Developer: Next Level Games
Though it lacks the toothless grin of Iron Mike, Punch-Out!! for the Wii retains all of the depth, accessibility and charm of 1987’s Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! with all the upgrades expected of a current-gen game.
Stepping back in the shoes of up and coming boxer, Little Mac, players fight their way through 14 unique boxers accompanied by the always-unhelpful coach, Doc Louis. It’s clear that the developers at Next Level Games really loved the old Punch-Out!! games, as the Wii version is incredibly faithful to the source material. With the exception of Mike Tyson and Mr Dream, all of the boxers from the original game make a return appearance, as well as Bear Hugger and Aran Ryan from Super Punch-Out!! The sole new boxer is Disco Kid, who is a lot of fun to fight, but it’s a shame that he’s the only new competitor.
The actual gameplay is virtually unchanged from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! It isn’t so much an accurate representation of actual boxing as it is a cross between a puzzle and an action game. Before attacking, each boxer performs some sort of action to let the player know exactly what punch they’re going to use or what direction they’ll attack from. For instance, the Indian boxer Great Tiger has a jewel on his forehead that flashes different colours for different punches. Remembering these patterns is the key to winning, so players need not just quick reflexes and timing, but a good memory as well.
Sure, it is possible to get through the first few boxers by simply punching with the occasional dodge thrown in, but by the end of the game it becomes necessary to come up with more creative ways to defeat your opponents. For instance, the fourth boxer, King Hippo, as any Punch-Out!! veteran will recount, can only be defeated by punching his open mouth and then hitting his stomach when he drops his guard (and pants). By experimenting with their fighting styles, players are rewarded with Star Punches, which can be stored up and unleashed for a devastating blow, adding another level of strategy to the game. Do you use your star punches straight away or save them for more power at the risk of losing it all?
After going through the game and knocking out fighters from all over the world, Title Defense mode is unlocked. This new feature to the Punch-Out!! series has Little Mac fighting through all the boxers again, only this time they have different moves and are much more difficult. Don’t be surprised you happen to get beaten up by a manhole-cover-wearing King Hippo or Bear Hugger and his newfound animal buddy. As well as adding a few more hours to the length of the game, adding more boxers allows the difficulty level to be nice and smooth. Though it never gets quite as hard as the original, Punch-Out!! presents a decent challenge.
Further increasing the challenge is the Exhibition mode, which sets various goals to achieve while fighting each boxer. These goals can be anything from beating an opponent in a set number of punches to finding out various ways to get star punches to letting Glass Joe win (it’s surprisingly hard). Beating these challenges unlocks a number of sound tests, which wouldn’t be much of an incentive if the unlockable music tracks weren’t so good.
The music consists mainly of remixed versions of the Punch-Out!! theme from the original game. Each boxer has their own ethnic variation on the tune; for instance, Don Flamenco has a nice Spanish-inspired piece whereas Soda Popinski’s music consists of Russian chanting. It’s only a small touch, but it keeps the music from wearing out its welcome. Each boxer is now fully voiced and speaking their own language. Although it’s a bit difficult to understand what your opponent is saying, the characters are so expressive that the language barrier isn’t too much of an issue. The voice acting is done very well, especially for Little Mac’s coach, Doc Louis. Though his advice is rarely very helpful, his constant quips about chocolate are entertaining and often downright hilarious.
The graphics, while not exactly pushing the power of the console, look the part. All of the boxers look suitably goofy and are full of personality. Surprisingly, some of the stranger actions from the original game (like Piston Hondo’s eyebrow raising before he punches) carry over and actually fit in quite well. The only parts of the game that doesn’t quite fit are the introduction sequences for each boxer that consist of nothing more than a series of still images. It doesn’t convey much about the characters’ personality, at least not compared to their actual actions in the match. It’s an unnecessary inclusion that comes off as a bit lazy.
For those who want a bit of a workout, you can play the game by swinging the Wii remote and nunchuk, or even use the balance board to duck and dodge. For those watching from the sidelines it’s certainly the most entertaining option, but the easiest control scheme and the one most likely to appease Punch-Out!! purists is to just use the Wii remote turned on its side, NES style.
There’s also a multiplayer mode where two players square off against each other. It’s a nice diversion but there’s no option to play as any of the other 14 boxers in the game – it’s just Little Mac vs. Little Mac. Ultimately, single player is the big draw in Punch-Out!!
Punch-Out!! is the kind of game that is enjoyable enough for casual gamers, deep enough for hardcore gamers and has enough nostalgic value to knock out anyone who played the original back in the day. Heck, they even included the training montages from the original. In short, Punch-Out!! is a perfect example of how to update an older game for modern audience, yet still retain everything that made the game so much fun to play in the first place.
Overall score: 9/10