Review: Don't forget the two exclamation points, or Little Mac will knock you out!!
It has been fifteen long years since the release of Super Punch-Out!!
on the Super NES. Since that time, video gamedom's premiere boxing franchise has been on hiatus and two entire console generations, the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube, passed by with nary a peep about the further adventures of Little Mac. But when Nintendo introduced Wii Sports
(and its two-fisted boxing mode) to the world, gamers knew that Doc Louis would begin training a new generation of Little Macs someday soon.
That day was May 18, 2009. After months of speculation about the fight card and the control scheme, Nintendo released the third game in the series, simply titled Punch-Out!!
, for the Wii. Punch-Out!! for the Wii is actually an interesting blend of the first game in the series, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
and its Super NES sequel. More than a simple remake, the game takes the roster of the NES Punch-Out!! (along with the Star Punch mechanic) and mixes it with the play style of Super Punch-Out!! (with the camera zoomed in close, behind Mac's back).
To that end, this Wii update feels like little more than a new coat of paint on an old game at first. Glass Joe, Von Kaiser and King Hippo play exactly like they do in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, right down to the timing patterns of their attacks. But as you delve deeper into the game, familiar boxers start sporting new attack patterns. And having to dodge certain attacks with a move to the left or to the right or even ducking (like in Super Punch-Out!!) makes the game feel even more different.
Yet, even if you skipped over Super Punch-Out!! (as a lot of people did), Punch-Out!! for the Wii will instantly feel familiar due to the inclusion of only one new character (although, Aran Ryan has been given an extensive makeover and could more or less count as a new character). More new characters would have been appreciated, but Disco Kid fits in perfectly with the classic cast of characters and well and the inclusion of Bear Hugger was a stroke of genius.
The other familiar touch to the game is the ability to play using "Classic Control", that is, holding the Wii Remote sideways like an NES controller. In this configuration, the B and A buttons of the NES Punch-Out!! are mapped to the 1 and 2 buttons, while the Star Punch has gone from Start to a similarly placed A button (although what I wouldn't give to remap it to the B trigger). You shouldn't mess with perfection and Next Level Games has wisely implemented Classic Control flawlessly in Punch-Out!! The game does not feel deficient or old fashioned in any way by using an NES-style of control and I've yet to actually meet anyone that prefers the motion control option (although I'm sure they're out there).
Unlike the attempted real-time punching motions used in Wii Sports, motion control in Punch-Out!! is built around triggering different attacks with control stick in addition to making a punching motion. Holding up while punching performs an uppercut while just punching performs a jab. The game even includes the option of pairing this control scheme with the Wii Balance Board, but I was unable to try it out as I don't own Wii Fit
While Next Level kept the mechanics of the game simple, they were able to build on that by creating a super Punch-Out!! presentation. Each of Mac's opponents are rendered in a gorgeous cel-shaded style. The characters are bigger than life and completely fill the screen, much like we thought the characters from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! did. They move with a fluidity that we children of the 80s only imagined existed in the original Punch-Out!! In a way, the new Punch-Out!! is making our hazy memories of the original a reality.
Little touches, like the return of Super Macho Man's bouncing breasts of mockery (or if you prefer, his pulsating pecs of mockery), further enhance the game's "retro cool" feel. Doc Louis even updates some of his classic saying, at one point encouraging Little Mac to "Join Club Nintendo today!" Best of all, it is absolutely punishing on the thumbs. The game is indeed "Nintendo Hard". I think it's telling that that only cut scene you can't skip is the one where Mac loses his belt in "Title Defense" mode.
Ah, Title Defense mode. While the initial run of thirteen fighters may feel a bit too easy, Title Defense mode changes all of that. Instead of just being a simple bonus mode where Mac refights all of the same opponents he's bested once before, Title Defense mode is an integral part of the game. Taking on the "new" versions of all of the fighters results in witnessing some wild new moves such as King Hippo's manhole cover defense, Aran Ryan's flying fists of fury and Bear Hugger's little woodland helper. Even Glass Joe undergoes a training regiment and comes out the other side as The Terminator. Losing to Glass Joe is humbling, yet it makes Punch-Out!! (and Title Defense mode) all the more addicting.