes repetitive within just a few stages, and even showboating for the girls adds nothing to the package. It’s a shame, really. Uppers gets the style half of the experience right, but it really should have spent more time on the fundamentals.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Bullets and published by Marvelous and XSEED Games. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 11 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

 Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Sexual Themes, Violence and Strong Language. The aviolence is pretty cartoony and bloodless, so it’s more the sexy bits that it’s being dinged for as far as the age rating goes. Brief comical shots of heads between female breasts and legs? Yep, that happens. Oh, and some casual swearing. F bombs, son.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are enough visual aids during gameplay to make sure that audio isn’t necessary for play. Subtitles are a good size, and the game audio is in Japanese anyway, so most Western players will be entirely reliant on subtitles to convey much of the information.

Remappable Controls: Uh… kind of? The keyboard, which I wouldn’t recommend using, can have its keys mapped to various functions of a gamepad. ‘Y’ on the keyboard could be changed to ‘up’ on the Dpad, for example. However, controller configurations can’t be changed. So… on a PS4 pad Square is a weak attack, Triangle is a strong attack, X throws and Circle dashes. L1 and L2 allows for the use of guarding and countering, R1 and R2 resets the camera. Up on the Dpad taunts, Left and Right on the Dpad tags in and out the backup character, and Down triggers a powered up ‘Rise Up’ phase which allows for the use of superpowered attacks through combos.

Darren Forman
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