Final Round. – WAKU WAKU 7

In our Final Round series, we take an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. In part 18, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1996’s WAKU WAKU 7

Year of Release – 1996
Developer – SNK, Sunsoft
Publisher – SNK, Sunsoft
Platforms – Arcade, Neo Geo, Sega Saturn


As we approached the mid-1990’s, the genre of 2D fighting games was starting to become bloated and oversaturated, in addition to being overtaken in popularity by the newer, burgeoning scene of 3D titles such as Tekken, Battle Arena Toshinden and Virtua Fighter. That being said, this is also an era where many of the genre’s biggest cult hits arrived in arcades.

While industry heavyweights Capcom worked away on the Street Fighter, Darkstalkers and the VS. games, SNK were arguably the next biggest name in fighting games, providing us with the popular Fatal Fury, King Of Fighters and Art Of Fighting franchises. Outside of these franchises, SNK’s fighters were a mixed bag, with many titles being seen as too derivative of other games in the company’s portfolio to truly make a lasting impact.

Then there were games like Waku Waku 7.

Developed by Sunsoft and published by SNK in 1996, Waku Waku 7 is a rather peculiar fighter that utilises a mix of features that are synonymous with SNK’S back catalogue, while mixing in aspects that were unusual for a fighting game at that time.

While special moves were far from being a “new” concept in fighting games, Waku Waku 7 includes a specific special move for each character that require to be charged mid-fight, known as a “Harahara motion”. During this charge period, the fighter concentrates to power up, usually taunting and posing at the same time. In addition to this, a bright, flashing warning and alarm sound pops up on screen, just to add a nice sense of urgency to proceedings. These moves are easy to pull off (the game pretty much gives you the input commands in the fighter select screen), difficult to dodge and extremely powerful, but can be cancelled during the charging period, just to make it seem fairer.

Characters can also be launched across the screen to hit the corners of the stage, and can be attacked while downed, but dodging and attacking from getting up is possible too, which does a good job of evening things out. Effectively recovering from being flung across the screen is a satisfying feeling, and ups the speed and unpredictability of fights much better than many games from this era.

With a storyline that is undoubtedly in the same ballpark as Dragon Ball Z‘s, Waku Waku 7‘s title isn’t actually a reference to being a sequel to a previous game, but instead refers to the game’s seven magical “Waku Waku” balls, which upon collecting them all, grants the user one wish by a fairy that resides within the spheres.


Promotional Material & Box Art

Matching the games vivid, colourful art style, the arcade flyers for the game are suitably busy and set the tone for the game incredibly well. Giving a brief introduction to each of the characters (as well as teasing one of the game’s strangest fighters) and offering a glimpse into the gameplay features, this eyecatching promo does its job perfectly.

The game’s Sega Saturn port also followed suit with the game’s bright, wacky artwork. The silliness from even the more serious characters in the game is on full display here, and fully immerses players in the vibe of Waku Waku 7.

Waku Waku 7‘s brilliant soundtrack was released as a CD in Japan. Composed and arranged by Masato Araikawa, the disc includes every stage’s background music, in addition to voice samples and sound effects taken from the arcade version of the game.

The music throughout Waku Waku 7 is one of the best highlights of the whole game, with sounds ranging from cheesy anime songs, tribal Donkey Kong Country-esque flutes and drums and strumming guitar/harmonica combos to panicked violins, MIDI orchestras and a song that may sound very familiar to fans of Street Fighter II.


Roster


“It is said that the person who collects all sevens of the legendary Waku Waku balls will have their dearest wish granted. Those who find one of the balls become obsessed with the ruthless desire to obtain the others.

Who will be victorious in the bitter battle to become the owner of all the balls?

Victory or defeat – it all lies in your hand.”

As previously mentioned, the game’s plot closely resembles Dragon Ball Z, and judging by the substantial amount of parodies and nods to other popular anime shows and manga in Waku Waku 7, this seems to be completely intentional.


Rai Bakuoh

Waku Waku 7‘s protagonist is Rai; a cocky, foul-mouthed 15 year old kid who spends his time practicing tricks on his BMX. He wants to collect the Waku Waku balls in order to achieve his dream of having “more exciting adventures”.

A parody of Sie Kensou from the long-running King Of Fighters series (and 1986’s Psycho Soldier), Rai utilises some of the best jump attacks in the game. In addition to this, his special moveset utilises dark electric power to shock, zap end electrify his foes.

Due to his speed and how simple his special moves are to pull off, Rai is more than ideal for newcomers to the game to choose as their first main character.


Arina Makihara

Arina is a 14 year-old human/animal hybrid that has learned how to fight in compulsory extracurricular classes in high school. She can often be seen hanging out with her friends and younger brother (who are also human/animal hybrids). Her wish, should she be able to collect the coveted Waku Waku balls, is to find her one true love.

