Rife with nostalgia, humor, and great gameplay, Next Level Games' take on Punch-Out!! was well worth the wait.
Little Mac has been out of the ring for 15 years, and now he's making his triumphant return in Punch-Out!! for Wii. The game centers on the diminutive hero in his quest to win the WVBA (World Video Boxing Association) title, defend it, and then retire. Developed by Next Level Games, Punch-Out!! is a wonderful nostalgic trip featuring great humor and gameplay that appeals to both rookies and veterans of the series.
Before any new players get confused, Punch-Out!! isn't really a boxing game; it's more of a puzzle/rhythm game, where each opposing boxer presents a unique challenge that players must decipher and overcome. The trend upward through the circuit tracks yields tougher and tougher bouts. Series staple Glass Joe and newcomer Disco Kid barely pose a threat, while the powerful Mr. Sandman and the vain Super Macho Man are punishingly tough. Each boxer has different tells, which are shown when they flash red. The trick of the game is to learn the secrets and timing of each rival and then defeat them by knock-out or decision. It's pretty simple, but in that simplicity there is a lot of depth.
This rock-solid gameplay is made even better by the personality and charm that is exuded by every character. Each opponent has brief opening animation stills and various bits of comical in-between round banter. Even Little Mac's trainer Doc Louis has a treasure trove of funny sayings, most of which refer to his love of chocolate or make fun of his old sayings from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Punch-Out!!'s structure begins the same as previous games: you start off in the Minor Circuit, and then work your way up through the Major and World Circuits. However, once you get to the top, the game no longer ends. The Career mode continues on with Little Mac defending his title against every boxer in Title Defense. This time around Mac's opponents have trained harder and are looking for revenge against the new champ. There is also a little bit more to the Career mode, but you’ll have to find that out on your own.
In the earlier games in the series, the only way to learn how to defeat these increasingly difficult foes was by playing the main game. The new iteration adds in a great new feature: Practice mode. Whenever players are stumped on a foe, they can boot up Practice mode and fight a hologram version of the character that cannot harm Little Mac. This is especially helpful because the hologram version allows players to clearly see when the opponent flashes red before their attacks, which is crucial in learning how to defeat each boxer.
The immense challenge of some of the opponents is one of the few drawbacks of the game, but Next Level Games added in unlockable headgear (available after 100 losses in Career mode) that makes Little Mac take less damage. While players still have to play a lot to get the added help, it goes a long way to make it less frustrating when players hit a brick wall in their progression through the game.
After players defeat a fighter, that fighter will be unlocked in the new Exhibition mode. Here, players can either replay the battle or try to tackle a set of challenges. These range from knocking out the opponent in less than a minute to defeating an opponent without missing a punch. There are three challenges for each opponent, as well as three separate ones for their Title Defense versions. Completing these challenges unlock various unlockables, such as each character's music and sound clips.
The game's control options are varied, with one utilizing motion controls and the other hearkening back to the original NES game's controls. The motion controls work well, but veterans of the series will likely frown upon them and immediately revert to the NES-style control. That is not to say the motion controls aren't good, though. The only motion-based controls that you use in the heat of the battle are for punches. Outside of that, everything is controlled by the buttons on the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. These controls lack the finely tuned precision of standard ones, but they're easy for newcomers to the game and still work in the harder bouts.
Sadly, Punch-Out!! doesn't make use of the Classic controller, but it isn't that much of a loss considering how tried-and-true the NES-style controls are. The Balance Board can also be used for dodging (put your weight down to duck, and shift left and right to dodge) and it works quite well if you're into moving around a lot.
There is also a two-player mode that does an admirable job at bringing multiplayer to Punch-Out!! Players takes control of their own Little Mac and box each other in split-screen gameplay until one of them builds up their special meter. After that, the player transforms into the monstrous Giga Mac and the screen shifts to the series' standard view. After that, it basically becomes a normal Punch-Out!! fight with one player controlling the opponent. There's not a lot of longevity to it, but it is fun for a little while.
Punch-Out!! is a fantastic game on almost every level. It's entertaining for those who have thoroughly enjoyed the previous two games, and still accessible to people who are brand new to the series. The game is a one-of-a-kind boxing experience that transcends the boundary of sports games. The controls are great, the humor is there in spades, and the gameplay is almost unparalleled.
Fans of this series should have already purchased this game and newcomers should dive right in and experience one of the best games available on Wii.