The Fantastic Review of: Punch-Out Wii version. (PLEASE COMMENT) :-)
May 15, 2009 - It's hard to find anyone who owned a Nintendo Entertainment System that doesn't have the original Punch-Out!! in their Top Ten. The game is rightfully held in high regard among console gamers because of its intensely challenging and satisfying gameplay. It's also one of the most difficult action games to master because of its dependence on pattern recognition and almost split-second response on the controller. Nintendo's franchise has been in unofficial retirement for nearly 15 years now; that's the last time the publisher wheeled out a version, in this case Super Punch-Out on the Super NES. Two Nintendo consoles have past since then without a true sequel, and while we've been content with releases of the classic games on the Wii's Virtual Console, the idea of a next generation Punch-Out!! has been bouncing around the wishlists of Nintendo fanboys for years. Yours truly included.
After a decade and a half, Nintendo's finally revived its old-school arcade boxer with the help of developer Next Level (Mario Strikers Charged), and the studio absolutely nailed the essence that made the original such a hot property on the NES back in 1987. Everything that made Punch-Out!! a classic on the 8-bit system has been recreated in a beefier current generation game production, but it's clear that fans of the original release were involved in the Wii version's creation. Punch-Out!! isn't a boxing simulator, and it never makes any attempt at trying to be one. This is not the Wii version of Fight Night, so if you're looking to realistically pound some professional boxers into submission I suggest you put the box back on the shelf and walk away. Of course, if you do this you'll be missing out on one of the most challenging old-school inspired action games available.
Punch-Out!! is essentially a "rebooting" of the classic NES original, a title inspired by the arcade version of the same name, as well as its sequel that Nintendo released before the NES console. In Punch-Out!!, you're "Little Mac," a fighter rising through the ranks of the fictitious World Video Boxing Association. Each of the 13 fighters within the WVBA are over-the-top caricatures (read borderline stereotypes) of cultures and regions. You've got Glass Joe, from France, who crumples to the floor if a housefly lands on his chin, the fish-loving lumberjack Canadian Bear Hugger, and thirsty Soda Popinski from Russia who gets his super strength from a bottle of "carbonated beverage." If these names sound familiar, they should: they're all characters from existing Punch-Out!! games, either on the NES version or the Super NES series. There are two different sides of the coin here for Punch-Out!! fans: these characters are pretty much what made Punch-Out!!, so their inclusions are expected. And for those who've never plowed through any Punch-Out!! games, these players won't care about a roster recycling. On the flipside seeing the same characters makes the Wii version lose a sense of discovery; the only new fighter is one called Disco Kid, and thanks to the developer's attention to Punch-Out!! detail, he fits into the Punch-Out!! universe like a glove…pun intended. But working through the ranks, it's hard not to wish that there were fresher faces to fight, instead of being faced with the familiar, done up in 3D. It's almost as if Next Level was afraid that it was going to dishonor Nintendo's Punch-Out!! by designing new fighters that weren't conceived by the original, internal team. And it's not because of laziness, because it's clear that Next Level poured every ounce of effort it could into building an excellent, contemporary Punch-Out!!
experience. First of all, the gameplay is absolutely spot-on to the classic material: Punch-Out!! is all about counter attacking, reading what the opponent does before he does it, and dodging out of the way to put him off-guard for a flurry of jabs and body blows. Each of the 13 fighters has his own style of fighting and attack patterns, and through trial and error (and many punches to the face) you learn how best to approach their different jabs, roundhouses, and uppercuts. Each fighter in the rankings gets increasingly faster and stronger with wilder tricks up their sleeves, and by the time you get to the World Circuit each victory feels like a mission well accomplished, a satisfying conclusion to all that control and determination.