In terms of which aspect of “animanga” Arina is parodying, this is probably one of the least subtle references in the game. Based on the popular “Kemonomimi” style that has remained popular for decades in Japanese culture (such as Hyper Police and Inuyasha), Arina pretty much ticks all the boxes that even the most casual of anime fans can instantly recognise.

Arina is one of the speedier fighters in Waku Waku 7, and draws some parallels with more famous fighters such as Street Fighter II‘s Chun-Li, relying on quick, powerful kicks and short-range (somewhat weaker) projectile attacks.


Dandy-J

Hired by a mysterious and shady military organisation to find the Waku Waku balls, Dandy-J (his real name, I hear you ask? it’s Joshua High Output) is a burly treasure hunter that uses a whip in his attacks. Permanently accompanied by Natsumi Hazama (the daughter of his missing partner) and pet cat Ranpoo, he has no particular desire to use the magic spheres if he does recover them. Natsumi and Ranpoo are able to contribute small attacks during a fight.

Dandy-J is based on two famous characters in pop culture. The first of these is Indiana Jones, with his treasure hunting background and iconic hat/whip by his side. The second is Joseph Joestar from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (which this series will cover in a future article…),

A slow but powerful close ranged fighter, Dandy-J can use his whip to utterly confuse his opponents and can quickly switch between high and low attacks. 


Mauru

Mauru (“Marurun” in the Japanese version of the game) is a gentle guardian of the “Lost Forest” that spends his time eating fruit, singing and sleeping, only fighting when it is absolutely necessary. Upon finding a lost toddler named Mugi Rokujo in the forest, it’s up to him to return her to her parents at all costs. Obtaining the legendary Waku Waku balls would help make this mission become an instant success.

In what is perhaps the most obvious parody in the entire game, Mauru resembles Totoro from the Studio Ghibli movie My Neighbor Totoro. His playstyle and general movement is also heavily reminiscent of Sasquatch from the Darkstalkers series.

Mauru is one of the slowest characters in the game, but his uppercuts, punches and one-handed throws deal an insane amount of damage. He can also emit a projectile attack in the form of a terrifyingly loud roar.


Politank-Z

Piloted by the hot-tempered, bossy police officer Chojuro (and his loyal assistant dog, Hamusuke), Politank-Z is an anthropomorphic tank that can instantly transform parts of its frame into various different weapons, including cannons, missile launchers and poison gas vents. Chojuro wishes to use Politank-Z to obtain the Waku Waku balls for his own purposes.

Politank-Z is based on the police tanks in the 80’s manga series, Dominion. The references to mecha material isn’t restricted to the character design either, as the character’s stage contains music that sounds incredibly similar to Chōdenji Machine Voltes V‘s theme music.

Another slow and powerful fighter, Politank-Z also has the longest charge time for its Harahara motion. Clocking in at 10 seconds, successfully pulling this move off is almost impossible in a regular match, but is one of the most powerful attacks in the entire game if successful.


Slash

A calm, collected demon hunter from Makai (the demon world), Slash is considered to be the “black sheep” of his kind (as he also has a fondness for humans). Often seen as being insensitive and overly pragmatic, he travels alone with his razor sharp (and cursed!) sword in hand, and targets cursed entities both in his homeland and on the surface realm, hoping to one day be fully accepted by both sides.

A parody of the stereotypical long haired “Bishōnen” swordsmen found in literally hundreds of different anime shows and manga, Slash is another of Waku Waku 7‘s characters whose tropes and references are immediately apparent.

Armed with some lightning quick sword attacks, Slash is perfect for players that prefer a close-ranged fighting style. He can also teleport too, which is incredibly handy when trying to dodge an opponent’s attacks, as well as making it easier to catch foes off guard.


Tesse

One of seven “dolls” created by Dr. Ronbllozo, Tesse is a timid and shy maid robot who cooks meals and clean for her master. After her creator collapses one day from an ongoing illness, Tesse learns of the Waku Waku balls, so she leaves her home in order to find them and wish for Dr Ronbllozo to be cured. She also wishes to become a real human being one day, and believes that she’ll become one through hard work and sheer effort.

Tesse’s character design is inspired by Astro Boy, purely down to the fact that she’s a surprisingly powerful child robot. The “dolls” aspect could be a reference to Street Fighter II, where the game’s big bad M. Bison’s personal army shares the same name. The other obvious stereotype that Tesse carries is that of Japanese “maid cafes”, where waitresses dress in maid outfits and treat customers as “masters” instead of regular patrons.

Tesse’s moveset is one of the most unusual and hilarious to use in Waku Waku 7. Being a robot, any semblance of realistic fighting moves go out the window here, as she can use a variety of cleaning items (and a small dog?!) as projectile weapons, turn her legs into floor buffers, steal health from opponents using a comically large syringe and utilise bolts of electricity.

Unorthodox? Maybe. Entertaining? Most definitely.


