Punch-Out!! Review

Little Mac returns to the ring after 15 years away. Chances are if you are older than that you’ve played this game before. If you’re new to Punch-Out!! you’ll find a great introduction to the series in this game.

Punch-Out!! burst onto the scene more than 20 years ago, with a colorful roster of boxers, a celebrity endorser and hours of fun on the NES. Chances are, if you were born before 1985 you’ve played this game or it’s sequel on the Super Nintendo. If not, then you don’t know what you were missing and this game will make you understand why people love the franchise as much as they do.

It now returns with an even more colorful cast of boxers and plenty of hours more of enjoyment. It’s a boxing game, a puzzle game and a party game all wrapped up together in one beautiful package that you’re sure to enjoy.

Many of the characters that fans of the game love have returned, all of them with a 3 – d facelift. Previous iterations of the game had already given the boxers a lot of personality. The upgrade to the Wii has increased that exponentially. Before each fight the characters are introduced to you in a 4 frame story that gives you some background on the character. While it would have been nice if these had been fully animated, they are still clever and sometimes chuckle inducing.

The backgrounds of the game are the still familiar crowd from every previous edition. Flashes from cameras happen constantly, but never distract from the action in the ring. Damage is now reflected to the characters in semi-real time. As you pummel an opponent bruises, bandages and bumps will appear if you concentrate your punches to certain areas.

Punch-Out!! has one of the most recognizable themes in gaming. It’s been hummed by gamers for over 20 years now. It’s been given an upgrade many times over now. Each boxer has their own version of the song that plays during matches, and it is themed towards that characters background. The differences in each version of the song make you realize how good the music really is. You’ll find yourself humming along, and the differences in the theme keep it from becoming too grating.

Foreign based boxers like Glass Joe, Von Kaiser, or Great Tiger all speak in their native languages. This gives Punch-Out!! a bit of depth the previous versions of the game couldn’t really do. The voices are all very well done. You may not be able to understand what they’re saying, but you get the feeling that it fits in quite well with each of the different personalities.

Doc Louis, your trainer, now has a voice, nonsensical advice between rounds, and an unhealthy love of chocolate.

It’s been 15 years since Little Mac entered the boxing ring and now he’s ready to make the charge to the top once again. Many of his previous opponents are still around and stand in his way. The story in Punch-Out has been that of the underdog trying to fight through bigger, tougher opponents to win the title in various boxing circuits. That’s pretty much all the premise you need for Mac to be fighting the colorful cast of characters.

Punch-Out!! is not a boxing game. It’s never really been a boxing game. It’s a puzzle game wrapped around the guise of a boxing game. If you approach it as a boxing game you will not last very long. Each of the different boxers has a pattern that you must learn in order to avoid being hit and countering this to do damage to your opponent. They each have a distinctive tell that you have to figure out before they begin their punches. Some of them are obvious, such as Disco Kid telling you, “Here it comes!” Some of them are less so like the gem on Great Tiger’s turban blinking a moment before throwing a punch. Each boxer also flashes red a split second before their punch giving you one more chance to avoid the rain of blows.

You have a couple of different options in controlling Mac on his road to the championship. Wii has been about it’s motion control since the beginning. You can use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk as your hands and punch your way to victory. The control stick is used to help Mac dodge, duck and dive away from opponents’ fists, which are as big as your head. Swinging the Wii Remote or Nunchuk will cause Mac to punch his opponents. Pushing up on the control stick will land an uppercut. Well timed blows will award Mac with a Star, which can be used for a Star Punch that will deal extra damage by pressing the A button during a punch. This method works well, and there never seemed to be an issue with timing using this control scheme.

If you’re not comfortable with the motion controls, or you just feel that Punch-Out!! should be played old school then you can turn the Wii Remote on its side and play with classic NES style controls. Pushing the 1 & 2 buttons will cause Mac to throw punches, and the d-pad is used to control your movements. You can also use the Wii Balance Board to dodge left and right in combination with either of the control schemes mentioned.

