As the old dude from The Matrix so eloquently explained, "everything that has happened before will happen again." As a child, I spent hundreds of hours perched in front of my parent’s television playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. Excitement, dread, anguish, and eventually disappointment flooded through me on a nightly basis as I faced the inevitable KO from Iron Mike. The original is one of my favorites, so I wondered if it was even possible for Punch-Out!! to live up to the 22 year wait as I clutched the Wii-Magining of my childhood classic. Anxiety be damned – here I am in 2009, once again spending every night glued to my television crawling towards the WVBA championship just like I did when I was younger. Punch-Out!! is finally back, and I couldn’t be happier.
For those familiar with the original Punch-Out!!, you know everything that there is to know about this game. You climb your way through tiers of boxers which lead to a title fight. Each boxer has a specific pattern that, once learned through trial and error, will allow players to dominate. These fighters (many of which taken from the NES game) have unique moves and special attacks which pack a wallop if you don’t carefully dodge each assault. As always, the boxers all have distinct personalities that play off a number of ethnic stereotypes. While some might find these offensive, I tend to think that they are hilarious. You will enjoy the tubby oafishness of King Hippo, the shiny dome of Bald Bull, the pathetic desperation of Glass Joe, and the… uhm… flamboyant confidence of Don Flamenco. Aside from returning fighters, Punch-Out!! also brings a duo of dudes from Super Punch Out!! and a few new pugilists to the mix, including the Carlton Banks-esque Disco Kid. These fit in nicely with the original roster, so no worries about the newcomers ruining the flow.
The game play remains simplistic, offering three methods of control. You can use the Wii Remote and Nunchuck to punch using motion control, and you can also add the Balance Board to this option to juke and jive away from opponents. Both of these options function but aren’t ideal due to the game’s fast pace. The true way of controlling PO!! is still the old way – turning the wiimote to its side and using it as you would an nes controller. There isn’t much to it, as all you can do is punch with your left or right hand, dodge, and duck. You can also earn a star punch by hitting an opponent at the right moment, which deals plenty of damage if it connects. You need to master these tools quickly, as the game gets very difficult after the first few fights. You will have to constantly retry matches to learn the ins and outs of that particular boxer, and this gets significantly worse in the second half of the game. Those with rabid tempers might want to give this one a rent first, lest a wii remote end up buried in the wall.
The problem with Punch-Out!! has always been that there isn’t much to it, and attempts have been made to remedy that here. Once you defeat the thirteen standard boxers once, you enter title defense mode. Here, all of the fighters have new attacks and defensive maneuvers that will force you to come up with a different strategy. For example, King Hippo tapes a manhole cover to his stomach, preventing you from smacking him in the belly for an easy win. Title defense mode is consistently clever and a great way to extend the experience beyond a few short matches. A multiplayer mode also lets you duke it out with a friend Wii Sports Boxing-style. Sadly, this mode seems like a wasted opportunity, as it restricts you both to being little mac and is offline split-screen only. Being able to play as other boxers in multiplayer, like Soda Popinski or Von Kaiser, would have made this a thrill for fans, but the lack of options won’t keep players coming back.
Punch-Out!! uses a colorful, toon-shaded graphics style that perfectly fits the game’s zany characters. The animation is stellar, enchanting each boxer with amazing levels of personality and humor. PO!! is visually varied as well, with each boxer having a distinct look and movement pattern. The music is mostly made up of throwback tunes that reference the classic NES soundtrack which will trigger any Punch-Out!! nostalgia existing within your body. The music is as pitch-perfect as the sound effects, which echo the cartoonish look of the game with over-exaggerated punching sounds and voice samples. While it may not push the Wii’s boundaries, this is an excellent looking and sounding game.
Punch-Out!! is the perfect example of how to resurrect a classic franchise. They reference and reuse enough of the old game to keep fans happy, tweak the game play just enough to make it feel fresh, and absolutely nail the look and feel of the universe that fans — like myself — have loved for two decades. Next Level Games and Nintendo have not only reinvigorated the franchise, but have also crafted the perfect “thank you” present for long-time fans that still hang on to that old-school Nintendo love. If you fondly remember the first time you knocked Mr. Sandman on his ass, or are a fan of arcade-style boxing, Punch-Out!! is a must-buy. Fight!