I love a good knock-off.
There is a fine line in any medium between original and IP theft. What’s the difference between Superman and Captain Marvel/Shazam? Well, one is an alien from another planet with strengths granted by his alien biology, and the other is a little kid with magical powers that allow him to instantly transform into an adult with super speed and muscles. But both Superman and Captain Marvel can fly, fight, and wear a cape, so, uh, guess they’re legally the same dude. Meanwhile, King Kong and Donkey Kong, both giant guerillas that climbed towers after kidnapping blonde damsels, are totally different ape creatures, so don’t even try to claim they’re remotely the same. When you look at history, you see the only difference between an “original character” becoming successful or being devoured by a rival corporate entity is a good lawyer or two, so let’s stop pretending there is some gigantic gulf between Midnighter, Batman, and your Sonic the Hedgehog fan character (do not steal) Bruce the Bathog.
And knock-offs are important in videogames, too. Got a great idea for a magical girl game, but don’t feel like roughing out your own ideas on gameplay? Well, how about you just copy Mega Man wholesale, and call it a day. But don’t tell Astro Boy, he’s still trying to get a hold of that thieving Dr. Light. Got a brave new mascot that happens to be a bobcat that runs fast? I’ve got an idea! This all traces back to the Atari, too, the system that hosted a number of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong clones. And, again, Donkey Kong “himself” was accused of being nothing more than IP-theft at his inception. Videogames are bootlegging all the way down!
But, as ever, there are degrees of plagiarism in videogames. SoulCalibur may have imported Harley Quinn into medieval times, but… there are enough of the edges filed off, right? It’s still an almost wholly unique fighting game with weapons. On the other side of the coin, you have something like Fighter’s History, which (kinda) has unique characters, but their movements and play styles are almost exactly copied from Street Fighter 2. So, which is worse? Copying gameplay or copying characters? Is SoulCalibur “better” because its IP theft isn’t as blatant? Or should we be nicer to Fighter’s History, a game that at least had the good sense to include Karnov, who hails from a surprisingly original action game?
But when you consider which franchise is a franchise, and which is forgotten by all but the most esoteric blogs, well, maybe that means the only question should be, “but is it fun?”
Waku Waku 7 is a fun fighting game. I first discovered the game through filthy emulation back at the turn of the 21st Century, but Waku Waku 7 was formally released for the Neo Geo in ’96 or so. It was also released for the Sega Saturn… but only in Japan. Boo. Regardless, my buddy Matt and I played this game roughly 7,000 times, because it was one of the best fighting games available at the time. Okay, it was no Marvel vs. Capcom, but it could also be played on a crappy little laptop, so it was the closest we were going to get to a decent portable fighter. And by “portable”, I mean, “we’re stuck at your mom’s house for the next hour, what do you want to do?” It’s amazing how much being a poor college student is like being six…
Where was I? Oh yeah, Waku Waku 7. It’s a 2-D fighting game, and it’s pretty much like Street Fighter 2 or King of Fighters or generally any of those games. In fact, given the Neo Geo hardware, it’s a lot like King of Fighters or Fatal Fury, and that fact might be influenced a little by how Rai Bakuoh, the “genki” teenage hero of Waku Waku 7, is a living parody of a character from Psycho Soldier/KoF and has all the same special moves as FF’s Terry Bogard. Then again, maybe Waku Waku 7 is more like Darkstalkers, as Mauru plays a lot like Sasquatch, and just happens to look a lot like (My Neighbor) Totoro. Or should I have just stuck with Street Fighter 2? Bonus-Kun is a deliberate parody of Ryu, right down to his red bandana and spinning hurricane kick. He just happens to be, ya know, a literal punching bag.
Maybe we should investigate that “parody” thing a little further. The full cast of Waku Waku 7 features seven distinct characters (oh, I just got that), but glancing at the character select screen, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is some manner of 90’s (pre-Neon Genesis Evangelion) anime reunion. Tesse is a mechanical battle maid that directly recalls Mahoromatic/Mahoro. Slash is a sword-wielding elf straight out of Record of Lodoss War, or maybe just Magic Emperor Ghaleon in glasses. Politank-Z is some bizarre mix of “chibi manga” like Dr. Slump and Dominion Tank Police… and he can’t get enough of that Cookie Crisp. Dandy-J is the most “Western” character, because his origins apparently involve Indiana Jones and JoJo(‘s Bizarre Adventure) conceiving a love child. Arina, the begoggled bunny girl, seems like the most original character, but that’s only because “a bunny girl wearing goggles” is an oddly established anime trope. It’s like saying there’s an elf in a Tolkien fantasy, or a tech-savvy support character in a Berlanti show.
