After a lengthy hiatus, 2009’s Punch-Out!! had us back in the ring as Nintendo tapped in their boxing sensation for a bout on Wii. With Next Level Games at the helm, it was a triumphant return to the video game fold for a franchise that hadn’t been seen since the days of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
As recent Super Smash Bros. debutant Little Mac, players jab their way through separate circuits with increasingly difficult boxers that they encounter. The game modes themselves are quite few and far between, with these main circuit matches largely being the bulk of it. After you have played through the three circuits you will then have to defend your title, whereas a Last Stand mode squares you off against opposing boxers until you lose three times. If you need to practise against those repeatedly defeating you, there’s also a Head-to-Head mode for you to do so.
Boxers that you face unfortunately play to the stereotypes surrounding each country that they represent – relics of a bygone age even if they aren’t particularly offensive, such as France’s Glass Joe being surrounded by croissants. Many of your opponents make their return from the previous games, so Punch-Out!! fans will know all the characters – and their boxing tricks – that you will fight against.
The game is controlled by moving left, right, blocking or leaning backwards while making left and right hooks whenever possible. It’s all about timing, with players being cued when their opponent is about to try to hit you – giving you enough time to evade. Doing so will open a window of opportunity to unleash combos to whittle their health down, with your eventual goal being to knock them down three times in a round to win or until they can’t get up again. If you’re knocked down it isn’t over, with players having the chance to get back on their feet. Sometimes, the opponent will leave themselves open for you to get a quick hit in that powers up your Star Punch technique, which can do serious damage if you can pull it off – although taking damage will cause you to lose it.
As you fight against each opponent, even though you often see what direction they were coming from, you would have had to have seen their moves a few times before you get the timing and direction right. It really is trial and error, and some of their moves are very powerful which require a counter hit. As such, many matches may require you to have multiple attempts before you can finally seize victory.
There are three different control sets, with the easiest being the Wii Remote alone. This works like a NES controller with left and right hook being assigned to the 1 and 2 buttons, while dodges are controlled with the D-Pad. Next, there is the Wii Remote and Nunchuck option. This has you control Little Mac with the Nunchuck’s control stick but make left and right hooks with the motion control on both Wii Remote and the Nunchuck. This works well, but can quickly become tiring. Finally, the option that uses your body the most is the Wii Balance Board option. This uses the Balance Board to fully track your centre of gravity, using it in the game to control Little Mac’s position and movement – the rest working the same as with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. This is the most fun, but can be equally tiring as it puts your entire body to use.
It is these new control schemes that separate Punch-Out!! from its predecessors, even if the standard Wii Remote input can make it truly feel like an updated version of the classic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing at all, but it does make for a feeling of familiarity.
The graphics in Punch-Out!! are superb, and even hold up despite being at a lower resolution. The classic cartoon-esque visual flair fits the game to a tee, and are incredibly stylised. While you don’t see much in the way of backgrounds, the character models and animations are commendably slick and hold up very well. It even looks stunning on the Wii U GamePad, for those that may use that as their primary screen.
The music is fairly simple but fits the experience, while the sound effects are what you’d expect from a boxing game. All characters are voice acted, with various degrees of success with accents, but these mostly fall into the stereotypical accents for whichever country each boxer hails from.
Punch-Out!! amounts to a fun revitalisation of an old franchise. It doesn’t tread too much new ground, it is still enjoyable and utilises the Wii Remote’s motion controls very well – while still providing a classic option for gamers who still haven’t been swayed by them. It is a perfect blend of nostalgia and modern gaming, and also provides a perfect stepping stone into the franchise for people who only know Little Mac from his newfound starring role in Super Smash Bros.