Punch Out!! (Wii) - Review by Chris
Much can be said about Nintendo's reluctance to bring back many of the franchises that made up their line-up in the NES and SNES generations. From the moment that boxing was shown in Wii Sports, fans have been clamouring for an update of the popular, yet neglected, Punch-Out!! series. It may have taken awhile but at their October conference in 2008, Nintendo finally came through, announcing the release of an all new title in the franchise for release on the Nintendo Wii. But after 15 years of training, does this game have what it takes to win over fans one more time?
For those who aren't familiar with the series, the prior Punch-Out!! games are very different from the standard boxing simulation that you will see the likes of EA releasing. Whereas other titles will have you exchanging blows with real life boxers digitally recreated for you to pummel, Nintendo's boxing game focused more on pattern recognition and exploiting weaknesses in the characters' defences. This basic yet deep mechanic remains here in all its glory and so those who are fans of the original games will instantly be familiar with the gameplay on offer here.
From the main menu, you have access to a variety of modes, although none of which are particularly innovative within the genre. The now widely standard Career mode puts you back into the boots of hopeful Little Mac, returning to the circuit in the hopes of fending off all opponents to become champion. You'll progressively fight your way through 3 circuits, the first two of which contain 4 fighters and the final containing 5, obtaining the 3 championship belts. It's the tried and tested formula but just because it doesn't break the mode doesn't mean its average. What makes the game come into its own are the characters that, in all their stereotypically designed state, exude a charm and humour that really makes Punch-Out!! a standout title in the genre. You'll be given a short and basic back story to these characters before meeting them in the ring and, as sadistic as it sounds, you'll take delight in beating them up because of the atmosphere the game places you it. It was unique back in the day and it still manages to remain so now, with an added element of nostalgia. It's no wonder other developers have tried to copy the games. In all though, there are 13 characters to fight your way through in the Career mode, only 1 of which is new, this being Disco Kid. There is a hidden 14th character but even his inclusion will do little to alleviate the wishes that the roster was larger. The game does provide some of the key faces from previous entries though, such as King Hippo, Glass Joe and Piston Honda, and so these will surely keep fans happy.
If you've had the experience of the previous games then, while the Career mode will test you, you'll be able to breeze through it pretty quickly. Newcomers will find it a little difficult to adjust to because of the more arcade-y style of gameplay and pattern recognition needed to progress. Although there isn't a true practise mode, newcomers, and everyone else for that fact, can use the Exhibition mode to practise against their current Career mode opponent to learn the tricks and patterns to help them progress. It would have been nice to have had a separate practise mode but this does the trick nicely. Those just looking for a single match can fight any of the beaten characters in the Exhibition mode, with the added notion of targets for each character, such as beating them in a specific number of punches, that don't have to be completed but certainly make the experience more enjoyable.
Perhaps the biggest inclusion to the game this time round, though, is an extension of the Career mode known as Title Defence. Here, after collecting all of the belts, you'll have to undertake rematches against all beaten opponents to hold onto your titles in the hope of beating them all before you get knocked out three times. That as a basic inclusion would have been good enough for most developers but Nintendo have gone one step further by changing the characters you'll fight. Previous exploits are now covered up, with the Glass Joe wearing head padding to protect his jaw and King Hippo sticking a dustbin lid to his stomach, and so you'll have to devise entirely new way around them to beat your opponents. It's a fantastic inclusion that not only extends the single player play time but also provides something new for the fans that will bring an entirely new set of frustrations.
Multiplayer finally makes an appearance in the series and while it is nice to see Nintendo take a chance with it, it doesn't feel as fleshed out as it could have been and at times feels more like an afterthought. Two players will square off as Little Mac with the object being to beat your opponent through the standard gameplay while also collection stars to turn yourself into Giga Mac and lay waste to your opponent quicker than normal. It is an interesting inclusion but feels too confined to the use of Little Mac and some use of the other characters here would have been nice. Likewise, the gameplay isn't entirely suited to multiplayer play although it does come off well enough to be somewhat enjoyable.
The game supports 3 main forms of control: the Wii-mote on its own, the Wii-mote and Nunchuk, or the two controllers in combination with the Balance Board. While it is nice that Nintendo has included motion controls options, they don't hold up well enough or give enough response for the arcade style of gameplay. They work well when not playing against the game's AI but for single player play you need something more resilient given how quickly the tide can turn when in some of the later bouts. This problem also comes through with the use of the Balance Board for dodging, which works but isn't fast enough for the style of gameplay. Luckily, in a setup that harks back to the original NES one, the use of the Wii-mote on its own solves these issues and is the best setup for the game. You have two buttons for left and right punches respectively with the d-pad, or the analogue stick if you're using the Nunchuk, accounts for dodges and ducking. It's a simple and nostalgic setup that will easily allow those fans of the original games to easily jump into the fold as well as allowing newcomers to stand on the same playing field.
Punch-Out!! returns with a cel-shaded look that really does the personality and atmosphere of the franchise justice. Character models are superbly done, being of a high level of detail with some extremely well done animation, all of which help to punctuate the stereotyped nature of the characters. At first, the animation will seem atypical of the genre but once you see the way in which the characters react to each and every hit, the way in which their faces are animated or the way in which bumps and bruises begin to appear really make the game stand out as being unique but also managing to hit that note of nostalgia perfectly. The visuals exude the humour and personality that the franchise has come to represent and still framed introductions before each bout providing some basic story for each of the characters is but one way that this comes through, with the in ring antics being another. And this little touch of character specific items flying out of your opponents when you hit them, such as roses, musical notes and croissants, adds to the humour. The arenas themselves grow progressively larger as you move through the circuits, becoming filled to the rafters with people and while they certainly look good, you'll rarely have the time to glance at the crowd or anything else due to the nature of the game.
If you can manage to get passed the opening piece of music, the game is made up of remixes and re-mastered pieces of music from the prior games. There are some original scores but it's those that have made the cross over to this game that will ultimately stick with the gamers. Yet, all of the eclectic music in the world won't do much to stop you from repeatedly humming along to the title track of the game, which really does highlight the forthcoming action through its design. The characters are all voiced, with each individual language being well versed and sounding great.
15 years has seen the game change very little in mechanics but we wouldn't have it any other way. Punch-Out!! is Nintendo at their best bringing a franchise back from the dead and breathing life into it so that a new generation can enjoy the exploits of Little Mac and Doc Louis. The brilliant presentation, tight controls (so long as you stick with the Wii-mote on its own) and Title Defence mode make Punch-Out!! a must own for franchise veterans and a perfect title for those who've always wanted to see what all the fuss was about. This is one game definitely worth stepping into the ring for.
Pro: Visuals are superb, Wii-mote only controls are brilliant, Title Defence mode is a great inclusion to the franchise
Con: 14 characters seems a little on the shallow side, multiplayer doesn't quite work as well as it could have
Final score: 8.7
|Developer:||Next Level Games|