At the start of this past generation fighting games were quite scarce, and it wasn't until the ever-popular Street Fighter IV that the genre boomed once again. The power offered by the Xbox 360 and PS3 made 3D models more realistic looking than ever before. 2D sprites could now move in HD, rivaling the quality of hand-drawn animation. And games such as Persona 4 Arena, Blazblue, and KOF XIII became popular in the fighting game community not just for their fast paced gameplay, but for their animation and unique style that differed from 3D fighters.
AquaPazza: Aqua Plus Dream Match is one of the more recent anime fighters to gain recognition in Japan since it was originally released in Japanese arcades in 2011. Fans of Examu, the company responsible for this fighter, may remember that they also created the Arcana Heart series. The game brings together three adult-themed Japanese anime and visual novel franchises (To Heart, Tears to Tiara and Utawarerumono) and has additional characters that appear as partners from other franchises such as Comic Party, Routes, White Album, and Kizuato.
The roster of twenty-six characters, half of them being support characters, ranges from schoolgirls to power hungry mages. There are even a few male characters thrown into the mix for those who don't like playing as female fighters all of the time.
When picking your character, beautiful slightly animated portraits fill the screen on each side; but this effect is brought down by an awkward slowdown that occurs when you first enter the game's main menu, making moving from one character to the next sluggish. However, it's a minor problem as the slowdown fixes itself after visiting the menu several times. Beyond that, the only time that loading is an issue is when you start the game. Between each match the game loads normally.
Despite these minor hindrances the rest of AquaPazza is very strong. Amazingly hand-drawn 2D sprites give each character the anime style and quality they deserve and the animation truly shines when it comes to the game's level-three super attacks, also known as Splash Arts. Each Splash Art is typically a crazy combo-fest complete with a stunning full-screen character animation while the character delivers a powerful blow. What is interesting about these special attacks is that there is no way to understand when a Splash Art can be truly effective without practicing it against another player.
The Active Emotion System is the game's defining mechanic and truly brings a unique aspect to gameplay. When you've got some momentum going with your attacks your character will become "˜happy' and thus do more damage with each following attack. On the other hand if you have been taking lots of damage your character will lose confidence and take a lot more damage per hit. This can be turned around if you get momentum back on your side.
Assist characters are there for you to get a small taste of another character without having to learn how they work, and are most helpful when strengthening an area your character is weak at. A great partner setup, for example, could be Riannon, an oracle that floats when she jumps and has low-powered base attacks. To make up for Riannon's light attacks, pick one of the buffoonish and zany assist characters such as the bike-riding schoolgirl Konomi.
The available stages are fun, brightly colored, and full of animation. You'll find yourself brawling it out in front of beautiful cherry blossom trees or even inside of an exhibit hall of an anime convention. Each of the game's 13 unique stages contains its own charms that add to the atmosphere of a flashy and heated match, and are taken right from various AquaPlus visual novels.
The soundtrack is pretty good, but isn't very memorable outside of the game. The audio can actually be turned off without fun getting lost in the process. The Engrish voiceovers that the announcer provides are quite humorous and adorable. On the other hand the Japanese audio and subtitles get the job done nicely making the conversations in the game feel like they are right out of an anime. Sound effect work is truly fantastic in its own regard and sounds quite different when dealing with slashes from swords versus sillier things such as a bookshelf falling.
When it comes down to features AquaPazza has everything you would expect from a fighter. There are two story modes, one of which requires you to complete the first story mode with each character to unlock it. These are accompanied by Score Attack, Training, and of course Versus and online modes. The online mode's lobbies support six people and it also includes a spectator mode. The best part about online mode is the fact that it does a great job as finding the best connections quickly and there is almost no noticeable lag.
All in all as far as 2D fighters go, AquaPazza is a good one. The cast of characters provides a silly sense of humor to the gameplay and pairing each one together with an assist character makes for some very interesting combinations. It's a lot of fun mixing and matching pairs to find one works well together in competitive play, and the battle system is very easy for newcomers to pick up the game and learn quickly. With a $30 price tag it's definitely a fine example of a high-quality fighting game experience done right.
|Easy to pick up gameplay.|
|Unique character roster provides endless fun with each combination assist and player characters.|
|Visually stunning animation.|
|Soundtrack is cute but not very memorable.|
|Menu slowdowns make the game feel less smooth.|
|Loading times when starting up the game.|