Punch-Out!! (Wii) Hands-On Preview

While perhaps not as eye-catching as the women sporting full-body catsuits at the Nokia booth, Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! is certainly drawing its share of attention. The game is playable for the first time on the expo room floor at GDC 2009, and even in my short time with the game, I can tell the game is an absolute blast. Not only does it look, sound, and play amazingly well, but it’s incredibly faithful to the original with several nods and winks to the Punch-Out!! legacy. If you’re a little behind the curve, not to worry. Both the original Punch-Out!! (NES) and its Super Nintendo sequel, Super Punch-Out!!, are available on the Virtual Console.

As with any Wii game, the controls of Punch-Out!! are the biggest question. That question usually takes the form of “how much waggle will there be?” Luckily, Next Level Games nailed the combination of simplicity and responsiveness that makes the Punch-Out!! series so fun to play. Left and right punches are thrown by flicking the respective wiimote / nunchuck. Punches default to the body while head punches can be thrown by holding up on the analogue stick. Players can dodge left, right, or down by pushing that direction on the analogue stick, and super punches are thrown by holding A. Easy peasy.

The game’s visuals are an even greater draw than the controls, however. The attractive power of the characters look and animation cannot be understated. All of the fighters are colorful, expressive, and downright entertaining to watch. The way the characters stretch and bounce will bring a smile to anyone’s face – as will the overt racial stereotypes. Characters even bruise and swell as the fight goes on, leading to some grotesque but comical facial deformities.

The game’s general visuals also create a sense of excitement and impact. The crowd in the background looks amazing, giving the match something of a pitfight feel. The game’s camera also pitches and zooms to emphasize close dodges, huge hits, and amusing character expressions. All these effects do a great job of emphasizing hard punches that land and highlighting incoming punches – making them easy to identify and dodge.

What excites me most – perhaps even more than simply being a fundamentally enjoyable game – is how faithful Punch-Out!! is to the original. Characters fall down with the same bizarre wiggly animations, rests in between rounds feature advice from Doc Louis (that still isn’t all that helpful), Little Mac can recover energy during the ten count for a downed opponent, and the list goes on and on. This will not only bring a huge smile to the faces of Punch-Out!! fans (it certainly did to mine) but also shows a deep understanding and appreciation of the Punch-Out!! experience from Next Level Games.

Even months before release, Punch-Out!! is extremely accessible and intensely fun. The relative lack of fanfare around the game’s announcement may indicate to some gamers that it’s a half-baked idea or a simple remake, but that isn’t true. Everything about the game clicks, and it’s already a great and worthy entry into the Punch-Out!! series. The game comes out May 18, 2009, and I’ll be counting the days.

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