The Neo Geo was a system blessed with more than its fair share of one-on-one fighters, which is perhaps why Sunsoft felt it was necessary to take a slightly different approach with Waku Waku 7, the sequel to the rather more serious Galaxy Fight, which launched a year beforehand in 1995. This release not only allowed Sunsoft to create something relatively unique in what was already becoming a tire and stale genre, but it also gave the developer the chance to atone for the shortcomings of its previous brawler and craft one of the most downright enjoyable competitive scrappers on the Neo Geo.
Waku Waku 7 plays like a cartoon in motion, with brightly-coloured comic characters and upbeat music; this bounciness carries over to the gameplay itself, with matches often looking more like a game of pinball than a fighting contest as each fighter is pinged around the arena. Attacks have a tendency to throw opponents across the screen and even when they're on the ground they're not safe - you can pummel their prone bodies until they get back to their feet, and naturally they can do the same to you. The need to constantly switch between pulling off intricate combos and hammering the buttons to get up from a fall gives the game a frantic feel which lends each match an intensity that is absent from more methodical fighters.
Special moves come in three flavours. The standard specials follow the template laid down by Street Fighter II, with various stick and button combinations pulling off moves which dish out more damage than typical punches and kicks. You can unleash stronger versions of these attacks by pressing both punch or kick buttons at the same time, but the most devastating moves are reserved for each character's "Harahara Attack", which is the Waku Waku 7 equivalent of a "Super" special in Street Fighter. These are unblockable but they take a short time to charge, during which a massive, screen-filling warning message is displayed, giving your rival ample opportunity to either move out of the way or leap in and attack while you're building up. This means you have to time your deployment of these Harahara Attacks very thoroughly. You begin the game with the ability to store up one such attack, but with each opponent you defeat you'll earn another slot.
Waku Waku 7 has a cast of varied characters, including buff Indiana Jones lookalike Dandy J, police robot Politank-Z and purple monster Mauru, on the back of which rides a tiny girl. While fighting games of this period are well known for boasting eclectic rosters, Waku Waku 7 has a charm which isn't found in any other title of this type; the only downside is that there are only nine characters in total (two of which are confined to the game's versus mode) which means overall longevity takes a hit.
Visually, Waku Waku 7 is a feast for the eyes with sumptuous animation, bold characters and detail-rich backgrounds. During each contest the camera smoothly zooms in and out to give the best view of the action, a feature which is quite common in Neo Geo-based fighters. Finally, the music deserves a mention - it matches the visuals and tone of the game perfectly, and there are plenty of voice clips to add even more life to the cast.
This Switch port comes with the usual features we've come to appreciate from the ACA Neo Geo range, such as game settings, screen filters and online rankings. You can also play in "Hi Score" mode where you're tasked with getting as many points as possible on a single credit. The "Caravan" mode - which gives you a set time limit - makes less sense in a fighting game, but it's here nonetheless. As was the case with King of Fighters '98 on Switch, Waku Waku 7 is best played with the Pro Controller, which features a D-pad for more accurate input.
Waku Waku 7 is just the tonic for those of you who are disenchanted with the abundance of thematically-similar fighting games on the Neo Geo. While the roster of combatants is admittedly small, this cast is arguably more vibrant and entertaining than any that Street Fighter or King of Fighters can muster, and the gloriously kinetic feel of the action makes it stand apart from other examples of the genre. Even if you're not particularly sold on one-on-one brawlers, Waku Waku 7 is well worth investigating.