Audio Review Included Within!
Although I didn't actually play the original Punch-Out until just a few years ago, I can see why people can become so nostalgic for it. It's a great game, humorous in its style and characters but also challenging in its design. Similarly, Punch-Out!! for the Wii is also a great game, for those very same reasons. In fact, it's almost a direct remake of a game that's over a decade old. It's amazing that such a simple formula can be replicated in 2009 and come out shining, and the faithfulness to an old but still unique predecessor can be appreciated by anybody.
Well, almost anyone. Although Punch-Out is a colourful game, filled with great visuals and truly excellent animations, I would not recommend it to young players or anyone new to games. This can be a seriously tough challenge sometimes. It's a fair challenge, since it's up to you to wait and dodge incoming attacks from an enemy, and then strike him when he's caught unaware. It can still be immensely frustrating, though, and there were certainly times when I was squeezing my Wii remote with contempt, cursing all the while. It's interesting, though, to have a game work your reflexes like few recent releases manage to do. You will be called upon for some split-second, expertly timed maneuvers in Punch-Out, and it's up to you to work out the enemy's patterns and openings. There's a definite old-school sensibility to this game's challenge.
Actually, the rest of the game shares a similar sensibility, too. Nearly all the fighters are from previous Punch-Out titles. You again take up the role of Little Mac, a small, skinny boxer who's fighting against all odds to win a series of Championship Belts. On his way he'll be up against a lot of familiar faces, including the ever-fragile Glass Joe, the rotund King Hippo, the suave Don Flamenco, and a bunch of other opponents resurrected from the series' history. A very small handful of new boxers join in too, and they're actually good fits with the rest of the stable. There is a fair amount of racial stereotyping present in the game, but it's no big deal; there's not an ounce of hate within this game disc.
Incredibly, for a game that prominently features boxing and is named Punch-Out, there's very little authenticity of the sport in this series. You do, however, memorize and respond to a variety of attack patterns. You don't move in the ring; you dodge, hook, or jab, and that's about it. You can control the game with a remote and nunchuck (as well as a balance board), or through an old-school horizontal remote method. I found the latter far more responsive than using motion controls (and the NES-style control scheme suits the game, I feel). An enemy will flash red occasionally and let loose a punch; it's your job to figure out how to dodge it successfully. After that, your opponent will usually be stunned, allowing you to lay into them with a few punches to drain their health bar. Draining the bar causes a knock-out, and more knock-outs means less chance of him getting back up. Three knock-outs in one round is an intstant win, although you'll discover that this is rarely an option.
The opponents in Punch-Out have some pretty tricky timing to work out, especially later on in the thirteen-fighter ladder you'll be ascending. The attacks come so fast that it can be tough to respond right away, and will probably lead to a few deaths in the final championship. It can be grating to listen to opponent's annoying taunts while you lay lifeless on the floor, but the game is based fairly heavily in memorization; stick with a fight long enough and you will clear it. You also have the help of special Star Punches that you can charge and unleash throughout a fight for huge damage. However, taking a single hit will drain your start power. These concessions keep the rather high difficulty levelled off, since you won't risk running out of lives or having your progress lost or anything like that. This goes a long way to curb some of the potential frustration of having to replay some later fights again and again.
All told, it should take you about 3 or 4 hours to clear the ladder and win all the belts. However, you then open a second career mode that takes you back through all the previous contenders again, this time with new costumes and strategies. This causes you to rethink all the battles once again and should take another 4 or 5 hours. With this neat take on replay value, plus a multiplayer mode and some other cool extras, Punch-Out does earn its keep, but only if you enjoyed it enough to give it another go. Chances are you will like it that much.
Remakes can be dangerous territory, but Punch-Out handles the task quite well. Again, it's amazing that a more than decade-old game design still holds up so well today. However, it's excellent new style and fun design welcome in non-fans as well. I'm not near as big a Punch-Out fan as some are, and I still thoroughly enjoyed this game. It's some of the best fun you can have on the Wii, and although it's frustrating parts might scare away some players, Punch-Out is fun for the rest of us. Now, where did that chocolate bar eating scamp go?