By: Matthew Striplen
Anime Japan: a land of powerful warriors, uncomfortably sexualized high school girls, and even more uncomfortably sexualized cat-girls. All three combine to form the wacky world of AquaPazza: AquaPlus Dream Match, which interestingly enough, is made up of several parallel universes smashed together. These worlds hail from the AquaPlus series, which, while famous in Japan, may leave western audiences scratching their heads. If you’re interested in finding out more about these colorful people, you’ll have to trawl the Internet, as the game assumes you’re already besties with everyone. Fight your way through multitudes of battles to prevent your opponents from using AquaPazza, a forbidden mind controlling potion, to conquer the world!
As with most 2D fighting games, AquaPazza‘s controls require some serious study and memorization, especially since each character has a unique move set. The setup is based on arcade machines. Instead of having an action assigned to a button, actions are instead paired with the “A,” “B,” or “C” symbols, which are then assigned to a PlayStation button of your choosing. While I personally did not need to rearrange anything, other players are sure to benefit from the flexibility.
Combos and special moves are triggered by a combination of directional motions and attack buttons, like the Street Fighter series. While these moves do require study and practice for each character, this is nothing out of the ordinary.
All characters are fairly standard looking anime characters. The environments are colorful and engaging without distracting from actual gameplay. Anime style games often suffer from too few character models, resulting in stilted, jerky movement. Thankfully, AquaPazza does not suffer the same fate.
The music is mostly generic J-pop, but it’s suitably exciting for the intense battles. While the voice acting is entirely in Japanese with English subs, a great deal of speech is delivered in battle without subtitles. While not essential to completing the game, it would have been nice to understand what was being said, especially because each character chatters constantly. Since the majority of the cast is female, be prepared to endure quite a bit of high pitched squeaking and squealing. Some actresses are definitely guiltier than others in this regard.
When I first turned on AquaPazza, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Since I was unfamiliar with the AquaPlus series, the lack of in-game information regarding the characters left me a little confused, especially considering the wide variety of character types. I don’t usually expect to see ninjas, school girls and cat girls sharing the same environment. This is explained, however briefly, by the collision of several worlds, but none of the worlds are ever mentioned, other than that they have combined. In fact, the entire story of AquaPazza feels like an afterthought and fails to forge a connection between the player and characters, assuming the player isn’t already a fan.
AquaPazza features a number of different game modes, the most important being the two main storylines, training, and online play. The first story mode is open to all characters, but the second can only be unlocked one character at a time by finishing the former. Despite featuring adjustable difficulty settings, this game has quite a steep learning curve in both modes. Most players, regardless of ability, will breeze through the first few stages, but will end up struggling midway through. I must have attempted each final boss 10 times apiece before even coming close to victory. As an interesting twist, each character has a slightly different story, ranging from the number of stages it takes to reach the boss or plot differences. A similar mode, Score Attack, is also available. The only difference between this and the regular stories is that cut scenes are eliminated and there are an unlimited number of battles.
The training mode is arguably the most important aspect of the game. Since AquaPazza gives no instructions, other than command lists, on how to use the fighters, everything must be self-taught. As such, this is not a game for beginners to the fighting genre. One crucial piece of information is missing from the command lists. Each character knows a few special moves and super moves. The super moves are referred to as “Splash Arts” for reasons that are a mystery to me. The game neglects to inform the player that in addition to the energy cost, the player must have less than half their life remaining to execute the attack.
The true heart of AquaPazza lies in the online play. Players are free to select any character, partner and costume as usual, and are then instructed to join a room. Two types are available: ranked matches and player matches. Think of ranked and player matches as competitive versus friendly games. This was by far the most interesting and fun aspect of the game. Players can even save their battles to be viewed later. Thankfully, a good number of people tend to be playing the online modes at any given time. If both parties have a decent connection, little to no lagging will occur. Unfortunately, I did encounter a bug. Sometimes after losing a match, the game would freeze on the battle screen, rendering even the PS button useless. I was forced to restart my system.
While AquaPazza is certainly fun, it isn’t anything particularly new or innovative. It’s just a well done take on a classic genre. The online play has plenty of potential for fun times, though I wish the stories had more substance. Save for the omission concerning Splash Arts and the online bug, AquaPazza is a very polished game that best caters to AquaPlus fans and hardcore fighter aficionados.