Punch-Out!! Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted May 18, 2009

Relive fond childhood memories of frustration and failure, or make new ones, as you try and conquer 'Punch-Out!!' on the Wii. Take on the likes of Piston Hurricane and Bald Bull in this legendary boxing game. Yep, Nintendo has managed to keep this remake just as challenging as the original and X-Play has the review.

The Pros
  • Classic Nintendo difficulty level
  • Vibrant and lively presentation
  • Tons of challenges to complete
The Cons
  • Old characters basically follow the same patterns
  • New Wii controls aren't suited for the game's difficulty

There’s really no point in rehashing the role the original Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! played in shaping the lives of gamers everywhere, so I won’t. What I will do though is assure anyone looking to reconnect with those long lost feelings of inadequacy and failure generated by the unrelenting and unforgiving brutality of the original Punch-Out that tormented your fragile adolescent mind that the new Punch-Out!! for the Wii will not disappoint. You will be disappointed, however, when you realize how much you’ve been seduced by the philosophy of comfort and ease those modern games (and an entire console) tend to espouse. It may be on the casual-centric Wii, but there is very little that’s casual about this game, and that’s actually its most commendable quality.

The Pink Track Suit Remains the Same

Punch-Out!! ReviewThe new Punch-Out!! is essentially a remake of the original NES game. Although, there are a couple biographical tweaks here and there (Glass Joe is now a French pushover for example), and you’ll face a couple characters from Super Punch-Out as well as two new fighters (the rhythmic rumbler Disco Kid and a secret character you unlock after beating the game twice). While the game features a slick new cartoony style, and it includes fancy-schmancy 21st century control features, the game still tells the tale of spunky, up-and-coming fighter Little Mac, who, aided by his rambunctious trainer Doc Louis (only minus the creepy glare and awkward hand motions), goes from zero to hero on his way to becoming world champion. It’s a classic underdog story, and even though the game is shallow in the narrative department, the intensity and difficulty of the bouts create all the drama necessary to make every win exhilarating and every loss devastating.

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Step Into the Ring

The three main modes in the game are exhibition, head-to-head and career. If you hope to have any success at all (and you don’t want your win/loss ratio to be a total embarrassment), you will need to spend quite a bit of time in exhibition mode, since it lets you face off against any opponent you have already faced or are just about to face. These fights take place against hologram versions of the actual fighters, but you don’t take any damage. These training sessions let you dissect each opponent’s attack pattern, giving you a much needed edge when you step into that ring for real. You can’t be hurt during these practice matches, so you can’t tell how much damage your opponent’s attack will deal once the actual bell rings.

The head-to-head mode gives you and a friend the chance to step into the ring for some good old-fashioned virtual pummeling. In this mode, both players play as Little Mac, but if you rack up enough choice shots, you can transform into the hulking mass that is Big Mac. Normally, the fights are split-screen, but when one player becomes Big Mac, the perspective changes to the classic view, with Little Mac at the bottom of the screen. As Big Mac, you have a series of devastating punches that can send your opponent to the mat with ease. On the other glove, if Little Mac manages to connect with a star punch, it’s lights out for Big Mac. Even though fighting a friend is satisfying, but the real draw of the game is obviously the career mode.

Mat, Your Face. Your Face, Mat.

Punch-Out!! ReviewCareer mode consists of three sections: contender, title defense, and Mac’s last stand. The first two pit you against 13 fighters, spread out across three classes (minor, major and world). As in the original, you take on a wacky collection of progressively more challenging opponents as you seek that championship belt. The fighters are Glass Joe, Von Kaiser, Disco Kid, King Hippo, Piston Hondo (different last name, same character), Bear Hugger, Great Tiger, Don Flamenco, Aran Ryan, Soda Popinski, Bald Bull, Super Macho Man and Mr. Sandman (and that secret character). For the most part, balancing isn’t an issue, but there are few instances where it can be a bit inconsistent, meaning you’ll come across a fighter who is far easier than some guy you fought much earlier in the game. Plus, as someone who grew up playing the original game, it just feels bizarre to see Don Flamenco ranked three spots higher than Piston Hondo (whose dancing eyebrows still haunt my dreams to this day).

