You'd be forgiven if you were one of those gamers who's never even heard of the Japanese niche fighter, Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match.
Its relatively unknown roster and unheralded release here in the U.S. didn’t do it any favors. But if you happen to spot a brand new or used copy of it floating around your local gaming retailer, put some dough down on it. You’ll soon be treating yourself to a solid and fun fighting game that’s charming enough to give it a long shelf life.
Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match (*takes a deep breath*) contains a roster of semi-popular anime and Japanese video game characters that have somewhat of a cult following. If you have some familiarity with these anime properties (To Heart, To Heart 2, To Heart 2: Dungeon Travellers, Utawarerumono, Tears to Tiara, Routes, Kizuato, Comic Party and White Album), then you’ll obviously know who your favorites are.
For those gamers who have no clue about who’s who, they’ll still have an enjoyable time as they learn the in’s and out’s of the twenty-six character roster. What sets this game apart from other fighters is the way it implements some of its fighters in battle. One half of the available characters is playable, while the rest are primarily used as partners who perform valuable assist attacks. There’s a good amount of mixing and matching involved in the battle planning, so hardcore fighting game fans have some deep mechanics to dedicate themselves to.
The 2D anime sprites and backgrounds are decent enough. Aquapazza features its fair share of brightly colored stages, chaotic screen filling super attacks, animated character portraits that display your fighter’s battle progress and plenty of background action. The characters tend to look just fine, but you’ll notice that their full motion animations don’t look quite as fluid as say, the characters seen in BlazBlue or Persona 4 Arena. The sprites here bear some likeness to the ones seen in those all-female fighting throwdowns, Arcana Heart. The game’s soundtrack and audio comes with an expected offering of cheery tunes and high pitched battle cries. The graphics and soundtrack do their job, but nothing about these factors is particularly extraordinary.
As I mentioned before, the battle mechanics utilize a partner system. You’ll pick a main character to take into the game’s many modes (Story, Another Story, Vs., Score Attack, Training and Online), then select a backup assist character who’s relegated to a single button. This partner system promotes Aquapazza from your average anime fighter into something more valuable. Each main fighter has access to special moves, super moves and splash arts that are easy enough to perform. Newbie players can even turn on the game’s simple mode, which makes it much easier to pull off the big moves they’d have difficulty pulling off with the normal control setting.
Pulling off those magnificent combos you’ve spotted in past trailers is challenging, but still doable. Incorporating combination smashes and partner attacks will grant you the flashy combos you’ve been dying to pull off for nothing but bragging rights. One of the best mechanics this game offers is its emotion system. Offensive heavy players will be granted perks and boosts to their character, while defensive players who’d rather “turtle” instead of engaging will notice a decrease in their attributes. This keeps the game from becoming a slow paced chess match. The game handles itself well, thanks to the speedy gameplay and massive special moves that make you feel like you earned each victory. Aquapazza isn’t as fast as some of the more superior Japanese anime fighters out there, but it still manages to offer players a tight fighter.
Solo players will get the most out of this game through the aforementioned story modes. There isn’t much here to care about here (you’ll quickly grow tired or reading text and staring at still 2D images), but at least there’s a story mode to speak of. The lack of a true final boss is disappointing, too. You’ll simply come into contact with an overpowered version of an already available character, which feels like a lazy attempt at a final fight. The online multiplayer is what you’d expect, so there’s no special surprises waiting for you here. And of course, the obligatory gallery mode is available for players who want to gawk at the beautiful 2D images that are on display.
Aquapazza is definitely a fighter that shouldn’t be ignored. Even though its roster and crossover storyline isn’t as readily familiar as some other anime fighters out in the wild, it still performs admirably and offers casual/hardcore fighting game followers a new game to master. It’s solid to a fault, but still worth picking up. This anime fighter is perfect for niche gamers, but its also a worthy fighter for curious gamers who are left wondering just what the hell Aquapazza means.
Rating – 7/10