Everything old is new again, as Nintendo and developer Next Level Games brings the classic boxing game Punch-Out!! to the Nintendo Wii.
It's the original game all over again, with a colorful cast of boxers both old and new, with the player stepping into the familiar shoes of Little Mac, the definitive, scrawny underdog amidst a field filled with bigger-than-life opponents. Aside from the game's gorgeous new look, Punch-Out!! also updates the game with support for Wii motion controls and the ever-popular Balance Board accessory.
It looks like a winner, and smells like a winner, but the show's not over until the game goes several rounds with the assembled video game critics. Can Little Mac go the distance?
The Onion A.V. Club
Nintendo has a better track record than most at re-creating old games according to new standards. Mario, Metroid, and The Legend Of Zelda all enjoyed iconic rebirths in 3D. With Punch-Out!!, however, Nintendo skipped the redesign process in favor of glossing up the established formula. The remake adds unavoidable (and optional) motion controls, but otherwise is surprisingly similar to the last version of the game, which appeared on the Super Nintendo in 1994.
The (character) list is small considering the stable of characters the series has debuted over the years, and though you do get classics like Bald Bull and King Hippo, the selections are a little curious. Aran Ryan isn't exactly a poster boy for the franchise, yet he was included while fan favorites like Dragon Chan were overlooked. With the lone new character, Disco Kid, it's pretty easy to see which segment of the market they're reaching for. There have already been over 30 characters in the series to date, so 14 is definitely a disappointing number.
The game controls in a variety of ways: either with the nunchuk or without. Using the nunchuk turns on motion controls: punching is handled via thrusting the left or right hand while dodging, blocking, ducking and changing high and low hits is all mapped to the analog stick. When you earn Star Punches by hitting the opponent at strategic moments you can activate these special moves with a tap on a button. You can choose to use the Wii Fit balance board to dodge and duck by leaning or thrusting downwards, but the less said about this option, the better. I will say that it's nice that the developers made it easy to disable it after you've enabled it, because it's just a control device that doesn't work for the quick responses that Punch-Out requires.
Punch-Out!! also offers a limited two-player mode. Each player takes the part of the main character, Little Mac, and the screen is split in two so each person views the game from behind their character. Once a player lands enough punches, he turns into the monstrous Giga Mac (above), and the contest becomes asymmetrical: The juiced-up player is throwing big, showy punches, and the smaller player is attempting to dodge them and counterattack. It's a clever way to add multiplayer to a single-player experience, but it's not an especially engaging mode.
1UP (Note that Metacritic translates 1UP's A+ as a 100)
So, yeah. Not only is Punch Out!! worth the 50 bucks, but lands on a very short list of Wii games I feel that way about. Even better, while Punch Out!! makes for an entertaining enough solitary experience, the back-seat driving aspect makes it positively shine as a party game. There's nothing quite like having a few friends over, passing the controller around, shouting advice, and just generally bonding over some hilarious, bloodless violence.
Punch-Out!! for the Wii is an amazing success. The gameplay is solid, with a suite of modes and options that reflect modern day expectations. A holographic practice mode and the option to restart matches ensure that the game's difficulty is kept in check somewhat, letting players fail on their own merits, not due to technical limitations that require things like 10-digit codes to save player progress. The other modern-day design concession, a two-player mode that pits Little Mac against Little Mac, is probably the least welcome option, as it adds little to the tight Punch-Out!! experience, especially for anyone hardcore enough to play through every single-player aspect of the game. Minor quibbles aside, Punch-Out!! comes highly recommended-if you think you're up to the challenge.
And not one of them called it a TKO! I'm so proud.