In lieu of my trip to Japan, I present one of the most refreshing fighters I’ve played in years.
Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match (ADM) is weird. I had to do “extensive” research before I even attempted to write this review. I went into ADM knowing Atlus published it and that’s about it. All I knew when looking at the character select screen is that over half the roster has weapons or special powers. The rest are Japanese school girls. Safe to say, I was confused, but intrigued. Thankfully, Wikipedia exists. Without it, I would still be clueless as to why these randoms are duking it out.
ADM features characters from Aquaplus and Leaf. (Leaf is owned by Aquaplus.) The series that the characters are from are mostly visual novels (To Heart) and role-playing games (Tears of Tiara) or a mix of the two (Utawarerumono). While at first I found it strange that this crossover even existed, it dawned on me that we’ve been doing goofy crossovers in the US for years!
There is no logical reason that The Hulk would fight Mega Man but Marvel vs. Capcom made it happen and it is fantastic. Freddy and Jason have been in Mortal Kombat and even Shoen Jump is doing it with J-Stars Victory VS. Maybe the reason ADM is weird and not J-Stars is because of the school girls in ADM. It’s not just one, it’s a third of the roster. That isn’t a negative part of the game, it’s actually what I like the most: watching these normal girls beat up demons and samurais. It’s just so fresh and unusual and nice change of pace. That would be like watching Aunt Mae raging demon Doctor Strange in MVC4. That’s like turning a race car driver who’s never appeared outside of his vehicle into one of the greatest fighting game characters of all time…
Safe to say, the girls from To Hearts are my favorite. Now the gameplay of ADM can be described as one word – refreshing. I haven’t had this much fun in a traditional 2D fighter since Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Maybe It has something to do with ADM feeling like a MvC game but not being a clone.
In ADM, you chose from one of 13 characters as well as a partner. Each partner can use two moves and you can use your partner as many times during the match as you long as their cooldown period is over. Partners can not be KO’d but can be knocked out of their attack animation anytime they are hit or if the player is hit. Like MvC, a good assist can change a character completely. For instance, I like to play grappler characters in fighting games, and ADM was no different. Tamaki is the game’s main grappler but has an extremely hard time getting close to her opponent due to her slow dash and zero damaging projectiles. But by pairing her up with a partner that specializes in long range attack, Tamaki becomes extremely effective.
Surprisingly, every character has the same amount of health of 200,000 and each character does the same base damage. However, ADM has a system known as emotion. A confusing system at first, but one that solves a vital flaw in many fighting games – keep away. Keep away is when a player will be extremely defensive in their movements and will try to chip away at their opponent from across the screen. ADM’s emotion system rewards players with higher emotion for being aggressive and takes the emotion away from players who are overly defensive. When you reach a high emotion, you will deal more damage and will take less damage. At a low emotion, the opposite is true and you can be guard broken easier. Emotion is a great system that helps with the balance of a game. This makes it so that even characters who rely on projectile attacks don’t outclass those who rely on grapples.
Why am I not talking about the gameplay you ask? It’s fun, but there isn’t a lot to talk about. The combat is fun but nothing that will blow you away and that’s fine. The basic combat doesn’t need to blow you away when the sprite work is as good as it is and the core mechanics are so unique, that other fighters should take note going forward. My only gripe with ADM would have to be the characters. Besides the cast of To Heart, I thought everyone was pretty generic. Of course this has everything to do with me not being familiar with the source material, so I can’t give it a bad grade just to the bland characters…even if two of them ripped off of X23 and Hawkeye from MvC3. Do yourself a favor, and when you see ADM on sale, pick it up.