June 13, 2009

Punch-Out!! Review (Wii)

Nintendo Wii
Nintendo, Next Level Games

In today's gaming world, it's all about online multiplayer, first-person shooters, and photorealistic sports simulators. So it's quite astonishing to even see a game like Punch-Out!! be so much the same as its NES counterpart yet so freshly fun at the same time.

What sets Punch-Out!! apart from games like Fight Night or God forbid, Facebreaker is that it's still the same pattern-based, reflex-dependent game that baby boomers reminisce so much about. Despite the nostalgic value the game holds, it also holds up well with the jaded audiences of today. The sheer accessibility and challenge makes this game a perfect example of a reboot done well. Not only does it have a sort of "pick-up-and-play" control scheme (or schemes), it doesn't feel dumbed down either, making this game a great way to unite casual and hardcore gamers.

But how do you even play this? You can use either just the Wiimote and orient it to landscape to make it play like the old NES version, use the Wiimote and Nunchuk so you can punch using your hands (but dodge using the Nunchuk's analog stick), or use the Wiimote, Nunchuk and the Balance Board- although I've heard that Balance Board support sucked. As for the actual controls, they're very much simple: when your opponent flashes red, that means he's about to attack you. Dodge the right direction (up, right, down or left) and you get the chance to pummel the opponent down with a combo. Simple, right? Well, how about we also add a "super-punch" mechanic into the mix? Punch your opponent in the right time and you get a star. A star allows you to activate the super-punch by holding the A button and punching. Still simple, yes?

It does all sound too simple, but just wait until you actually play it. True, the first opponent you encounter (Glass Joe) is easy as croissant, but succeeding opponents aren't so forgiving. To give you a hint on how hard this game can get, I have an embarrasing 14-31 record. For those who aren't into sports, that's 14 wins and 31 losses. Yes, 31 freaking losses. That's how hard the game can get. Even with all the visual and aural cues, you'll still find yourself sweating and swearing in frustration due to dodging in the wrong direction, among other human faults.

That said, the game is still tons of fun. Even if you win after, say, 12 attempts at the same opponent, you'll still feel this sense of joy-- it feels rewarding to win. That feeling can probably be attributed to the human psyche's dream of being able to conquer people who are bigger than him (WTF am I saying?!) because the presentation of the game has you feeling so small and the enemy so big.
The cel-shaded aesthetic, however, is very much welcome. Even though aiming for photorealism is the norm for sports games, the decision to use cel-shading very much benefits the game as it adds to the charm of the already charming characters. True, the characters can get a bit too stereotypical- croissants will fly over Parisian Glass Joe's head, for instance- but the "happy" overall feel of the game will probably make you dismiss it as something done out of sheer fun.

The single-player mode (Career mode) pits you against 13 different boxers with several distinct fighting styles. Obviously, your approach will be different with each one. There seems to even be a new character in the Punch-Out!! roster called Disco Kid. If homoerotic moans get you creeped (crept?) out, I suggest you to not take them seriously.

Each fight starts with a 4 picture slideshow of your adversary. That basic slideshow gives you an impression of each fighter's backstory. But trust me on this when I say Punch-Out!! has never been about story, so don't expect much from these slideshows.
But the career mode doesn't exactly end after you beat the 13th boxer, you'll be able to go through all of them again to defend your title, but they come in with more moves and sometimes protective gear that will force you to change your strategy again. It's very varied, which I like, and it very much pushes replay value.
Even Glass Joe's fragile head gets protection.

Adding even more to replay value is the local multiplayer aspect of the game- a first in the franchise. It operates on nearly the same principles as the career mode, but it offers a twist: punch your enemy enough and you'll become as big as all those other guys you fought-- in short, Giga Mac. The player who gets left behind as Little Mac will be able to see all those red flashes that the boxers in Career mode will emit when they get ready to throw a punch, and the same mechanics with all the combos and stuff in the Career mode apply as well. This makes for a varied and extremely fun twist on the formula- and it also makes for very fun 2-player split-screen sessions.

While there is no online, nor any photorealistic graphics, Punch-Out!! for the Wii is still very much a lot of fun- and it is very much worth a buy even when you don't have any nostalgic feelings toward it.

Rating: 8.5/10

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