Let's get one thing out of the way: if you hate anime fighters, Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match is not going to win you over. Sure, it has smooth controls and some very nice mechanics, but it also embraces its anime roots wholeheartedly. Half the roster is clad in school uniforms, and characters have moves with names like "Don't Call Me Class President". However, if you don't mind a side of anime tropes with your fighters, Aquapazza is definitely a game that's worth your time.
Aquapazza takes characters from a number of franchises, such as Utawarerumono, Tears to Tiara, and To Heart, and pits them against each other for no reason beyond "it's fun". The results are frequently ridiculous, especially when unarmed schoolgirls wind up pummeling experienced swordsmen, but it's definitely entertaining. There's a paper thin story to tie everything together, but like most crossover games, Aquapazza doesn't make much sense. The kookiness is a big part of the game's charm, and taking down an armed fighter with a bicycle is more enjoyable than you might think.
Still, there's much more to than Aquapazza than anime wackiness. The game's cast ranges from typical teenagers to battle-hardened warriors, but everyone has the same amount of health and dishes out the same base damage. No one character is outmatched by another, and the outcome of every fight depends on the skill of the player. Assists also play a big role in battles, and finding a good character combination is crucial if you want to take on the game's biggest challenges.
The highlight of Aquapazza is the Active Emotion System, a mechanic that rewards you for a good offense and punishes you for turtling. After a string of aggressive moves and well-timed blocks, you'll reach "High Emotion", a state that gives a 10% boost to your damage output. Constant blocking, however, will put you in the "Low Emotion" state, which decreases your defense by 30%. This eliminates some of the fighting genre's biggest annoyances, and it should significantly improve online play.
At first glance, there's not much variety in the roster, but spending time with various characters quickly proves that wrong. A number of characters wear the same uniform, but the speedy, mop-wielding Multi and kick-loving Konomi play very differently. There's no standardization when it comes to movement, and moves some characters rely on, like super jumps, are completely unavailable to other members of the cast. Several characters have very original fighting styles. One of my favorites, Manaka, fights by clumsily tripping while holding a stack of books. It's a blast to experiment with characters and see what they have to offer.
Each character has two different story modes, but that's not as exciting as it sounds. The story is the same no matter who you're playing as, and only bits of dialog and the ending differentiate one character from another. You're able to skip repeated scenes, but the dialogue is still annoyingly repetitive. Some of the endings are laugh out loud funny, but reaching them can be a little tedious.
That said, there's some very nice stuff for people who are familiar with the game's characters. I'd watched both Utawarerumono and To Heart prior to playing Aquapazza, and scenes that involved those characters were much more entertaining. You don't need to be familiar with any of the source material to enjoy Aquapazza, but having some knowledge of the characters allows you to appreciate more of the game's humor. There are also a few lines that might not make sense if you don't know anything about a character's backstory.
In addition to the two story modes, the game offers a standard versus mode, a bare-bones training mode, and Score Attack mode, which has you fighting battle after battle aiming for the highest possible score. This is where Aquapazza's biggest challenge lies. Even if you can breeze through the game's story, you'll struggle to get past Score Attack's final boss. Thankfully, Aquapazza has a wide range of difficulty settings – eight in total. When using the lowest settings, your rivals will barely put up a fight, but the higher settings will have you pulling your hair out. I found myself constantly toggling the difficulty settings as I switched from character to character.
Online multiplayer is a crucial component of any fighting game, and for the most part, Aquapazza doesn't disapoint. Because the game doesn't have the mass appeal of something like Blazblue or Street Fighter, you sometimes have to wait a little while for an opponent. Thankfully, finding a challenger never took long, and I could brush up on my skills in Training Mode while I waited. The game also makes it easy to play with friends. You can create a room for up to 6 players, and reserve as many slots as you like. You can even assign a comment to the room so that friends can easily check to see if you're ready to fight or otherwise occupied.
While I occasionally experienced lag on the character select screen, I had minimal issues once the fighting started. Battles seemed smooth no matter who I was fighting, and the action was never marred by frustration. If you're still concerned about connection issues, you have the option of blocking players with insufficient connections from joining your room.
Fights themselves are fast paced and relentessly fun. You're able to assign yourself titles that range from basic (Serious) to wacky (Mind games are cowardly). It's fun to get a sense of what other players are like before the fight starts. The Active Emotion System makes online battles really interesting. When playing other fighting games online, I encountered player after player using the exact same character and strategy. Here, there's a huge amount of variety. I've played against nearly every character in the roster, and no two fights have been the same.
Ultimately, Aquapazza is the sort of game you can judge by its cover. If the big-eyed characters and overly long title make you cringe, the game itself will drive you crazy. If you're drawn to anime fighters, you should definitely give Aquapazza a try. The game has its flaws, but the online multiplayer is solid, and the mechanics make every fight engrossing.The low price tag makes Aquapazza a steal, and there's enough content to keep you busy for a long time.