Punch-Out!! Wii Review (Wii)
There is no denying the significance of the Punch-Out franchise in video game history. First released on the NES in 1987, the original Punch-Out blew gamers away with its colorful cast of characters, addictive gameplay and challenging pattern recognition.
Sadly, since the release of Super Punch-Out in 1994, Little Mac and the entire Punch-Out gang have been missing in action. Some thought Mac had retired from the sport for good, while others held out hope that they would once again see the scrappy pugilist rise to the top. In October of 2008, Punch-Out fans everywhere let out a collective sigh of relief when it was announced that a Wii version of the series would be releasing in 2009.
It has been 15 long years since anyone has had the opportunity to strap the gloves on and step into the ring as Little Mac, and I’m happy to report that Punch-Out Wii was well worth the wait.
The moment you boot up Punch-Out, gamers familiar with the series will be flooded with nostalgic sounds and images. It’s important to note that your overall enjoyment of this game will largely depend on your love for the previous games in the series. So, if you are one of the 10 people that despised the original NES game, or even worse, you think that Nintendo is trying to make a "sim" style boxing game, stop reading right now -- this game is not for you.
Punch-Out features 14 total opponents, with one being a super secret unlockable that I don’t want to spoil for anyone. I was a bit disappointed that after 15 years, Nintendo was only able to include 14 opponent characters, especially when you consider that between Punch-Out and Super Punch-Out the big N had more than 30 characters to choose from.
However, much of my initial roster disappointment began to vanish once I had progressed through the game and realized that every character from the NES version had been included, along with some of the more memorable Super Punch-Out characters. (But I am shocked that Bob Charlie didn’t make the cut.)
Mac looks similar to his NES counterpart rather than the cherub-looking leprechaun that was Mac in Super Punch-Out Alongside Mac is his trusty old trainer Doc -- a spitting image of his NES player model.
Punch-Out Wii feels like the true spiritual successor to the 1987 NES game, more so than the sometimes outlandish SNES version. (I don’t care what anybody says, Dragon Chan and Mad Clown will never be recognized by me as part of the Punch-Out mythology.)
Once you advance past the introduction movie and stop humming the classic theme song, you will be given the opportunity to create a profile utilizing your Mii’s face for identification. Your Mii profile will be used to save your current in-game progress and your overall record throughout the game's two career modes. While this may seem like a standard feature in today’s landscape, this simple addition alone gave me a true sense of attachment and ownership of my version of Little Mac, and it is a small way to help gauge just how hardcore a Punch-Out player you are amongst your friends.
After creating a profile, the game gives you the option to choose one of three game modes: Career, Exhibition and Head to Head.
Career Mode is split into three different modes, with each becoming available once you complete the previous mode. First off is what is known as "Contender" mode. In Contender, you must guide Little Mac through three different circuits and capture the championship belt in each circuit to advance.
Once you have captured the belts in each of these circuits, "Title Defense" mode is unlocked. As the name of the mode implies, you must now face each of your previous opponents again, except this time they have a few new tricks up their sleeves.
After you have completed your title defense, the game then moves on to an uber-difficult mode known as "Mac’s Last Stand." In this mode, you are forced to fight opponents at random, with three overall losses ending Mac’s career.
What makes the entire career mode so unique is the challenge that you are met with at each tier. I have never played a game that quite literally ends your game if you lose at a certain point. There is no hope of reverting to an old save file or entering a password to resume progress, it just ends. Punch-Out has always been about challenging the gamer, and the Wii version takes this mantra one step further.
The overall length of the career mode is a bit on the short side. Seasoned gamers will have no problem making it through both Contender and Title Defense modes in 6-8 hours. Mac’s Last Stand can add another 3-4 hours of game time. While this may be seen as a flaw by some more experienced gamers, the challenge level for the less experienced could cause their own careers to push towards 30-plus hours.
Exhibition is new to the Punch-Out series, allowing gamers to practice against a holographic version of any opponent not yet defeated in the career mode; or if you have defeated the character, you can take him on while trying to fulfill a specific set of goals (e.g. defeat Glass Joe without dodging, ducking or blocking a punch).
Both modes are welcome additions in my book, especially the challenges because they completely change how you approach a certain opponent. Some may take issue with the practice bouts, claiming that they make the actual bouts too easy. But I think they are very useful because they can curb the frustration that may occur if you are having a hard time identifying an opponent's pattern or punch timing.
Head to Head
One of the most controversial decisions Nintendo made with this game was releasing a split-screen only versus mode where users can only control Little Mac. In a versus game, players take turns attempting to land enough punches to turn their character into "Giga Mac," a larger than life hulking version of Mac with super punches. The game mode itself feels incredibly balanced and is surprisingly fun, but I just cannot shake the feeling that I would rather be dominating my buddies online as King Hippo.
Let me go on record by saying that I do understand why Nintendo made the decision to make versus mode Mac vs. Mac -- as I said before, the resulting gameplay is very balanced. What I do not understand is why Nintendo opted not to take this game online, especially when considering the online popularity of Mario Kart on the Wii. This is a major issue that I have with the game, and it makes me wish that the developers would have perfected this mode, even if that meant waiting another six months to get my hands on this title. After all, we’ve already waited 15 years, what’s a few more months?
Punch-Out is absolutely beautiful, even on an HDTV. One of the first things I noticed about the game was just how detailed and colorful the character models were. Not only were the models themselves easy on the eyes, but the character details were simply beautiful: Mac’s muscle’s ripple in full cel-shaded glory, King Hippo’s model gives new meaning to the term "fat slob," opponents' eyes blacken and heads swell with lumps as they receive punishment, and even the referee looks like he received hours and hours of TLC.
