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Punch-Out!! Wii Review

By Matt Cabral, 6/8/2009

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As a fan of the NES canvas-kissing classic Mike Tyson's PunchOut!, I was as nervous as I was excited over the prospect of revisiting Little Mac's rise to “ring king” stardom in a brand spanking new version, sans Iron Mike. On the one hand, I couldn't wait to jump into the ring with old favorites like Soda Popinski and King Hippo but, at the same time, I was afraid they were going to screw it up royally. And with a recent line-up that included Atari's barely tolerable Ready 2 Rumble, coupled with Nintendo's fascination with shoe-horning Wii motion controls into games that weren't originally designed for them—I'm watching you New Play Control series!--my general feelings for the project were definitely leaning toward the latter. What a relief and surprise it was, then, when I entered the ring and was hit with something far more powerful than an outta-nowhere uppercut— I was struck hard with a welcome sense of nostalgia-tweaked novelty.

PunchOut!! not only succeeds at delivering old school thrills, but the Wiimote controls are some of the most satisfying the system's ever seen. The pattern-based gameplay is near identical to what made the original so addictive; learning each fighter's special attacks and defensive maneuvers becomes a mission you must complete. So, figuring out the best way to avoid Bald Bull's brutal charging move, for example, will please the determined gamer in you as well as the NES-loving fanboy. Taking on each and every personality-packed pugilist from the original offers this same sense of unbridled fun and accomplishment, and it's made even better by the addition of the intuitive motion controls. So many Wii games try to marry too many or too complicated moves to this technology, but by sticking with a simple move set—high and low punches, blocks and dodges—PunchOut!! becomes the perfect fit for the Wii-waggling design.

Turn the WiiRemote sideways, and purists can even enjoy classic gamepad controls. Despite the responsiveness of the motion sensing set-up, those looking for the most accuracy will actually want to stick with this traditional method. That said, I found losing just a touch of precision was worth it to experience the full-on fist-to-face fun—there's no substitute for sticking and moving while flailing about in front of your TV. PunchOut!! also supports some Balance Board play, allowing you to dodge by shifting your weight, but this, combined with the Wii and Nunchuck movement, felt like too much. Maybe I'm just not coordinated enough to be controlling Mac's every move in this fashion, but it made me feel like a drunken monkey, not to mention how it made me look. If you have a Balance Board, I recommend giving it a shot, but more than likely you'll end up sliding the Wii Fit peripheral back under your coffee table after a round or two.

PunchOut!!'s knockout combination of intuitive Wii controls and old school appeal is just the beginning, as Nintendo and developer Next Level have also snuck a few new tricks into the ring. A second career brings back all the same fighters, but gives them new moves, more powerful punches, and switched-up patterns. These rematches are extremely challenging and sometimes frustrating, but practice mode is also available, allowing you to hone your skills against specific opponents. Overall, figuring out how to send your opponents to the canvas a second time is a play-extending hoot. Once you've taken down the likes of Glass Joe, Don Flamenco, and their fellow king-of-the-ring cronies a second time, you'll want to keep the gloves on for split-screen multiplayer; obviously, this mode would have benefited from some online love, and just playing Mac-versus-Mac will leave you wondering what it'd be like to get behind the punches of some of the more colorful characters, but it's still a decent addition that'll make for some fun living room bouts between buddies.

It's actually the game's inspired pack of fighters that really add so much to this update; this franchise has always been about personality, and with Wii technology allowing for far more fleshed out character representations than the SNES or NES versions, you can count on being entertained even if you're sitting ringside. The bizarre boxing challengers come to life like never before within the ropes, but also strut their stuff in hilarious pre and post fight cutscenes. While most of the fighters will be familiar—there are some new ones—to anyone who's laced up the gloves as Little Mac, their revamped antics in PunchOut!! add layers of fun to their already over-the-top personas. Meeting them again in the second career even cues new cutscenes of the rematch-ready brawlers.

PunchOut!! is great fun for fans of the NES classic as well as for fresh contenders. The fact the WiiRemote-mapped controls work so well is a nice bonus. It isn't terribly innovative, and anyone looking for a full-on sequel rather than a reboot, may exit the ring wanting a bit more. The absence of Mario as referee may also disappoint purists. Still, it's a fantastic addition to any Wii library, as it packs a punch for those who just started gaming as well as those who spent hours studying Iron Mike's weakness in the original.

Overall: 90%



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