Thursday, July 16, 2009

Welcome Back Little Mac... The Punch Out!! (Wii) Review

Nintendo lately has been known for distancing itself away from their hardcore audiences due to their astounding success of their casual titles on the Wii. The return of Punch-Out!! has been the faithful's hope of Nintendo actually still giving a care about their old franchises that date back to the NES days. It turns out that this new Punch-Out!! is both amazing and old-school for those who played the original NES game like crazy in the late 1980s. It recaptures the same old feeling that was both simple to control, but still challenging to the point of throwing your controller at will. It also brings new audiences in nicely with the new motion controls, but even with motion controls, the challenge might not be what they're looking forward for. All of that being said, Punch-Out!! is indeed the hardcore Nintendo fans have been waiting for that is both challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Punch-Out!! for the Wii consists of two control schemes, which are motion controls with the Wiimote and Nunchuk, and old-school NES style with the Wiimote sideways just like playing Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! There is also balance board support for the motion controls, but that makes the game feel like you're working out in Wii Fit rather than trying to beat the game. Out of the control schemes the game offers, I prefer the old-school controls than the new motion controls as playing it NES style provides more precision and the old-school experience, but if you want a more fresher experience than you used to, the motion controls do work fine with punching on both arms. The motion controls do indeed draw casual audiences to a game like this, but the pattern recognition gameplay that it provides is something consider that hardcore audiences have had for years.

There is the obligatory career mode in which you play as Little Mac through three circuits of increasing difficulty towards getting the world title belt. This Punch-Out game has it all in terms of the opposition you face from the lazy Glass Joe, the annoying Great Tiger, to the heavy drinking Soda Popinski. As you progress through the career mode, the game does indeed get harder, but not NES Punch-Out hard as these fighters especially in the last circuit are very beatable. The fun does not end when you beat career mode and get the world title as a new mode gets unlocked for an even harder game called Title Defense mode. Title Defense makes the normal game feel like a warmup as this mode is where the game truly begins. This is also when controllers are being thrown to a point of them not working as the opponents you beaten before are tougher with new looks, moves, and other tricks that make you mess up and lose. Despite Title Defense being the "true game," the satisfaction of beating it again increases tenfold where you just want to scream really loud like a nerd almost like beating Mike Tyson for the first time in the original Punch-Out. Good thing there is a practice mode in the game to practice up the opponents' patterns and get better of unlocking star punch opportunities. Along with the practice mode, you can fight the various characters at any time in Exhibition where achievement-like challenges are there to attempt as well. These challenges are pretty crazy requiring certain tasks that seem impossible at first to be done during the fight. Punch-Out!! for the Wii provides enough replay value for players to be challenged even further after beating Title Defense along with doing the challenges in Exhibition mode.

For the first time in the franchise, this Wii iteration has a versus mode where two Little Macs can fight each other till someone gets knocked down three times in traditional Punch-Out fashion. The twist in this versus mode is that it is split screen vertically where you try to gain meter to become Giga Mac, or basically Little Mac hulking up, and suddenly it becomes a traditional Punch-Out game. Once becoming Giga Mac, it becomes a David/Goliath matchup where Giga Mac can just destroy at will, but Little Mac can still avoid his punches traditionally and dish out the punishment in which players being Giga Mac have to mix up their game to surprise their opponents. This versus mode as a whole feels like a tacked on mode that is not meant to be anything special or worthwhile in the overall package, but still a nice feature to have around regardless in which the developers can improve on if a sequel is happening.

With this new iteration, Punch-Out!! for the Wii is filled with personality and lots of it. From awkward characters like Disco Kid, Bear Hugger, and Super Macho Man, there are certainly those personalities that make you laugh. Perhaps the star of having so much personality is your trainer, Doc Louis. While he can be a little annoying at times trying to help you between rounds, his random quotes regarding his love for chocolate bars makes your mind spin a little trying to realize what did he actually say. Just playing as Little Mac makes you feel like you are the true underdog against these opponents that are bigger than you and the size truly shows in this Wii game compared to older games. All of this personality is also shown in the graphics, which are pretty good for a Wii game. The characters themselves look very colorful for who they are and even the pre-fight cutscenes showing off your opponent's off-the-ring activities look great as well showing who they are. Performance-wise, this lives up to being a Nintendo game with no slowdown at all when running at 60 frames per second. However, the framerate does drop to 30 frames per second in the versus mode when two Little Macs fight each other. This is somewhat of a recurring trend for Nintendo games with local multiplayer as Mario Kart Wii has a similar framerate issue regarding multiplayer.

As for the sound, the modernized take on the old-school Punch-Out!! soundtrack sounds beautiful. That opening tune of that modern remix in the first circuit just puts a smile on your face especially if you recognized it from the late 80s. Later on, the Punch-Out theme does get remixed for the various opponents you face like a Russian version for Soda Popinski and a Hawaiian-like version for Super Macho Man as examples. With all the personality the game has, the characters' voice-overs sound great as well being true to their character. From Disco Kid's awkward voice that sort of questions his gender, Great Tiger's accent, to Super Macho Man's cockiness, Punch-Out!! offers arguably the best voices in any Nintendo game out so far even though they are mostly one-liners and smack talk.

Nintendo and Next Level did a superb job bringing back Punch-Out!! to the modern era of video games. It feels new enough and yet it still fells old-school like the original games as if you're playing a NES game. It definitely feels like a NES game in terms of the difficulty especially in Title Defense mode, but the challenge makes the reward of beating it even more sweeter in the end. Versus mode does feel like an afterthought of why not put something in for two players to play with no online support, but still a neat idea that can be improved on in the future. What definitely impressed me with this Punch-Out!! other than the familiar gameplay is the style it presents and the personality this game offers as whole. All those characters look great and live up their true personas that makes you want to beat them up even further. Also, what remains intact is the satisfaction once beating the game, in which gives it its old-school appeal. Punch-Out!! is back in a big way as I gotta hand it to Nintendo for actually caring about a franchise as legendary as this and giving it the modern treatment.

Score = 9/10

  • Definitely feels like old-school Punch-Out!!
  • The satisfaction of beating these opponents feels as sweet as it was in the late 80s.
  • A challenging game (on Title Defense) for the hardcore
  • Motion controls do give the game its casual appeal
  • Filled with personality and style
  • Enough replay value to keep players busy
  • Versus mode feels like an afterthought and tacked on
  • The challenge might scare new players especially later on.

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