It’s been fifteen years since the last Punch-out game was released, and fans have been clamoring for another shot at the title ever since. Next Level games, best know for their work on the Mario Strikers games, looks to deliver a shot of pure nostalgia into the eyeballs and fingertips of Punch-out fans, but how does the title fare for someone who has never stepped into the ring as Little Mac before?
Punch-out appears to be a stylized boxing simulator, but at its core it is a puzzle game that requires split-second reaction time to progress. For anybody looking to get a Fight Night fix on the Wii, Punch-out simply isn’t that kind of game. The arsenal at your disposal is very small, but in a game that requires such speed it’s best kept simple but effective. On attack you may punch with your right or left arm, high and low, essentially giving you four options for attack, plus any star-punches earned by surprising foes, which act like a super-move when earned. On defense you’ve also got four options, left and right dodges, duck, and block. To execute these maneuvers players are given two control options, an NES inspired Wii-mote held sideways, and motion controls that utilize both Wii-remote and Nunchuk. However, the only workable control scheme is classic NES controls. After playing with the motion controls I found myself exhausted both mentally and physically; the game is already taxing enough without added physical elements, the remote held sideways is simply the superior control option.
That being said, Punch-out is a very difficult game, and figuring out each boxers’ moves and countering them properly only gets harder as you press on. The game may be rated E for everyone, but I guarantee you’ll hear some foul language whenever the disc is in your Wii, not from the game of course, but the gamers behind the remote. Once you best an opponent though, the satisfaction more than makes up for the frustration. It’s easy to imagine that many players who pick up the game might not even make it past the initial career to become world champion, while the most hardcore players will revel in the fact that they’ve taken on the world and come out on top, and trust me, only the most dedicated can do this. That fact might be a deal-breaker for those simply looking to stick their heads into the world of Punch-out, which is definitely worth noting when deciding to purchase the game.
For cocky veterans who think it’ll be a breeze, rest assured even seasoned Punch-out fans will find challenge in the regular career mode. The added element of ducking and the fact that many punches require dodging in a specific way gives old players (like myself who only dodged left in the NES game) another layer of habit breaking and skills to master. This will definitely grate on the nerves of stuck-in-their ways veterans, but for those willing to adapt it simply makes the Punch-out formula that much more fun. Additionally, after players have taken Little Mac to the end of the regular career, title-defense mode becomes available. In this mode, even the biggest pushovers become fierce opponents—even Glass Joe. Many of them adopt new strategies or don protective gear changing the strategy to beat them entirely, or tweaking it just enough to knock players to the mat.
The single-player campaign pits you against 13 boxers of increasing difficulty. After you beat each opponent, you can go back and replay them, or even practice your chops in a damage-free practice mode. This element has got to be the best addition to the game, as it allows players to practice getting the timing and dodges for each boxer without the pressure of taking damage and possibly ruining your win-loss record. The mode allows you to really soak in the puzzle nature of the game without the torment or pressure of the reflex skill you need during a regular match.
The multiplayer is a fun diversion, and since it is already such a complete game without it, the mode is a great little extra, but nothing particularly substantial. One can’t help but be a little disappointed in the multiplayer. It’s a beefy package, but it definitely could have benefitted from some online functionality or at the very least some leaderboards, especially considering Next Level’s previous Wii efforts.
Since the game is comprised of almost exclusively old faces (really, only one new boxer) returning players will find that while the techniques of old still work, a few of the opponents have changed their ways with different cue animations and new moves. For example, Don Flamenco can no longer be volleyed indefinitely by alternating punching hands. At the same time though it is relieving that delivering King Hippo a knuckle sandwich followed by gut-punch combo still knocks the oaf out. The lack of new faces could be a good or bad point depending on how fond of the original cast you were. It’s disappointing though that the only newcomer is the one-note Disco Kid, who just doesn’t seem as well rounded as the older opponents.
The presentation in Punch-out is impressive. All of the characters look like cartoons, and animate just as well. Each boxer is a cultural caricature from their respective homeland (it’s almost offensive really) but taken with a grain of salt the characters make for great nemeses to overcome. They are all introduced with a set of four stills that give enough laughs and back-story to set the stage, but they never take away from the experience. The inclusion of these as movies would have been nice, but the stills get the job done. In the audio department, the characters are all voiced really well, and speak in their respective languages. It is very funny, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the game. The music in Punch-out is mostly rock-remixes of themes from the original, and they get your blood pumping.
Additionally the crunching sounds of punches and heartbeats are what you’d expect and definitely give a sense of gravity to each match.
This is a hard game to recommend purchasing, mostly because of the simplistic yet terrifyingly difficult gameplay. Punch-out fans of olde are almost sure to love it since it’s essentially the same game but harder, yet newbie’s could easily be turned off by its seemingly limited content and crushing difficulty. It’s charming, it’s fun, and definitely worth checking out. Which is why I feel Punch-out for Wii is the perfect rental game, and who knows, you might wind up loving it after you’ve gotten your hands on it.
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Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Next Level Games
ESRB Rating: E 10+
Release Date: May 18, 2009