The game controls in a variety of ways: either with the nunchuk or without. Using the nunchuk turns on motion controls: punching is handled via thrusting the left or right hand while dodging, blocking, ducking and changing high and low hits is all mapped to the analog stick. When you earn Star Punches by hitting the opponent at strategic moments you can activate these special moves with a tap on a button. You can choose to use the Wii Fit balance board to dodge and duck by leaning or thrusting downwards, but the less said about this option, the better. I will say that it's nice that the developers made it easy to disable it after you've enabled it, because it's just a control device that doesn't work for the quick responses that Punch-Out requires. Because the game mimics pretty much the entire NES design, Punch-Out!! is best played without the nunchuk. Without the plug-in peripheral you hold the Wii remote like an NES controller, with the 1 and 2 buttons handling the punches, the D-pad taking care of the dodges and ducks, and the big fat A button used to activate any earned Star Punches. While motion control might seem like a good idea against weaklings like Glass Joe, once you get higher in the rankings you'll find that button presses are far more responsive than Wii Remote/Nunchuk thrusts…even if they feel more like actual punches do.
Where Next Level put most of its effort is in the game's visuals. Back in the classic Punch-Out!! days the graphics weren't much more than two-frame animations for the different attacks, a technique that worked surprisingly well considering the limitations of the system hardware. For Punch-Out!! on the Wii, Next Level created fully 3D versions of the characters and animated them accordingly. There's a real professional polish to each of the fighters in the game: they all move with incredible fluidity and lip sync all the dialogue provided to them, all using in-engine assets. Between circuits you're given some well-rendered cutscenes that make reference to Little Mac's training back on the NES, but the same attention wasn't applied to the opponents' backstories: before a fight you're given four stillframe cutscenes that tell their tale. These comic panels are admittedly painted with incredible detail, but they seem like a slight shortcut when compared to Little Mac's extended video sequences. Yeah, it's picking nits. The real worry is whether Punch-Out!! still has what it takes to attract a new generation of gamers. After all, the core mechanics were conceived on basic two-button controllers more than 20 years ago, and those mechanics haven't changed at all in the two decades since Punch-Out!!'s birth. It's hard to approach Punch-Out!! without some sense of nostalgia, but I will say that the game doesn't miss a beat in giving players a challenge that's uniquely Punch-Out. I guess it depends on what newbies expect out of a Nintendo boxing game, and I can't imagine anyone walking away from a fresh take disappointed, unless they truly expect some sort of realistic boxing simulator for their Wii. And it's easy to see Punch-Out!! in its original context because both the NES classic and its SNES sequel are available for play through the system's Virtual Console.
And even though 13 fighters seems a little short, the fact that you'll face them at least a second time with completely different moves and strategies – and at a much faster speed – means that there's a good amount of gameplay here. And this isn't including the Exhibition Mode that challenges players with specific goals for each opponent to unlock additional content. Some of these challenges range from damn hard to freakishly difficult, and I can imagine the message boards are going to be set alight with people wondering how the heck to knock out Glass Joe in only five punches, or punch the crown right off of King Hippo's head. Punch-Out!! has always been a single player experience, but gamers have wished for a versus option for years. Next Level has answered these calls with a Head-to-Head mode that's pretty clever in incorporating the Punch-Out!! mechanics that have always intended on being human vs computer. In this mode, each player controls Little Mac in a split-screen view. Players attack and dodge each other using the standard Little Mac moves, trying to land a punch that'll steal a bit of "mojo" from the other person. When that meter fills, Little Mac becomes Giga Mac – essentially a usual, over-the-top Punch-Out opponent – and the screen shifts to a single view where the other player fights in traditional Punch-Out!! fashion. This head-to-head mode is fun with a good sense of strategy…if a just a little stiff in control due to the limitations of the Punch-Out mechanics. It won't sell you on buying a copy of Punch-Out!! , but it's a nice supplement to the single player component.
What's baffling is the fact that Punch-Out!! doesn't support any sort of online component. With Next Level's work on one of the first Wii games to hit the internet (Mario Strikers Charged), you would think that it would apply that networking knowledge in getting the two player component working over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Not supported. And also not supported are worldwide leaderboards to let players show off their best times and knockouts against the different characters. A huge opportunity missed. Any sort of record you earn in Punch-Out!! stays firmly in the system that you performed it on, and while we can live with the developer's decision, it's just flat-out disappointing that Nintendo decided to skip over any sort of online option in the Wii version.