A decent remake, but it doesn't go beyond that at all
I am a huge fan of the original Punch Out for the arcade. It was the first truly great boxing game and one of the finest arcade games ever made. It was with great enthusiasm, therefore, that I anticipated the release of this latest version for the Wii. I rented the game on a Friday, and I was done with it by about Saturday afternoon, having gotten everything that I wanted to get out of it. It is a quality piece of nostalgia, but it doesn't really stand on its own as a great game. At times, it feels like a 1980s game with 21st century graphics, and since it is a Wii game, the graphics aren't that great either. If you aren't a fan of the original arcade game or the first one for the NES, this installment will probably make you thankful that it isn't 1987 anymore.
Punch Out for the Wii is a self-aware game that relies very heavily upon nostalgia. It goes after the nostalgia fan harder than it tries to stand alone as a great game that compares favorably to other games on the shelves. The most glaring example of this problem is in the quantity of content that it offers. There are only thirteen opponents to fight, only two of which are new. You can get through the first seven or eight guys with almost no problem, and you can beat the rest of the guys within a couple more hours. Your trainer has only three or four sound bites that he repeats ad infinitum and the same is true of your opponents. This might be okay for a $20 or $30 game and it may have been more acceptable 22 years ago, but for a full-priced $50 game, the content is a little thin. When you compare the sound bites in this game to the amount of content in, say, the play-by-play for a hockey or football game, you can see that this game does not measure up.
The gameplay is decent, but it is much heavier on pattern recognition than it is on strategy or depth. In this manner, it is faithful to the originals, but also somewhat outdated. Each boxer has about three or four attacks, and each attack has a specific counter. The challenge in the game involves recognizing when each attack is coming and then figuring out the counter. In that respect, it is sort of a puzzle game. It gets frustrating at times, because your dodge doesn't react very quickly. The game's tougher opponents attack so fast that it is impossible to react to them, even if you recognize the attack immediately. The only way to beat these opponents is to try and guess what attack is coming next. Often, your opponent will attack in a scripted sequence and you can dominate him for the first minute by memorizing that sequence. After that, it gets a lot tougher. There is a fine line between "challenging" and "cheap and punishing", and Punchout sometimes crosses that line. It is another way in which the game feels like a relic of a past time.
These criticisms do not mean that this game is not enjoyable. On the contrary, it can be intensely fun, at times. It gets irritating, but the irritation turns into pure euphoria at the moment when you finally beat a guy who has knocked you out 20 times in a row. It is this occasional feeling that makes Punchout worth playing, albeit by renting instead of buying.
Punch Out does benefit from some pretty good art direction. Each boxer looks and sounds distinctly different from the rest. The other boxers are all full of personality and they have all kinds of exaggerated features that are brought to life with colorful, cartoony graphics. The game's sense of humor is pretty entertaining, provided you are not offended by the game's heavy reliance on ethnic stereotypes.
Punch Out for the Wii is a classic "rent it, don't buy it" game. It is enjoyable, and if you are a fan of 1980s Punch Out games, it will bring back a lot of the old feelings that you remember from younger days. Still, it is a little bit disappointing. Nintendo didn't make a huge attempt to reinvent the series and return it to an elite level. I was really hoping for a Mario Galaxy type effort out of Nintendo, but in terms of quality and lasting value, this game is about on par with Wii Sports.