When it comes to browsing digital shops I’m a real sucker for anything with anime graphics. I can’t help myself I can’t help but be drawn to them particularly if it happens to be a fighter. So when a game matching both of these criteria cropped up the Switch eShop, well how could I resist. It’s true the Nintendo Switch is unfortunately lacking in games at present but Hamster Corporation has jumped on this opportunity by adding a number of titles from their ACA NeoGeo series to the eShop. Among the titles is new addition to the series, Waku Waku 7 a Sunsoft fighting game originally released in 1996.
The story, what little there is of it, is very simple. It is said that the person who collects all seven of the legendary WakuWaku balls will have their dearest wish granted. Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it? Well that’s because Waku Waku 7 is a parody themed fighter using different aspects of Japans anime and gaming culture as a basis for their characters and story. Tesse for example is a robotic maid who wishes to help her master, a possible nod to Astroboy and the popularity of Maid Cafes, and Marurun is a purple bear like creature who wants to return a girl to her parents, a clear parody of Studio Ghibli’s cuddly mascot Totoro.
Now you might be looking at the 7 in the title and thinking this is part of a long franchise of games but no, what it actually refers to is the number of playable characters. Outside of the two mentioned above there’s also Arina a bunny girl looking for love (animal-human hybrid characters), Politank-Z a walking tank (Mecha anime), adventurous delinquent Rai (Sie Kensou from KOF), Slash a sword wielding elf (typical manga/game protagonist) and the muscular Dandy-J (Joseph Joestar of JoJo’s bizzare adventure). The small roster does somewhat hinder the games longevity but the bizarre yet colourful cast has a certain charm that you can’t help but be drawn to.
Luckily the game is also backed up by a solid set of mechanics that makes each match feel action packed and frantic. It works on a 4 button attack setup consisting of two punches and two kicks that are either heavy or light. Throws seem randomly activated and opponents are launched with so much force that they hit the edges of the screen. This gives them a chance to bounce back and counter to keep the flow of the match going. Each fighter has their own distinct style and it’s varied enough that players will enjoy discovering the extent of each characters movesets. Also since the roster size has been kept down more time has been put in to each character to ensure that no one fighter stands above the rest.
Fighters have three distinct special techniques. The first type can be unleashed with a combination of stick movements followed by an attack (quarter-circle + kick etc.) to deal a higher damage move. This can then be boosted further by holding down both kick or punch buttons. The most powerful move though is known as the Harahara movement which is an easy to execute technique that can cause massive unblockable damage to your opponent. However it’ll require a fully charged special bar which is built up from attacks you dole out, and before it’s activated it needs a short time to charge, not long but enough for your opponent to cancel you out of it.
The game controls do take some considerable time to get used, even more so if this is your first time with the Switch. Before you even hit the main menu you’re hit with a splash screen displaying the controls which isn’t very well labelled as it displays controls for two controls schemes at once. Checking the user manual became quite frequent in the early stages. The game is best played with Pro-Controller or with the Joy-con Grip. Two players can also take a Joy-con each and enjoy a couple of brawls however the small button setup means pulling off combos is a little fiddlier.
Like other titles in the ACA NeoGeo collection, you have the choice of launching the game in either the original Japanese format or in English. Playing solo plays like a standard arcade and you can enjoy some comical endings for each character, or you can play competitive local matches. If you’re playing with Joy-Cons though that isn’t actually explained and requires you to go into the systems controller settings to tell it you’re using the controllers separately. Took me and my mate nearly an hour to work that out. Beyond that there is a typical Hi-score mode and a Carnival mode which invites players to get the highest score possible in 5 minute which unfortunately isn’t as much fun. The real disappointment though is that these scores can be posted in leagues online but there is no competitive online mode which really could have extended the games replayability.
Now for the reason I was drawn to the game. Visually Waku Waku 7 is a real treat. There’s a ridiculous cartoony atmosphere, the strong character designs stand out from the detailed backdrops and they’re all wonderfully animated. Super combos and win/lose poses are comical and, along with some voice clip snippets, help give life to the characters. The soundtrack is equally well developed and varied. Arina’s track for example is an upbeat j-pop track that even includes vocals which makes fights with her feel like you’re in an anime opening video. Slash’s on the other hand is more moody with violins and electric guitars making it feel like you’re going up against some epic boss in some JRPG.
If you’re a beat ‘em up fan then this previously Japan-only fighter is well worth a look. Mechanically Waku Waku 7 is solid, fights are always fast-paced and energetic with a great deal of depth to exploit. The addition of an online multiplayer mode could have given it some new life and the limited character roster is disappointing but you’ll find this wacky, colourful cast and setting more entertaining than a lot of other fighters.
ACA Neo Geo: Waku Waku 7 is available only on the Switch.