US: 18 May 2009
Ostensibly, Punch-Out!! is the perfect game for the Wii: simple intuitive controls, the ability to successfully take advantage of the Wii’s motion-sensor capabilities, and a remake of a classic Nintendo title. The game seems so well suited for the Wii that it’s surprising that it took Nintendo so long to adapt it to its next-gen system—in retrospect, it would’ve been the ideal launch title with the system. Unfortunately, Punch-Out!! nary deserves the marquee release that it’s been given; it is a game wholly limited by it’s greatest selling point: its adherence to its source material.
Like the classic games in the series, you return as Little Mac to work your way through a bevy of different opponents, all of whom have their own ticks and fighting styles, something that any Punch-Out fan will acknowledge is the key to success. Returning from previous iterations—and rather faithfully so—are fighters like Glass Joe, King Hippo, and Bald Bull. Working your way through these blast-from-the-past foes is nearly the same punch-for-punch as the working through the originals and, put bluntly, kind of simple. Depending on the opponent, it may take a few KOs to figure out how to beat them, but eventually, the fights are all fairly simple. They resemble basic puzzles, dependent almost solely on timing.
The biggest leap the Punch-Out!! adaptation makes is graphically. It becomes a highly stylized, cartoon version of the NES and SNES versions. Not only are you given a more detailed and smooth version of the Nintendo classic, but you’re also given humorous cutscenes detailing the lives of your various opponents: King Hippo spends most of his time lounging around a tropical island eating pineapples and massive amounts of meat for example.
In terms of playability, the main additions to Punch-Out!! are the Title Defense and long-awaited Head-to-Head modes. Title Defense is basically what you’d expect. After you win the title in Career mode, you have to defend that title by fighting against new and improved versions of your conquered foes. It adds to the replay value of the game but is ultimately more of the same. The Head-to-Head mode, while arguably the most exciting new aspect of the game, is largely disappointing. Undeniably designed to be party-friendly, Head-to-Head eventually turns into a stagnant match of dodging between you and your friends. There’s little skill required by it when trying to time your attacks at the precise moment that your opponent comes back into view, something that is as much luck as it is timely skill.
One of the game’s greatest strengths, however, is the sensitivity of the Wii remote. While you’re able to use classic NES controls by turning the Wii-mote sideways—likely included as much as a concession to the game’s past as it was to the often shoddy performance of the Wii’s motion control—the game is most fun when played with you rapidly punching the air and really getting into it. And whereas most Wii games suffer from the controllers’ lack of responsiveness, Punch-Out!!, though not perfect, seems considerably better done. It doesn’t hurt that the frantic nature of the game often leaves you unconcerned with the exact left-right-left cadence of your swings.
In the end though, Punch-Out!! is something of a disappointment. Relatively speaking, that is. The game’s lack of new additions makes it more akin to Virtual Console throwbacks than a must-have Wii title. It doesn’t offer the kind of freedom (read: the ability to move your character around the ring, adding a whole new dimension to fighting) that would make it a wholly worthwhile experience. But for what it is and what it aims to do, it couldn’t have been done better.