All of the characters have basically the same moves as in previous games, so anyone familiar with the series will have quite a big advantage right out of the gate. Although, before you get too cocky, you should know that contender mode will challenge even the most seasoned gamer (let alone any kid who might choose to pick up the game thinking it will be a casual and lighthearted affair). Once you’ve successfully become world champion, it’s time to move on to title defense mode, which kicks the difficulty up to 111. Even though you face the same opponents, they have all taken precautions to ensure maximum frustration on your part. For example, King Hippo comes equipped with a manhole cover strapped to his gut to protect his famously week belly button. So before you can inflict any damage, you have to figure out how to knock off the cover. Other characters move faster, have quicker attacks or are only susceptible to star punches (which you earn by making risky moves at just the right moment).

Believe me when I say that the title defense mode is easily one of the most challenging, brutal and unforgiving gaming experiences of this generation. Actually, it feels like a classic, virtually unbeatable NES game. So much so, that I’m not sure today’s kids are going to be up for the challenge, especially in the age of casual gaming, ushered in almost exclusively by the Wii. This game is obviously meant to strike a chord with gamers for nostalgic reasons, and it does. However, it’s a kind of kick-your-ass nostalgia that you don’t really see that much of these days. This means there are going to be a lot of eager kids who are in for a rude awakening if they choose to pick up this game. But in a way, I think that’s a good thing, because kids need a game to give them a good kick in the pants so that they get a taste of defeat for a change. It builds character.

Hang ‘Em Up, Mac

Once you complete title defense mode (a mighty feat in itself), you access Mac’s last stand, which plays out exactly as the name suggests. You face off against an unspecified number of random opponents, and if you lose three times (and there’s no starting over), you are forced to retire. Regardless of how skilled you may be, eventually, you will fall, and your career will end.

After retirement, you can only access exhibition fights, or check your stats for all the fights you had during your career. However, the game is far from over (head-to-head is also open, and if you want to start a new career, you can just create a new profile). Not only are the exhibition fights now real fights, every character has three unique fight challenges to complete (i.e. land three star punches and win the match, land every punch thrown, knock out opponent using only five punches, etc.). There are a ton of them, and the vast majority requires insane amounts of skill, luck, and cunning to beat. These challenges take an already incredibly formidable game and make it even more insane. Yet, for as taxing as the game is on your patience, it surprisingly and thankfully never feels cheap. The AI follows very strict patterns, and there are clear signs (audio and visual) to indicate what attack is coming next. So as long as you stay sharp, fight smartly and take enough chances at the right times, you will succeed. If you don’t pay close enough attention and your face gets bashed in, it is entirely your own fault, and that is successful game design at its best.

I Want You to Wii Me as Hard as You Can

Punch-Out!! ReviewControl wise, the game’s non-nunchaku controls are identical to the NES controls. The one and two buttons punch, left and right are for dodge, up blocks and down ducks. Tapping one and two gets you back on your feet or lets you regain health when you knock down an opponent. The Wii motion controls work well and are responsive for the most part. Just be prepared for one hell of a workout. The game also supports the Wii balance board (you lean left and right to dodge and crouch to duck) for those players looking for the full body experience. Honestly though, the game is way too difficult to be played this way. It’s hard enough to react with a simple button press, let alone with a full body shift. Plus, the board is a bit fickle a lot of the time, so you’ll find yourself dodging left when you meant to dodge right, and a mistake like that can easily cause you a fight. Sometimes I found that the punch controls would get tied up with the board controls, causing just enough of a delay for my opponent to block my attack and land an attack of their own. It works fine for the easiest fighters, but after about the fourth guy, it just starts getting in the way too much, and if you want any chance of succeeding, you’ll quickly kick it aside.

Get Ready to Rumble (and Weep)

Punch-Out!! is a brutal yet incredibly satisfying stroll down memory lane. The cartoonish presentation and character designs are slick and vibrant, and the controls (minus the balance board) stay faithful to the ease and responsiveness of the original. Of course, the thing that NES fans will appreciate the most is the fact that even though the game is basically a remake, it still packs an unrelenting punch, and it could very easily scar an entirely new generation of kids for years to come. Well done Nintendo. Well done.

Article Written By Jake Gaskill