Developer: Next Level Games
Release Date: 05/18/2009
The Punch-Out series is one of those rare sports franchises that virtually anyone can enjoy. Players could not even be acquainted with concept behind the sport of boxing prior to playing and still be in for an entertaining and engrossing experience that is as fun to play as it is to appreciate on a gameplay level. Some 20 years after Punch-Out was originally released on the NES, Little Mac and a slew of familiar knuckle-heads return in this recent Wii slug fest. Developer Next Level Games had their work cut out for them in delivering a product that maintained the spirit of the series, while also making it relevant in today’s fickle interactive gaming world. The outcome certainly weighs in favor of one of these goals over the other, but you’d be surprised in how well things come together in the end.
Like every Punch-Out game before this, the game sees you lacing up the gloves of the mute and enthusiastic Little Mac, with the wise and chocolate loving Doc Louis as your faithful manager. On his way to the top, Little Mac will encounter many familiar faces from Punch-Out’s past, each presented with their own artwork stills prior to the match depicting their rather colorful, and at times eccentric, personalities. Classic 8-bit anthems are re-envisioned and certain pink jump suits are again donned. It’s all relatively by-the-numbers Punch-Out fair, and to be honest, it’s all I can imagine anyone wanting it to be.
The 3D visuals in Punch-Out are wonderfully represented through cel-shaded polygon models. Next Level seemed to take inspiration from the bold color schemes of Super Punch-Out for the Super NES with regards to the palette and feel of the overall visuals, which compliments the general quirkiness of the game’s visual elements quite effectively. Though nothing is technically astounding with these colorful graphics, I would be hard pressed to believe more faithful 3D renditions of classic characters like King Hippo and Soda Popinski could be crafted. A good portion of what makes Punch-Out what it is comes from the charm and novelty of the opponents Little Mac trades punches with during the course of the game, and fortunately these amusing and well developed personalities are exceptionally portrayed through the many animations and facial expressions the boxers display in the ring. From croissants and loaves of French bread flying out of a KO’d Glass Joe as he falls to the canvas, to the crazy antics of the ego driven showmanship of Aran Ryan as he prances around the ring, Punch-Out easily has all the wit and character of all the other games combined, and makes a strong effort to take it even further.
A quality, guitar driven version of Little Mac’s training music should really be all I need mention in regards to sound quality in this latest installment of Punch-Out, but I will also note the amusing taunts of your opponents that are all wonderfully in character, as well as the silly yet logical advice from good ol’ Doc Louis. The aforementioned level of quality the visuals evoke in regards to Punch-Out’s general quirkiness are gleefully accompanied by the audio work herein. Fans of the prior games will love what’s been done with the audio in this game, and new players will enjoy it just as much.
Previous versions of Punch-Out were driven by the simple to pick up yet difficult to master gameplay that emulated the ancient art of pugilism with a light hearted, slapstick approach. As noted previously in regards to the visuals and sounds in this update of the classic series, you should easily be able to believe that Next Level Games faithfully delivered the goods in spades regarding at least one part of this game. The gameplay, you may be pleased to learn, has remained literally unchanged from the Punch-Out you played upwards of 20 years ago on Nintendo’s classic NES console. Explaining in detail the gameplay mechanics of this installment of Punch-Out would be virtually identical to explaining the mechanics of the NES or Super NES games. In the rare instance that this may be your first foray in the series, I can sum up the gameplay formula quite easily.
Little Mac, the playable character, remains stationary in the center of the screen, while you look on via a third person, behind the back view, which looks forward at your boxing opponent. You’ll dodge, duck, and block your opponent’s attacks while attempting to hit them with your own jabs and hooks, which is accomplished with simple one button presses (or in this cases, the optional Wiimote/Balance Board controls). The objective, as it is with any Punch-Out game, is to exploit your opponents weak point, which gives you valuable stars, which in return are used to execute Little Mac’s trademark uppercut blow, all the while basically trying to hit your opponent more times than they hit you. This translates, usually, into an experience that is one part timing and one part pattern recognition, as you carefully watch each opponent to learn their unique attack and movement patterns, then successfully dance around their blows and retort with your own. Such has been the gameplay premise for the Punch-Out series for 20 years, and in this particular instance, it’s very much the same.
From a technical stand point, this simple style of gameplay can certainly feel a bit archaic, but it shouldn’t be hard to imagine that updating the Punch-Out series to a level of simulation similar to the likes of a Fight Night or something equivalent would have most likely been a disaster. Next Level Games has essentially kept the gameplay as players have known it, and instead have made use of the current technology solely to enhance the level of personality and charm in the product, much like Super Punch-Out did with its extra 8 bits of technology. Even so, the gameplay remains frantic, fast, and a heck of a lot of fun throughout. The simple bliss of playing this Punch-Out is a true breath of fresh air amidst some more realistic, and at times convoluted, gameplay systems. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Punch-Out is a cake walk, however. As a kid, it took me a week to master Iron Mike’s pattern in the NES original, and there are some knuckle-heads here in this version that put Mike’s crazy combos to shame.
