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It took Nintendo way too long to come out with a new Punch-Out!!. The last real version was Super Punch Out!! on the Super Nintendo, and for whatever reason, Nintendo skipped over the third dimension entirely. With the Wii’s launch, Wii Sports’ boxing component gave Nintendo fans a taste of the sport, serving as little more than a tease for a more traditional sequel. Now, three years after the system’s launch, and fifteen years after the last entry in the series, Punch-Out!! has finally arrived, bringing Little Mac to the Wii in fighting form.
Punch-Out!! is really more of a remake more than a sequel. Going in to the game expecting any type of boxing simulation is a mistake, and the gameplay is even farther removed from the actual sport than Wii Sports’ boxing was. More than learning boxing techniques, it’s about memorizing patterns, which means watching for an enemy to wiggle his eyebrow or wind up a punch before dodging out of the way. All of the fourteen opponents in the game have fairly obvious tells, and will telegraph their actions before taking them, just as they did in the original.
At the risk of sounding redundant for anyone who has played the original, there are a few mechanics beyond dodging and punching that flesh out Punch-Out!!. Countering a punch well will earn Mac stars, of which he can have three at any time. These stars can be unleashed for a powerful attack, but are lost once Little Mac is hit. This use it or lose it approach isn’t unique to Punch-Out!!, but still remains a solid gameplay mechanic. There’s also an endurance meter that replenishes when Mac hits and diminishes when he misses, eventually tiring him out entirely. All of this likely sounds familiar to fans of the original because, in all honesty, nothing is different. The core mechanics are essentially identical.
Controlling Little Mac can be done in a number of ways, relying on the Wii’s motion controls, the Balance Board, or the standard controller. For those who haven’t noticed, turning the Wii Remote sideways makes a fairly convincing NES controller, which serves its purpose well for games like Punch-Out!!. For the most part, this is usually the best way to go with the controls, but that isn’t really a knock on the motion. Generally speaking, the remote and nunchuk work well, especially considering the game never requires precise motions, just motions. The Balance Board, on the other hand, isn’t really worth the effort, and usually leads to more frustration than it does enjoyment.
The game’s career mode tasks Little Mac with fighting his way through a gauntlet of enemies towards the W.V.B.A. championship. In his way are a strange assortment of characters, most of which appeared in the original title. Fans should be happy to know that favorites such Glass Joe and Soda Popinski return, as well as a few characters from the game’s sequel. Each boxer is introduced with an assortment of still images, giving a little more depth to the game’s many racial stereotypes, and the occasional cut-scene shows Little Mac training, a sight that should spark nostalgia in just about any gamer. There are three tiers in the W.V.B.A., each of which is topped with a titleholder, and each of which is much, much more difficult than the last.
After becoming the champion, a New Game Plus of sorts is also unlocked, in which Little Mac needs to battle his opponents a second time, some of which have new tricks up their sleeves. Glass Joe’s helmet might earn him a few more seconds in the ring and King Hippo’s makeshift belly-guard defends his large weak spot, making each enemy a bit different, and a bit harder. The later enemies require near-perfect timing to knock out, and can take several tries, leaving no room for mistakes.
While it’s technically called Career, the mode is more or less an Arcade mode since, there’s really no story or narrative. Beyond that, players can also play exhibition mode, which opens up any of the game’s opponents to friendly battles. Each is given three challenges to complete, giving an excuse to go back and play after finishing the initial run. Players might need to knock out King Hippo in the first round or smack the bottle out of Soda Popinski’s hand every time he goes for a swig. It isn’t anything incredibly complicated, but adds much needed content to the somewhat light package.
Beyond the single player modes, Punch-Out!! does dip a bit into multiplayer. Sadly, the competitive side of the boxer isn’t very in-depth, and doesn’t feature any online components. Two players can combat each other in the squared circle, both playing Little Mac, and both pulling from the same set of moves. After enough counters are performed it’s possible to transform into Giga Mac, a powerful, but slow opponent. This change shifts the camera angle and turns the multiplayer battles into a more traditional fight. It doesn’t seem like it would have been too much effort to create playable versions of the other signature Punch-Out!! characters, expanding on the mode more and further justifying the price point, but Nintendo took the easy way out.
It feels like they tried to adhere to the idea of a remake too closely, and refused to make any compromises. This, in some ways, is a benefit, as the game remixes the original’s fantastic soundtrack and features some of the slickest graphics on the console. Punch-Out!!’s first foray into the third-dimension treats it well, and the animations and stylistic approach are as good as anything else on the system. It’s exaggerated a good bit, with characters taunting Mac in their native language, birds fluttering around stunned opponent’s heads, and comical damage modeling, but never loses the Punch-Out!! feel that so many gamers truly love.
More of a remake than a true sequel, Punch-Out!! is really for fans of the original. For anyone on the fence, however, it might not be worth the full price. Nintendo played it safe this time, and it’s hard to blame them, but it still is somewhat disappointing that they didn’t go the extra mile and expand the game’s content. Nevertheless, Nintendo seems to have given fans exactly what they wanted, no more, no less.