Developer: Next Level Games
Release Date: May 18, 2009
Most gamers who cut their teeth on the Nintendo Entertainment System often have fond memories of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, the only boxing game that Nintendo had ever released on that system. Mention this game to them, and you'll see their faces light up as they recall the techniques they used to beat the early and mid-card foes like Glass Joe, King Hippo and Great Tiger. You'll also see them cringe as they recall getting hammered by the second encounter with Bald Bull, slammed by the windmill hooks of Super Macho Man, and getting quickly obliterated by the game's titular character. It was one of the harder games of that era and definitely the most satisfying once you beat it.
After the re-release sans Mike Tyson, the game series moved on to the Super Nintendo with Super Punch-Out!!, a game that was equally as satisfying. With two generations of consoles passing without another boxing game from Nintendo, gamers got their fix from the Wii Sports package. As simple as that game was, however, fans were craving for a true sequel to arrive on Nintendo's latest console. Those prayers have finally been answered as Nintendo and Next Level Games bring out Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Wii. Longtime fans will not be disappointed, while gamers new to the series will be blown away by a new and surprisingly deep boxing experience.
The premise of the game is a simple one. You play as Little Mac, a diminutive boxer with a lot of heart. Along with your trainer, Doc Louis, you go through three boxing circuits (minor, major and world) in your quest to become the champion of each. Once you gain the championship, however, you have to grant each of your opponents a rematch and beat them all once again in order to prove that you are the best of the best.
Despite being a boxing game, the gameplay is certainly different than what you may be used to if you've played other boxing titles on the system. The only game similar to it would be the boxing portion of Wii Sports since you and your opponent pretty much stay in the middle of the ring the whole time. Unlike that game, however, you can't simply whale away and hope to hit your opponent. While you may get in a few lucky punches while the opponent is simply standing still, the crux of your strategy will be counter-punching. Determining the timing of your opponent's different punches is half the fun, while unleashing punching combos and super punches when they miss comprises the other half.
None of the games in the series can be accused of being shallow, and this one is certainly no different. In fact, some might argue that this is equal to the length of both older titles combined. Your main quest to all three championships pits you against 13 different opponents, and once you become the champion, you have to go through all 13 opponents again for your title defense. As you make your way through the circuits, you also open up challenges related to the boxer you just defeated. There are 70 challenges in total; three for each character before and after the title is obtained. The challenges range from something as easy as letting Glass Joe win by decision to something impossible, like knocking out Great Tiger with only three punches. Beat all of this, and you get an endurance mode and the chance to unlock one more secret fighter with three challenges of his own. Again, the single-player mode here has no shortage of things to do once you start playing.
As mentioned before, Punch-Out!! is definitely a game that old fans of the series will enjoy. Figuring out the patterns of each boxer starts off easy, especially if you've played the older games. Things get difficult when the opponent starts to change his timing to throws you off a bit, but it never gets to the point where you want to give up, just like the older titles. The cut scenes are also just like the older games. Older players will get a kick out of the classic running scene in New York as well as Doc Louis' advice in between rounds, especially when he asks you to join the Nintendo Fun Club. About the only disappointing aspect in this whole package is the fact that there's only one new boxer in the game, and you meet him pretty early on. Players looking for a new set of fighters to face will be crushed to learn this fact, but it's not a big enough issue to make the game any less enjoyable.
Multiplayer plays out like the single-player game, which is both a good and bad thing. Both players take on the role of Little Mac in a versus match; the screen is split vertically down the middle, and the fighting mechanics are similar to the single-player mode. The big difference comes in a meter that builds as you land successful punches. Land enough of them first, and you turn into Giga Mac. The screen goes back to a singular one as Giga Mac pounds away at Little Mac who, in turn, has to either survive the onslaught or hope to knock out the opponent in this state. The mode becomes a nice diversion, but the fighting mechanics don't feel right for more than one player. Considering the fact that Punch-Out!! relies on figuring out your opponent's patterns and counteracting them, multiplayer sessions will either become a game of constant dodging or mindless slugging instead of anything resembling real boxing.