Graphical effects in the game are also outstanding. The colors blur when you are hit with punches; when you deliver your punches, the colors are crisp and clear. The super-punch effects look wonderful, and the subtle shifts of the camera angle add drama to knockout blows, which creates a whole new dimension of presentation for this series. Pieces of sushi float around Piston Hondo’s head when he’s dazed, Disco Kid checks his smile out in a mirror mid-round and Soda Popinski guzzles his beverage of choice, all creating a graphical atmosphere that is fun and visually stimulating.
Simply put, when you step into the ring in Punch-Out, it is the best looking Wii game I’ve played to date.
Punch-Out has one of the best and most recognizable themes in the video game medium. It brings a smile to my face to report that Punch-Out Wii not only has a more modern take on the original theme song, but it also includes several other classic tracks from the NES game. Call me a sucker for old-school game scores, but I would have no reservations about spending hard-earned money on this game's soundtrack.
In-game voice work is solid, with the exception of a few characters (namely Disco Kid). Doc's voice work is especially well done, and it is nice to finally hear the voice behind Mac’s success. Your opponents no longer taunt you via typewriter text either. Now they can be heard speaking their native tongues both during and between rounds. As much as I love the new voices, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the old translations between rounds.
In-game sound effects sound great, and the game truly shines if you have your Wii hooked up to a Dolby 5.1 system. This is the type of game you want to crank the surround sound up for.
Challenging modes, great graphics and solid music would mean about as much as a knockout of Glass Joe if the game did not translate well to the Wii. As great as the other aspects previously mentioned in this game are, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the motion control scheme in Punch-Out is one of its strongest aspects. I would even venture to say that Punch-Out may be the best controlling game on the Wii to date when using the default Nunchuk and Wii remote setup.
There are three main control setups you can use in the game: the default Nunchuk and Wii remote scheme, a Wii remote by itself that you use much like an NES controller (only tilting the controller is involved this time around) or a scheme that involves the Wii Balance Board. Out of the three, the Balance Board method is not responsive enough to warrant any further mention in this review. The Wii remote tilt method works great, but the default motion-sensitive controls should be learned and used exclusively by anyone who wants to get the most out of the game.
The controls do feel a bit awkward at first, especially for veterans of the series. Once you master the motion controls, though, you will have an advantage over all of your opponents because the controls are so fluid. You simply use the analog stick to dodge, duck and block, and then swing each controller in a normal punching motion to have Little Mac punch with that respective hand. For all you couch potatoes out there, don’t worry, you can simply swing the controllers forward if you don’t feel like breaking a sweat.
The motion control in this game is not true one-to-one, so you will notice a slight difference in the timing of your actual punch and the virtual representation of it. If you spend an iota of time in the practice gym, you should have no issue getting your punch timing down. In my 15-plus hours of experience with this game, I have never experienced significant controller lag or a slow enough response time that cost me a match.
If you have ever played a Punch-Out game in the past, you know what you are getting: fast-paced pattern recognition arcade boxing at its finest. Punch-Out Wii doesn’t reinvent the franchise's patented gameplay, it simply refines and polishes it in almost every way.
What makes this game so special is its balance. Every opponent has a weakness, and it is up to you to find that weakness before you get pummeled. The game is extremely challenging the first time through since several of the classic fighters whose tendencies you thought you knew, now have different tells and patterns. Expect Great Tiger to beat you down the first time you face him, and don’t even get me started on Don Flamenco once you have to fight him in Title Defense mode.
The best part about losing in this game is that you never feel cheated. There is no comeback artificial intelligence in Punch-Out, so if you lose, it is because you did not make the necessary adjustments. The game summons the spirits of the old-school hardcore NES arcade sports titles and that is what makes it great.
It’s difficult to criticize Punch-Out’s gameplay as it contains no glitches, no game-breaking bugs, no ratings errors or any of the other problems that plague today’s current crop of sports games on the PS3 and 360. The only knock on the developers when it comes to this game would be to say that they did not innovate the gameplay enough -- but how can you really fault them for simply polishing a gameplay foundation that was already nearly perfect in 1987?
If you are a fan of old-school arcade sports games that are all about fun and challenge, you need to go out right now and pick up Punch-Out for the Wii. I would even say that this game is a system seller for me. The game may have no online capabilities and is a tad on the short side, but I can confidently say that this game will hold me over for the next 15 years.
In The Ring: The multi-tiered career mode will keep most gamers busy for weeks. Exhibition challenges add another layer of complexity to matches by forcing you to fight opponents with different styles.
Graphics: Character models, character detail and in-ring effects are spectacular for the Wii. Menus and cut-scenes are bland and washed out on an HDTV.
Sound: In-game voices (especially Doc's) are great. You won’t be able to get the modernized remake of the classic theme song out of your head.
Entertainment Value: If you ever enjoyed a Punch-Out game, a Ready to Rumble game or even Facebreaker, this game is for you. If you are expecting a simulation style boxing game, look elsewhere.
Learning Curve: Spend some time in the practice mode to master the default motion controls -- once you do the game is very rewarding. This game can be extremely challenging so expect to spend a good deal of time studying opponent patterns and partaking in trial and error gameplay. Every opponent has a weakness, it is up to you to find it.
Score: 9.0 (Exceptional)