The Punch-Out!! series has always seemed, at least to me, like Nintendo’s unloved son. Since its arrival, way back in 1987, there have only been three Punch-Out!! titles to date.
Despite not putting up Mega Man numbers, in terms of releases, Punch-Out!! has always had a special place in gamers’ hearts due to its basic mechanics and lovable characters: both of which make a fantastic comeback in the latest Punch-Out!! for the Wii.
For those of you who don’t know, Punch-Out!! has pretty simple game mechanics. You have to fight your way past increasingly difficult boxers, each one showing a unique pattern of attack. You have to figure out the pattern and come up with a way to counter it. For example, Soda Popinski starts out with two left jabs; after which he switches to right uppercuts. In order to beat him, you have to figure out the time delay between each punch. Then, by anticipating when he is going to attack, you have to beat him to the punch. All in all it sounds more difficult than it is, not to say that the end game isn’t challenging. I swear, I don’t think I’ll ever be quick enough to take out Mr. Sandman in Title Defense Mode.
Punch-Out!! comes with three game modes. There is your classic Career Mode where you have to fight your way up the ladder to make it to the top. Here you will come across classic characters of the Punch-Out!! series like Don Flamenco, Bald Bull, and King Hippo. In all there are fourteen fighters, ten from the original Punch-Out!!, two from Super Punch-Out!! and two new ones, including Donkey Kong and Disco Kid. Each character has his own unique personality, sayings, animations and fighting style; all of which are designed to make you laugh. Before each fight, there is a little humorous montage showing your opponent training. For example Bear Hugger, a rugged Canadian, is shown preparing for his fight by chopping trees, chugging maple syrup and sparring with a grizzly bear.
Once you beat Career Mode, you unlock a more difficult Title Defense Mode. This mode features more of the same, just harder. If you manage to top Title Defense Mode, you unlock Mac’s Last Stand Mode, which is really just a glorified survival mode.
On top of Career Mode there is also an Exhibition Mode. Here you get to pick who you want to fight from all the fighters you have access to. You will be given three challenges that try and highlight a certain character’s weakness. For example, when sparring with King Hippo, you will be tasked with KOing a Crownless version of him. To accomplish this, you have to figure out that you can knock King Hippo’s crown off by countering a specific move. Once you learn to counter this one punch, you pretty much know how to beat him for good.
Lastly, there is Head to Head mode. Here gamers get a chance to wail on their friends. The game pretty much works the same as single-player, however, there is a twist. Next Level Games spices up versus mode by adding Giga Mac. Giga Mac is a more powerful version of Mac, who has unique punches and taunts. In essence, it’s like playing as one of the single-player opponents. To unlock Giga Mac, you have to dodge or block your opponents punches until their icon turns completely blue. Once it’s blue, let ‘em have it to gain Giga Mac Juice. One you earn enough juice, you’ll transform. All in all head-to-head mode is fun, albeit small addition.
Players have the choice of controlling Little Mac either with the old school controls using the sideways Wii Remote, or with the full on motion controls. There is a third option, to use the motion controls in conjunction with the balance board, but since I don’t have the board I was unable to experiment with this.
When I first booted up the game, I decided to tryout the motion controls. As you would expect, to throw a left jab you punch with the Nunchuk, a right jab, thrust the Wii Remote. To throw hooks, you have to hold up on the Nunchuk and punch with the corresponding hand. Dodging is done by maneuvering the analog stick to either side on the Nunchuk. In order to activate a Star Punch you have to hold down A and punch with your right hand, or hold down C and punch with your left. It may seem overwhelming at first, but once you have the controls in your hands it’s pretty intuitive.
The one issue I have with the motion controls is that they are overly sensitive. Once I made it to the second tier of fighters, I found that the motion controls were holding me back. If I shifted my hand at all during a harder fight, I would get my rhythm thrown off and I was beaten to a pulp. Ultimately the motion controls are a fun novelty that make head to head mode more fun, but when it comes to the main game classic controls are classic for a reason.
The classic controls are just like those for the NES. 1 and 2 correspond to the left and right jabs; hooks if you hold up on the D-pad. Star punches are done by hitting the “-” button, and dodging is all done with the D-pad. I found that with using this control scheme, I was able to speed through the game at a much faster pace.
In terms of graphics, Punch-Out!! does what it can with the Wii’s power. Everything is very stylized, so you don’t really notice any jagged polygons. The animations are all very crisp and clean: it oozes with high production value. Next Level Games took the time to personalize each characters’ stun and knockdown animations. What I mean by this is, when you stun Piston Honda with a quick jab, a piece of sushi with wings circles his head.
Another example of this is when you knock down Glass Joe (who is from France) baguettes and croissants come flying out of his pockets. It’s all very silly and fun, but it’s also testament to how much work actually went into making this game. It’s these little extra animations and models that really helps Punch-Out!! shine.
The best thing about Punch-Out!! is the sound. Next Level Games really knocked it out of the park by using old music and sounds spruced up with modern technology. They took all the classic Punch-Out!! tunes and redid them with rock instruments. When playing the game I couldn’t help but picture Rocky knocking out Apollo in iconic fashion, all thanks to the music. In terms of sound effects, all the classic NES sounds are there, giving us nostalgic gamers something to smile about.
Another of the great aspects of Punch-Out!! is the voice acting. Each character’s unique personality comes through in the voice acting. The only issue I can see people having with it, is that it has slightly culturally insensitive undertones. For example, when Bald Bull, a boxer from Turkey, punches, he yells, “Allah Akbar!” an Arabic saying meaning “God is great”, obviously a comment on how Middle Easterners are predominantly Muslim. Another example is when Von Kaiser, a German, enters the ring. He says “achtung!” which means “attention” in German and does a little salute. This is obviously a comment on how Germans are stereotyped historically as a war-like culture. It may not seem like much at first glance, but it is definitely noticeable when playing the game.
Punch-Out!! is a fantastic title that actually makes me happy to own a Wii. The game’s simple mechanics prove that there is a place in modern gaming for tried and true old school methods. Much like the gameplay, the sound benefits from both its old school roots combined with modern technology. The only issue I have with Punch-Out!! is that I can’t justify spending $50 on it.
Sure it’s a great game to play when you have friends over or when you have a couple minutes to kill, but at the end of the day there just isn’t enough content. My friends and I were able to make it two thirds of the way though career mode in four hours. If you’re looking for a longer experience, you might want to pass up Punch-Out!!. However, if you are feeling a little nostalgic or just in the mood to kill time and have fun, you can’t go wrong with it.
The graphics are stylized in such a way that you couldn’t tell it was on the Wii. Everything from the menus to the arenas have a crisp, clean feeling. The slide shows that give your opponent’s backgrounds are hilarious and well put together.
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The rudimentary gameplay gives light to the fact that tried and true game mechanics will always remain fun.
The rocking music and 8-bit sound effects are enough to get more than an old school gamer’s heart racing. The voice acting may come off as offensive to some, but I thought it was rather jovial.
While there are three game modes, at the end of the day you are just jabbing and dodging to patterns. The only reason Punch-Out!! managed to snag an “8″ here is due to the Head to Head mode, which will give you and your friends some extra playtime.
Punch-Out!! is a great game when the guys are over and you have an hour or so to kill. By yourself it’s a great, albeit quick, little distraction. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun on my Wii.