Bonus-kun

A returning character from Sunsoft’s previous fighting game, Galaxy Fight; Bonus-Kun is a sentient punching bag, and almost every aspect of his move set (and his choice of headwear) is a parody of Ryu from the Street Fighter series. He can launch hadouken-like fireballs at opponents, he can do his own version of a Tatsumaki Senpukyaku kick, and even his stage music is pretty much the same as Ryu’s too.

Bonus-Kun arrives in the form of a bonus fight mid-way through the game’s campaign, but is pretty easy to defeat, as he lacks the ability to crouch or use grab moves (on account of having no limbs, duh!).

Bonus-Kun isn’t a selectable character in the arcade mode of Waku Waku 7, but can be played through the game’s versus mode.


Makaitaitei Fernandez

A wacky, unusual fighting game deserves a suitably wacky, unusual final boss, and boy oh boy, does Waku Waku 7 deliver on that front.

Known as “FERNANDEATH” in the Japanese release of the game, Fernandez is a huge bat-sphere creature with an incredibly annoying modulated screech voice, and some rather, erm, “interesting” moves at his disposal.

Ranging from a special move that involves Fernandez puckering up his lips and delivering a devastating kiss to the ass of his opponents, to him eating fighters and literally crapping them out at a high velocity. Moves like these are usually a hit-or-miss experience (I’m looking at you, Tattoo Assassins…), but considering they belong to a character as strange and cartoonish as Fernandez, it fits perfectly.

Also, in order to fight against Fernandez, the Waku Waku fairy grows you to the creature’s size in order to make it a fairer fight. This changes the game’s vibe from a simple fighting game to a colossal kaiju brawler.

Overall, Waku Waku 7 boasts one of the most eccentric, yet condensed rosters of fighters of this era of 2D fighting games. While other titles had much larger selections of characters to choose from, Waku Waku 7‘s smaller motley crew is more memorable and mastering each character’s moveset actually feels way more achievable than it does in a larger King of Fighters title.

This scaled back selection does have a downside though. When you take Waku Waku 7‘s lack of extra game modes into consideration, the game’s replayability factor well and truly takes a hit. Finishing the game’s campaign with each character doesn’t take very long at all, so outside of local multiplayer fights, there’s not much here that will guarantee many replays.


Levels

With the exception of Bonus-kun, each fighter has their own stage, complete with their own them music. These levels are simple and just as vividly coloured as evey other aspect of the game. Ranging from a beachside shopfront, an ancient tribal ruin in the forest and a garage with kids playing in the background to the grounds of D. Ronbllozo’s mansion, a busy park and the miniaturised highway of a nonspecific Japanese city, these levels are just as wacky and memorable as the characters who reside there.

An interesting feature in these levels is the way the camera reacts to them during a fight. Normally in a 1v1 2D fighting game, the camera will only allow fighters to go a certain distance at either side of the stage before it locks, waiting for either fighter to change their direction. In Waku Waku 7, the camera pans out to reveal more of the stage and shrinks the characters slightly. This is a nice touch, especially when seeing fighters get launched around to hit the sides of any given level, but it does come with a drawback. The more the camera zooms out, the more the graphical quality of the game’s fighter sprites starts to deteriorate into a blocky mess. The near-cel shaded pixel art style works well when up close, but not so much when viewed at a distance.


Victory!

As is to be expected of a game that heavily draws on the stereotypes and tropes of anime, manga and fighting games in general, the endings for each of the fighters upon completing the game are just as quirky, unusual and just downright strange.

Ranging from Rai’s by-the-numbers “And The Adventure Continues…” ending, Dandy J’s rebellion against the people that hired him to find the Waku Waku balls and Arina’s hilarious “the true love was there all along (even if you hate it)” revelation to Tesse’s loyalty keeping her from asking for her true wish, Mauru being seen as a terrifying monster (despite saving the girl) and Politank-Z’s accidental refurbishment, the quality here is still pretty fantastic.


Overall Verdict

Waku Waku 7 is a genuinely pleasant standout in the sea of SNK fighting games. With its vibrant art style, incredible soundtrack and quirky (yet ultimately charming) roster that lovingly parodies several aspects of fighting games and Japanese pop culture in general, there is quite a lot to enjoy here, at least on an aesthetic level.

GOOD

That being said, the game isn’t perfect. The game’s graphics are an absolute treat to look at when fighters are up close, but as soon as some distance is created during a bout, things immediately start to deteriorate a little bit. Having only seven characters to choose from, each with a limited set of moves, means that there’s a substantial lapse in replayability, and pales somewhat in comparison to its peers in this respect.

However, these slight drawbacks won’t stop me from occasionally revisiting Waku Waku 7 any time soon. It’s a relatively short blast of colourful, streamlined fun that I wish there was more of, which can only be a good thing.


Have you played Waku Waku 7? What do you think of this obscure gem of a fighter?
Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!

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