There are 3 different circuits, and 13 boxers that you must fight through in order to be the best boxer in the WVBA, or World Video Boxing Association. The Minor Circuit is your first stop, followed by the Major Circuit and finally the World Circuit. The boxers get progressively harder as you get into the higher circuits. The difficulty in Punch-Out!! starts pretty mildly and you shouldn’t have much trouble until later in the Major Circuit. Make it to the World Circuit and the game may get frustratingly hard to the point of controller tossing.

Each fight lasts 3 rounds that have a 3 minute time limit. You repeatedly punch your opponent to wear them down. If there health bar runs out they are knocked down. A boxer knocked down will have 10 seconds to stand up or they are knocked out and lose the fight. Also, if a boxer is knocked down 3 times in the same round they lose because of a TKO, or technical knock out. If you knock your opponent down you can quickly hit the 1 & 2 buttons, or shake the Wii Remote & Nunchuk to regain a portion of your health. One time, between rounds, you can hit the – button to regain a larger portion of your health. Early on, this won’t be too much of an issue. In later fights you will pray that your opponent stays down for 9 out of 10 seconds in order to get as much of your health back as you can.

If you finish all three circuits and will the titles in each you will then be able to play through Title Defense Mode. You will fight every character again, though this time it will be much harder to defeat them. Their patterns, and tells change, and they have compensated for whatever weakness they may have. For example, Glass Joe comes to the ring wearing headgear to protect his vulnerable jaw and King Hippo sports a manhole cover over his belly that you have to remove before it becomes his weakness again.

If you’re having trouble defeating a certain opponent, your trainer Doc Louis will set up an exhibition match where you face off against a holographic version of your opponent. They cannot hurt you during these training sessions so it gives you a chance to learn their various tells and weaknesses without fear of a loss on your record or permanent damage to your psyche. Also after you’ve defeated an opponent you can go back in exhibition mode where you are given three objectives to accomplish during the fight. These can be anything from knocking an opponent out in the first round, winning a match without blocking a punch or dodging, defeating an opponent with only 5 punches. These objectives add a lot of replay ability to the game and make you think hard about different ways of beating the different boxers.

For the first time you can play Punch-Out!! with a friend. You can go head-to-head in a one on one match via split-screen multiplayer. Each of you chooses a Mii that then becomes the name of your character. So rather than being Little Mac, you would be Little Tony for example. Taking too long to throw a punch, or missing a punch will cause your boxer to turn blue and become frozen momentarily. Hitting a frozen opponent will award you with a bit of Giga Mac juice. If you gain enough of this juice you will turn into a hulked up version of Little Mac. When this happens the game reverts to a traditional single screen game where you essentially become a Punch-Out!! character. You become more powerful, but if your opponent dodges your attacks they can counter with a flurry of blows to deal a large amount of damage. You’re your meter runs out of Giga Mac juice you become a normal sized boxer and the screen splits back in two.

This mode does not add a lot to the game, but it is a fun mode to have when you have friends over or if you’ve ever wanted to play Punch-Out!! with a human opponent.

Punch-Out!! is more than just a remake of the original game. Next Level Games has taken the best elements of the previous two installments, mixed it all up and thrown it together to create a wonderful nostalgic game for fans of the series, but have also created a game that stands up well with today’s generation of gamers. The only things that could have made this a better experience than it already is would be the inclusion of online play and some additional characters. Given the fact that the developer did a solid job with online play for Mario Strikers Charged, it is a bit of a curious omission.

There is also only one new character, Disco Kid. All the others return from Punch-Out!! or Super Punch-Out!! It would have been nice to see the inclusion of a few more new characters to add to the plethora of stereotypes already in the game.

Depth was never the big selling point of the game. You were not going to understand the boxing world more after playing the game. If anything, you would probably understand it less and wonder why real boxers don’t display over the top antics and have obvious signs before throwing a punch. You will, however, find a wonderful puzzle to solve, characters you will fall in love with, and music that will stick with you for years.

Put on your boxing gloves, because Punch-Out!! is going to be easily regarded as one of the stand out titles of this year on any system and is a must own game for Wii owners.

Final Score: 5/5

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