In an era where Capcom and SNK reigned supreme with 2D fighting games, other developers wanted to have a go at creating something different, but more often than not ended up making something that was kinda like Street Fighter or kinda like The King of Fighters. Among the wealth of fighters that were gracing different platforms and consoles, there was a little game called Waku Waku 7. Back then, it was hard to take Waku Waku 7 seriously as it would be the type of game you’d try once for curiosity’s sake. I had always seen this game around, it got a little bit of exposure thanks to it being a NeoGeo powered title, and back then you couldn’t go wrong with the crisp,detailed 2D that NeoGeo could produce.
At most, Waku Waku 7 was a silly looking fighter with not much to offer in terms of roster or content, but years and decades down the road I wish I hadn’t taken games like it for granted. Look at the 2D fighting landscape of 2016, apart from the major established heavyweights we don’t see much else apart from occasional fresh surprises like Under Night or Arcana Heart. So while I may have not have had the urge to add Waku Waku 7 to my collection during the 90s, in 2016 I paid 70 bucks to acquire a copy of the Japanese SEGA Saturn port. Morale of the story: don’t take video games for granted. Remember a time when Square-Enix were pushing out games like Chrono, Vagrant Story, Musashi, and several others WITHOUT the need of a fan petition? Now we’re lucky if we even get to play a new Final Fantasy (not holding my breath for that apparent November release by the way).
Waku Waku 7 is one of those games that showcases how the Saturn distinguish itself from the PlayStation (PSOne) and Nintendo 64. A vibrant and zany 2D fighting game with a bright and rich colour palette, and highly expressive and intricate animations. It’s a real joy to watch, it looks really cool and refreshing, and the Saturn was the ideal system to handle conversions of sprite-heavy NeoGeo fighting games back in the day. Still, Waku Waku 7 on the Saturn isn’t necessarily the smoothest operator when it comes to 2D performance on the Saturn, as the game does struggle a fair bit with framerate. Still, it’s an enjoyable conversion for any Saturn owner looking for another 2D fighting hidden gem.
What’s great about Waku Waku 7 that there is simply no shortage of imaginative creativity when it comes to aesthetics, as it does a great job of presenting some really unique character designs, with most being parodies of fighting game tropes of the 90s… and some even being parodies of recognisable anime icons. Tell me honestly, have you EVER wanted to beat the living tar out of Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro) ? Well, Waku Waku 7 kind of lets you do that thanks to the just as irritating parody in Mauru. Another memorable parody is the character Bonus-Kun, a bandanna wearing punching bag who is basically modeled after Ryu (Street Fighter)… heck even Bonus-Kun’s theme song sounds awfully like Ryu’s iconic Street Fighter II theme. Speaking of music, Waku Waku 7‘s soundtrack is filled with some memorable and catchy 90s tunes, in particular Arina’s J-pop esque theme.
While the character designs may be parodies, the gameplay is anything but a parody. What’s really neat about Waku Waku 7 is that underneath the goofy exterior and silly tribute to 90s Japanese pop culture, lies a really refreshing fighting game which plays differently from anything you know. It’s closer to a SNK fighting game than anything else, and some of the fighters have familiar moves (Rai for example is basically Ryu + Terry Bogard), but despite its small roster of just 7 combatants (hence the title of the game) each fighter does a great job of offering a distinguished gameplay experience. Not to mention the final boss is a work of art that simply needs to be seen to be believed.
Waku Waku 7 is a hidden gem of a fighting game for sure, and if you’re a connoisseur of 2D fighting games and want to try something that is fun and creative in both visuals and gameplay, then Waku Waku 7 is a worthwhile addition to your gaming bucket list. Oh and if you want to come as close as possible to punching Totoro in the face then you definitely want to grab hold of this game. Even if it’s just Totoro’s parody, it still feels pretty satisfying.