Punch-Out offers three distinct control schemes which are worth mentioning. The Wiimote/Nunchuk combination, the Wiimote by itself (which is held horizontally like a typical controller), and finally, the option is available to utilize the Wii Fit Balance Board with either of the two control schemes to replace the dodge and duck functions of the other two control schemes. After experimenting with each control option, I found the traditional horizontal Wiimote scheme to be the best overall with the game. The Balance Board functionality itself was, unfortunately, quite sporadic during the actual game, and didn’t work anywhere near as well as one might hope. Using the Wiimote/Nunchuk combination is a fine alternative, especially if one wants to burn off some calories, but to actually get down to business with the game, you’ll want the accuracy and precision the stand alone Wiimote setup offers you.
Punch-Out offers a good amount to come back to after you knock out all thirteen of Little Mac’s opponents. First, there is an Exhibition mode that offers various special challenges for you to achieve whilst going up against boxers you’ve already put on the mat. Little Mac’s exploits also continue in Career mode after he’s claimed all the belts. The pissed off victims of Little Mac’s underdog luck return, beefed up, with new moves and a few surprises. (King Hippo equips a manhole cover to his sensitive gut, for example.) Though I wouldn’t want to be the one responsible for ruining the fun, let’s just say I couldn’t believe who showed up to try and steal Mac’s thunder after successfully defending the titles the second time around.
Also, for the first time in Punch-Out history, this installment offers an amusing, though limited, two-player versus mode. The mode actually plays quite well, with both players ducking, dodging, and throwing punches at each other on a vertical split display. This mode, unfortunately, has little lifespan due to the unfortunate fact that the only playable character is Little Mac. This comes off as a bit silly and makes one wonder why the option wasn’t incorporated to play as Little Mac’s opponents in this mode. I believe it would have been a nice addition to offer these characters in the versus mode, even if they didn’t have their trademark moves and weak points, just for variety’s sake.
Punch-Out is probably one of the most balanced video games you’ll ever experience, much like its predecessors. Since this version is so faithfully old school in its gameplay, it’s an incredibly balanced experience, as fans of the series will attest. Each opponent gets respectively more and more difficult as you go up the ranks, in an almost perfectly ascending fashion, and the matches always seem fair when one takes into consideration the exploitable weaknesses of the opponents. Each enemy is tougher than the last and will require better timing and control mastery than the one before him, making the experience both challenging as you progress and rewarding as you succeed.
Punch-Out has always had a strong sense of personality and character, and this game is no different. Next Level Games did a wonderful job transposing the wealth of charm and novelty from the past games into this 3D iteration, but one can easily see that most of what’s here was taken wholesale from prior games. With the exception of Disco Kid, the twelve other characters that appear in this installment of Punch-Out have all existed in previous games. There are many clever alterations made here and there, but the contents, much like the gameplay, are static and mostly taken directly from the game’s predecessors. This isn’t to say that the lack of new elements is a bad thing, and as it’s been said, the depictions of the classic Punch-Out bruisers are spot on, but the fact is that Next Level really added nothing to the series with this installment. While I can praise this decision in other areas of this review, I can’t do much with it in terms of originality.
Punch-Out is quite literally a game anyone, sports fan or not, can pick up and enjoy. That being said, the game is insanely fun to play, and I can almost guarantee you’ll be hooked until, and possibly long after, Little Mac has all those belts around his waist. Whether you’re a Punch-Out fan, a boxing a fan, or a fan of fun and challenging games, you won’t want to put this down for a good, long time.
Much like anything published by Nintendo, it’s fair to say that this installment of Punch-Out is certainly going to move some copies. The product is making itself quite known through various flash ads on the internet, TV commercials, and a giant cutout of Little Mac at Gamestop locations across the country. Classic gamers should be all about this latest Punch-Out after catching wind of its incredible faithfulness to the preceding games, and the light hearted nature and general air of fun the game gives off will have little brothers and sisters everywhere wanting to pop Glass Joe in the jaw.
Oh yeah, and it’s on the Wii, so that’s kind of an obvious addition to the appeal too.
Peripheral developer released a pair of boxing glove accessories a week or so prior to Punch-Out’a release. I attempted to track down this wacky novelty to no avail, as the darn things are back ordered even on Gamestop’s website. I prefer to play the game with the horizontal controller setup as mentioned, as it’s really the most reliable control scheme of the lot, but I really wanted to try these suckers out. I don’t imagine they’d change the gameplay experience too much compared to the Wiimote/Nunchuk combination, but by golly, they look like fun. Nintendo should have made something like this, as a preorder gift maybe.
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary:
Like all his bouts prior, Little Mac’s latest trek to the top with the Wii version of Punch-Out is a perfect balance of simple, genuinely challenging, and entertaining gameplay, topped off with a whole lot of style and personality. Developer Next Level Games did a near flawless job in transitioning all of the classic characters into a wonderfully appropriate and throughly charming 3D experience that is as fun to look at as it is to play. The Punch-Out series gets a 2P versus mode for the first time, but its limited functionality won’t have you spending too much time with it, and the game is still more of the same, but that shouldn’t scare you away. Punch-Out is a classic experience that’s well worth checking out for fans and newcomers alike.