Game Review: Punch-Out!! (Wii)

Like many gamers I have a long standing relationship with Nintendo and an innate love for many of their franchises. And while I wait with bated breath over every announcement for the newest Mario or Metroid, there is one franchise that I have wanted to be brought back for quite a long time now. That franchise of course is Punch Out!!. My history with the series dates back to when I first received a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) as a Christmas present in December 1989. I did not receive Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! alongside the system but it was the first game I ever purchased for the system. I spent many a long gaming session attempting to beat Iron Mike and sadly I don’t remember it ever happening.

My game cartridge stopped working a long time ago and no amount of blowing into it would get it to work. But a few years ago I was able to relive some of my childhood memories by playing the Mike Tysonless version of Punch Out!!. Attempting to take Little Mac to the World Title re-kindled my long forgotten love of the title and got me to think about how great an updated version of the title would be for the Wii. After all wasn’t the boxing portion of Wii Sports just begging to be made into a full game labeled Punch Out!!. Late last year my visions were answered when Nintendo announced that Next Level Games, developer of the generally well regarded Super Mario Strikers and Mario Strikers Charged, were going to be in charge of a Wii version of Punch Out!!.

Updating classic games can be a tricky proposition, especially games that haven’t been relevant in nearly two decades. Long time fans of the series will be critical if anything from the original source material is altered too much while new gamers need something to be able to latch onto that feels like it is not a game that is two decades old. Next Level Games succeeds on every count. Players will still control Little Mac on his quest to capture the world title and he is still managed by Doc, the chocolate gobbling trainer. The models for characters from past games are instantly recognizable, yet have a stylized hand drawn cartoon look to them. Everything looks authentic yet fresh and that all extends to how the game feels while playing it.

Instead of forcing gamers to play the game like the boxing mode in Wii Sports, Next Level Games gives gamers playing Punch Out!! three options. Like Wii Sports you can play using waggle control with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck and generally it works pretty well. I did feel the Nunchuck’s analog stick was a little to imprecise resulting in some matches being harder than they should have been. Classic gamers however are more than likely going to do away with the Nunchuck completely and play the game old school NES style. While the Remote and Nunchuck mode works fine (if a little loose) I felt right at home playing it with the Wii Remote turned on its side like a NES controller. There is also a third control option that enables those that have a Wii Fit to use the Balance Board in conjunction with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck to play the game as well. This third option is by far the most complicated and sadly the least fun way to play the game. I am sure that a select few will really enjoy using the Balance Board control scheme but I found the movement detection to be shoddy at best. Being that the simplistic nature of the gameplay is one of the series strong points it is odd that they included this option in the first place.

The games have never been particularly easy but they were beatable with memorization of the opponent’s moves. Next Level Games could have been tempted to make the game far more complicated in nature but they stuck true to the source material and Punch Out!! plays just like its NES, Super NES and arcade siblings. The series basic gameplay is based on move recognition and memorizing those moves and this new addition sticks to that formula. In fact players who have played the previous games in the series should be able to jump right in and compete as the classic characters still do their classic moves with a few updates here and there.

The main game touts 14 fighters spaced out amongst three circuits and it includes a variety of fighters from both the NES Punch Out!! and its SNES sequel Super Punch Out!!. The roster includes the likes of Glass Joe, Bald Bull, Great Tiger, Piston Honda (renamed Piston Hondo), and King Hippo amongst others as well as a surprise or two. Each character is still very much a racial stereotype and each match begins with a short intro movie starring the character in their native environment while knocking them out will result in that character seeing something specific to the characters stereotype (like flying baguettes for Glass Joe).

While the game can be hard, and does get progressively harder as you go along, all 14 fighters in the game can be completed in a relatively short period of time. This would be a huge detraction from the game except that Punch Out!! includes a second career mode called Title Defense, in which players will have to fight against the same characters as before but those characters now have different tactics in play. Title Defense is a great addition and adds some much needed length to the title but Next Level Games has also included a local multiplayer mode that is perfect for passing around the controller with friends. Each player plays as Little Mac and the game plays and handles pretty much exactly like the single player game with the exception that players can become Giga Mac a huge hulking Mac that packs quite a punch. Giga Mac is quite a sight and while playing in a group setting is sure to get some screams of astonishment. While it is slightly disappointing that there is no online multiplayer it is still great fun if somewhat of a throwaway mode.

All in all Punch Out!! is a very good package. What Next Level Games has produced with Punch Out!! is a loving tribute to the classic game that will satisfy long time fans as well as being something that gamers who began gaming with the Wii will be able to appreciate and enjoy.

8 out of 10.

Originally published June 5th 2009 at Hooked Gamers.

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The fifth episode of the Perfectly Sane Show is up on vagary.tv, why don’t you go check it out.

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