There are a few different control schemes available, and depending on which one you choose, the experience could either be pleasant or frustrating. The game supports three different control schemes: Wii Remote only, Wii Remote with Nunchuk, and Wii Remote/Nunchuck combination with Balance Board support. Using the Wii Remote only is the recommended way to play the game, since it plays just like the original games. Held NES style, the d-pad dodges, blocks and lets you duck. The 1 button throws punches with the left hand, while the 2 button throws right-handed punches. Holding Up while hitting the buttons allows for jabs to the face with the respective hand, while hitting the A button throws Star Punches, Little Mac's most powerful punch in the game.
Because of the timing needed for going up against some of the title's more difficult opponents, this control method gives you the most precise possible controls. Adding the Nunchuk maps all of the d-pad functions to the analog stick, and physically punching with either controller reflects the punches on-screen. Star Punches are handled a little differently, though, since you now have to hold the A or Z button and throw with that respective hand to perform the move. Surprisingly, this control scheme is also pretty good, and while it may be harder to beat some of the higher-level boxers this way, it's definitely not impossible. Adding the Wii Balance Board, however, transforms the controls from good to bad almost immediately. The Balance Board reads weight shifts as dodges to either side and reads a full weight shift to the heels as a duck. In theory, this would work well, but the fact that it takes some time to translate the weight shifts makes it harder to even beat Glass Joe the first time around. Couple that with the fact that it mistranslates some moves (a shift to the left suddenly made my boxer dodge right, for example), and the addition of Nintendo's latest controller becomes more of a bad gimmick than a serious control method for the game.
The graphics succeed on several different levels. The art style alone is a nice throwback to the original NES and Super NES days. The opponents are large and have plenty of expressions, making them not only humorous to watch but also a little easier to deal with since they tend to telegraph their next punches. Everything animates fluidly with no hitches whatsoever. The three arenas in which you fight aren't anything special, but they look good, and the crowd gives off the feeling that the place is always alive even if you can't see anything beyond silhouettes. What's more impressive outside of the fact that this is all displayed in 480p, however, is the fact that there aren't any of the common graphical flaws you see in other games: no clipping with ropes or gloves, no jaggies on player outlines, and no stray shadows. It says wonders about the quality of work done on a title when certain flaws that we gamers have come to accept are suddenly missing from a game.
Very few Wii games provide a close-to-perfect audio experience, and Punch-Out!! is definitely one such game. The sound effects play out like an homage to the original games, only updated to sound richer, and the music does the same thing. For the most part, the game has the same introductory, winning and losing tracks that are all cribbed from the original game. However, each of those tracks has been remixed to match the current opponent you are facing. For example, the fight with Bear Hugger has all of these tracks mixed with some banjo while Soda Popinski has his themes mixed with some Russian styling. It all sounds great and will be a treat to hear for old series fans. What is completely new, however, are the voices. With the exception of Little Mac, who doesn't say anything aside from cheers and grunts, everyone else has a voice and has something to say. Each character also speaks in his native language, which is fine except for the fact that there are no subtitles to go along with what they are saying. You can tell by their actions what they are implying, but it would have been nice if, like the older games, you actually understood what they were all saying.
Punch-Out!! is a must-have sports game on a system that doesn't really have many decent sports games. The graphics bleed with style, and the sound is a top-notch effort on the console. The controls are responsive enough, depending on which control scheme you use. While the multiplayer isn't something that will see much playtime, the lengthy single-player experience will ensure that this title is kept in rotation for quite some time. Old fans of the series should pick this up, and gamers who are new to the series will have a blast even after being defeated by the same boxer for the umpteenth time. Punch-Out!! is definitely a worthy addition to any Wii gamer's library.Score: 9.0/10
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