Sometimes it can be incredibly calming when a game is, by and large, exactly what you expect it will be. I’ve been anticipating Atlus’s stateside release of AquaPazza for well over a month now, and despite trying to stay realistic about a $30 downloadable 2D fighter, you don’t have to look far past many of my posts about the game to realize I was getting pretty amped about it. It’s been pretty rewarding to realize, then, that despite my potentially overblown expectations, AquaPazza is a thoroughly enjoyable fighter whose shortcomings, though undeniably present, are oft made up for by its charm, humor, and surprisingly all-enveloping fun factor. I’d say your mileage may vary, but I actually don’t think it will.
For those wondering what the hell is going on, the premise of AquaPazza is pretty simple, and it’s a simplicity that permeates almost every aspect of the game (including gameplay, depending on the other fighters you’ve tried). The game is essentially a joint effort between Aquaplus and Leaf, two visual novel houses that are quite popular with their respective audiences over in Japan. Given that one essentially owns the other, it only made sense for worlds to collide, brawls to be had, and “Dream Matches” to be made. If you like goofy anime mashups, well, this is one.
AquaPazza isn’t overloaded with modes and play options, but you will be presented with a few different choices upon booting up the game. There’s the main story, which basically hauls you along an elaborate and amusing plot (read: excuse for this game to make sense), and like many fighters, each character has their own storyline that plays into the bigger picture. Upon completion, each character’s entry in the “Another Story” mode will be unlocked, enabling increased challenge and further suffocation within the game’s indomitable swath of delicious anime jocularity. Of course, for me this asphyxiation is wholly desirable – you may feel otherwise, opting for descriptors such as “child’s fare,” or perhaps “annoying crap.” The fact is, you likely already know whether this is up your alley or not.
Luckily, the window for a wide opinion range closes dramatically in the gameplay department, and whether you pick up the game’s combat in a heartbeat or it takes you hours of training to understand what’s happening, odds are very high that you’ll eventually have fun. As someone whose top two fighters are Dead or Alive 5 and Super Smash Bros. in terms of hours invested, I can perceive both sides of the newcomer AquaPazza puzzle, and it is definitely an apple that falls pretty far from the technical-fighter tree. In other words, experienced players will pick things up in a snap: if you’ve only played Smash or punched your friend in the face a few times in Rayman, though, you may want to study each character’s command list a bit before trekking through the later story fights, or worse, going online.
So how does it actually play? To my tastes, it’s a total blast. A character’s moveset is divided up into a few different categories, and the overall breadth of the list is sizeable without being completely overwhelming – a definite plus. The basic controls reflect the game’s arcade origins, with weak, medium, and strong attacks being used in tandem with both each other and D-pad movements to pull off stronger, more devastating barrages and combos. Like the Budokai series and others, certain powered-up moves require the filling of a Power Gauge, which happens easily enough as your fight and prevents spamming of the game’s devastating, tide-turning Splash Arts (basically the most powerful attacks in your arsenal).
All of this works well, but to me where AquaPazza really shines is with its unique features and its general freedom of movement. As much as I love games like Dead or Alive, they can sometimes feel like you’re programming or instructing a robot. It’s an extremely complex and realistic robot, and one that can execute almost any string of moves or attacks should you know how to properly instruct it to do so. Without complete mastery, however, adrenaline and shouting to your partner on the couch will get you nowhere – odds are you’ll choke under pressure without pure skill to back you up.
AquaPazza shirks this feeling in style – not only is the game dazzling in motion, but the blend of technical prowess and natural instinct required to achieve success is one that I wish more fighters could effectively implement. When I first started playing, I was mainly jumping around, avoiding attacks via literal avoidance, and actually doing OK sneaking in a well placed kick or two. Ten hours in, I was bouncing off of walls, executing fairly complex special moves, and even managing Splash Arts when the perfect chance arose, calling my partner into battle for a tide-turning comeback. The point is, my fighting style was born from my natural way of play, and evolved and improved as I learned and mastered the game’s complexities. It never felt like I was “memorizing” anything, and that alone is quite the feat.
There’s more to how AquaPazza plays, including advanced techniques like managing your fighter’s emotions and keeping tabs on the buffs they can provide during fights, but in the end that’s not why it succeeds. Everything I’ve mentioned so far is wrapped in a charming exterior that — though not terribly original and definitely exceedingly anime — serves to give the game an accessible-yet-complex feel that I’ve come to really enjoy.
AquaPazza is a game whose main story is explained early-on with the following in-game quote: “So somebody’s been doin’ something, and now all these parallel worlds are stuck together, and everyone’s all confuzzled.” To me, that’s AquaPazza’s personality in a nutshell. If you think you can jive with that, and you’re okay with fighting games being slightly less than mind-bogglingly technical, then for $30 you’d be hard pressed to pass AquaPazza up. If the whole thing strikes you as a load of overly-cute nonsense, well, you can certainly get your battle royals and boobs someplace else. It just probably won’t be as fun.
This review is based on the PS3 exclusive, which was provided to us.
AquaPazza isn't Virtua Fighter. It's not even close. It's not Street Fighter either. What it is, though, is a funny and pretty 2D fighter with ample depth for those who seek it, but ample humor and visual flair for those who don't. Given its cost, it's likely a safe bet for fighting fans - just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into.