Ever played an arcade game - and really, really loved it - and then eagerly bought and played the console version only to find out it was a load of crap? It first happened to me when playing Primal Rage on the SNES - and after that, I unconsciously learned to never fall for this trap again.
However, the generations that followed made me forget these lessons. I became complacent. Lo and behold, I've fallen for the trap again.
Waku Waku 7 is a 2D Fighting Game originally made by Sunsoft for the Neo Geo in 1996- it was then ported to the Sega Saturn a year later. Despite the '7', the game is not a direct sequel to any previous game, although it is a spiritual sequel of sorts to Sunsoft's previous fighter Galaxy Fight.
The gamplay is actually pretty damn good. The game takes elements from other fighters such as Darkstalkers (complete with Chain Combos, Super-charged Specials a la ES Attacks and Super powered "Doki Doki" combos a la EX Attacks) and SNK's various fighters (Four Attack Button set-up, screen zooming and "Waku Waku" Powered Up Forms a la King of Fighters' MAX Mode), while also adding in some interesting new mechanics such as Power Moves which fling the enemy all the way across the arena and Power Move Reversals which allow you to jump right back into the action after being hit with a Power Move.
The most interesting unique mechanic included is the "Harahara Move". Harahara Moves are all easily performed by pressing Down twice followed by either two punches or kicks. While the move is extremely easy to perform, it is hard to use - once activated, the screen will flash with a giant "Caution" warning, sirens will go off, and your character will be stuck charging for anywhere between 2-8 seconds! However, if you get the full charge off, you'll unleash an unblockable and difficult-to-avoid Super Attack which can take off as much as Three-Fourths of your opponents health! As difficult as it is to land one of these attacks, there isn't much else out there that feels so rewarding.
Mauru and Arina's Harahara Moves in action.
The look of Waku Waku 7 is very different from just about every other fighting game out there. While there's only 7 characters (plus two bosses), each of these characters are very colorful, with unique designs and personalities. They're mostly parodies of anime characters, such as the Totoro-esque Mauru, the Jojo's Bizarre Adventure inspired Dandy-J, and the robotic maid (and nurse during in certain moves) Tesse.
The backgrounds are also very colorful, however they were noticeably downgraded for the Saturn port. It's not a deal breaker - in fact, they still look pretty good so long as you are concentrating on the action. However, it is a shame they were downgraded, especially considering this game requires the 1MB Cart.
Sound is also very good. Many of the music tracks are of a very high quality - even higher than the original Neo Geo version. (To be expected, considering the CD format) Sound effects are satisfying, vocals are convincing - just good audio all around.
So yeah - this game is pretty much perfect in every creative area. This would easily be one of the best fighters on the Sega Saturn. However...
The game suffers from a myriad of technical problems, many of them quite severe. The background graphics being downscaled was the least of this title's problems. Loading times are both long and populous. Even going from Round 1 to Round 2, you'll experience a load time. It will surely try your patience.
Even worse than load times, however, is the horrendous frame-rate and slow-down issues. Even when the game is operating at its best, it's a bit slower than the original - playable, but just not as good. However, the game often slows to a snails pace when handling certain characters. This is a death sentence for a fighter, and does a lot to kill the fun factor.
What's even worse is that, this game requires the 1MB RAM cart. Why did they choose the 1MB version when the game came out after the release of the 4MB RAM cart? I've played many games that require the 4MB RAM cart, and they ran both smoothly and without loading times - Vampire Savior and X-Men Vs Street Fighter are two I can think of off the top of my head. From where I'm sitting, I see no reason for this game to not have been an arcade perfect port, utilizing the 4MB RAM cart.
As strange as it might be, I'd honestly recommend playing this game single-player rather than with friends. The slow down and loading issues were easier to overlook while dealing with the AI, and the game is still plenty enjoyable this way. However, playing this with friends is only going to result in people getting pissed off at waiting on the game to load or the frame-rate going completely out-of-whack, and even fans of the arcade original will be begging for you to reach for another game.
RetroGrade: C. Great graphics, great sound, great gameplay - this game should have been an A and considered one of the best games on the Saturn. Unfortunately, the incredible amount of technical issues bring the score - and fun factor - way, way down. It's always a shame to see such an incredibly creative game brought down by a sub-standard port job, but c'est la vie.
For the sake of comparison, this is what the original arcade version played like.