So all the characters are varying degrees of outright IP theft (there has never been a person that didn’t start this game by asking, “What’s Totoro doing here?”), but what about the game plot itself? Well, there are seven magical orbs, and, if you catch ‘em all, a magical being will be summoned to grant a wish. I want to say I’ve heard that one before. Most of the characters are fireball motions and dragon punches, so the gameplay is “borrowed” as well. And it’s not even like there’s a difference in the bells and whistles between this and every 90’s fighting game ever. Profile screen during the attract mode? Check. Win/lose quotes after every match? Check. And the ol’ ending “cinema” of two or three screens with some goofy dialogue? You better believe that’s a check. Seen it all before, Waku Waku 7!
But it’s still fun, and that’s because it’s a rip-off.
King of Fighters is fun, but to the inexperienced, neophyte fighting fan, well, who are these guys? Dude with the weird pants hates the guy with the fire fist? Okay? That’s neat, but why is there a dwarf version of Freddy Kruger bouncing around? Street Fighter 2 is supposedly as iconic as it gets, but good luck getting someone new excited about Street Fighter 3 (“Why is that guy in the speedo two different colors?”) Tekken is full of bland shirtless dudes, and SoulCalibur is all about its heroines’…. assets. And we’re even ignoring the host of over 90’s fighting games that barely got past one version. Remember Weaponlord? It was like if Todd McFarlane made… never mind, it doesn’t matter. It never mattered. Point is that, whether it’s acknowledged by “the scene” or not, there is a barrier of entry to most fighting games, and, suffice it to say, it’s one that Marvel vs. Capcom doesn’t have to deal with. Everybody recognizes Spider-Man.
And everybody recognizes Totoro, too… even if it’s not Totoro. Waku Waku 7 is guileless. Its characters are obvious archetypes (if not outright plagiarism), the gameplay is four buttons and simple special motions. The plot is funny, though it doesn’t fall all over itself to be another Clayfighter. It’s a fraud, but that deception makes it accessible. Like a pair of faux-Oakleys you can pick up for ten bucks to impress your crush so she’ll maybe say yes to prom (it works! I swear!), Waku Waku 7 is a fine knock-off.
Waku Waku 7 is not original in any way, and, sometimes, that’s just fine.
FGC #257 Waku Waku 7
- System: Neo-Geo in likely impossible to find quantities, and a Saturn version that only appears in Japan. But now it’s available for Switch! Hooray! This is the first Switch game reviewed on this site! Technically!
- Number of players: Two anime fighters.
- Favorite Character: I’m going to go with Arina, the bunny girl. She’s basically the game’s Ryu in special moves and general narrative, but what’s important is that she’s rocking the goggles. Actually, there are two different characters with goggles on the roster… so maybe that’s the entire reason I like the game? Hm.
- An ending: The final boss is an unspeakable black void of horror named… Fernandez. In Japan, he is known as Fernandeath. That sounds slightly more threatening.
- Land of the rising fun: The Switch version allows the player to choose between Japanese and American versions of the game. Having played through both, aside from a few names, I think the only difference is that the Japanese version gets character profiles that nobody felt like translating. Boo, cheap localization.
- Did you know? Bonus-Kun, the Ryu-wannabe, premiered in Sunsoft’s earlier fighting game, Galaxy Fight: Universal Warriors. I want to say that game is even more obscure than Waku Waku 7… so it should probably have a Switch release next week.
- Would I play again: Most certainly. Having it as a downloaded title on a portable system does a lot for replayability, particularly at the start of a system’s lifespan. Politank Z will ride again!
What’s next? I kind of like that there has been a number theme matching the FGC entries all this week. Pac-Man 256 for 256, Waku Waku 7 for 257… I mean, it was an accident… but still! Let me see if I can dig up a game involving an eight, and then we’ll get back to true randomness next week. Please look forward to it!