Can you believe it? It is Friday, once again! And I couldn't resist doing a "thematic" pick for this week, if you're generous enough to consider "hey, it's a game with 7 in the title, and it's 7th Retro Friday!" to be a theme.
Waku Waku 7 is a 1996 fighting game developed by Sunsoft, the people behind Blaster Master series, and the classic Batman game from the NES.
Developed by a company with a long legacy, but virtually no history of fighting games, it's an interesting outlier that focused on doing something fun without much concern for the competitive side of things.
The moment you boot up the game, you can immediately feel the influence of the game's publisher, SNK. It starts with one of their famous "tutorials," where a brief cutscene tells you what the buttons are, and what they do. As a nice little touch, they also show you the list of special moves during the character select, a relative luxury for fighting games of that era.
Before moving onto presentation, let's linger on the character select for a moment. Fellow anime enjoyers and seasoned fighting game players might see some stark resemblances here. This is one of the more fun aspects of Waku Waku 7. Every character is different, unique, and a more or less obvious parody of either specific characters, or general anime tropes.
Some of these are fairly obvious, like Dandy-J being a JoJo reference, while others are a bit more vague, like Tesse, who is kind of like a gender bent Astroboy. Aiming for such a wild mix of influences results in a roster that is insanely diverse for such a small cast. Sure, there are only 9 characters. But instead of martial artists or other variations of buff dudes and women, it's a living punching bag, a Totoro style creature, little robot girl, an adorable kaiju, and others.
All drawn and animated with love and care. Animators did a stellar job on this when it comes to posing and effects. If you want a good example of fighting game that sells personality through visuals, Waku Waku 7 will always be a good choice.
Perhaps SNK had a hand in this too, because at times it really feels as if someone from their fighting game team helped the people at Sunsoft. It doesn't help that Rai straight up has a Burning Knuckle and Power Wave in his moveset.
If you watch even a bit of this game, you will also notice what might almost count as a trademark of some early SNK fighters, where the dynamic camera can zoom in closer than you'd usually expect in a 2D fighter, all to show off the smooth as hell sprite work.
The parallels for the most part end there, as the mechanics are an interesting mix of what you could've seen in fighting games of that era and more.
Waku Waku 7 is a very fast-paced and responsive game. You got the standard movement, but also some elements that are more common in something like the anime fighters, like the universal air throw. There is no downtime in this game whatsoever, as even being downed gives you access to different options.
Slammed against a wall? A well-timed punch button will help you recover faster and avoid extra damage. Knocked down? Tech roll in to get up or execute one of the two different rising attacks.
As are many games of its period, it's also wildly unbalanced. Making a polished fighting games with no exploits or oversights is nearly impossible as is, but doing it back when you couldn't even patch the game is something straight up out of fantasy books.
Even Capcom and SNK with their mountains of experience built up over the early 90s were not flawless.
As such, Waku Waku 7 became known as a bit of a kusoge, but not in a bad way, honestly. Thanks to characters having plenty of sauced up combos and really interesting special moves, it's fun to both play and watch, so you will likely see some side tournaments for this game at bigger events. WW7 simply has way too much charm to die.
Thank you to everyone who reads this all the way to the end, it means more than you might think. I wish you all a very good weekend, and leave you with this Moaru's theme from Waku Waku 7's soundtrack. A somewhat bizarre standout from the rest of the OST, it's a groovy DnB/breakcore style track that would probably fit into something like 3rd Strike.