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Welcome guys and gals to yet another review. Tonight I am going to take a look at reboot from a classic series from the early days of the arcades as well as the NES and SNES eras that just so happens to be on my video games bucket list. Not too mention that the NES entry in the series happens to be one of my all time favorite games. This is Punch-Out!!
In 2009, the very first Punch-Out!! (simply titled Punch-Out!!) game since the release of Super Punch-Out!! on the SNES back in 1994 hit store shelves. It was developed for the Nintendo Wii by Canadian developer Next Level Games and was even produced by the man himself, Shigeru Miyamoto. After spending 15 years in retirement, can Little Mac prove that he is still the King of the Ring?
The game’s plot follows the same basic premise as the original. You play as Little Mac, a hungry young fighter, who might be small in stature but is large on heart as he turns to the legendary Doc Louis to manage and train him to be the best boxer in the world. Louis agrees and the kid (he’s only 17 after all) begins to work his way through the top fighters, one division at a time with the hopes of becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World!
The ultimate underdog story works just as well now as it did all the way back in the 80’s and it doesn’t hurt that all of the classic faces (excluding Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream) from the NES version and even a couple of faces from Super Punch-Out!! appear as well and we even get a new fighter in the form of Disco Kid. It should be said that each of these fighters are the portrayed in the same stereotypical manner that they were in previous games. Like Von Kasier being German with a strict military background. But don’t worry. He’s merely a Colonel Klink on the Nazi scale, which I believe is only half a Hitler out of a possible 10 Hitlers. Other examples include Don Flammino as a rose carrying bullfighter, Bear Hugger as a maple syrup chugging Canadian lumberjack and of course Glass Joe as frail and cowardly Frenchman. Even Disco Kid is given a stereotype. I don’t want to dig to deep into it but let’s just say he’s a tad on the flamboyant side. How flamboyant? I think this phrase sums it up nicely: “Hey. Aren’t you Richard Simmons?”
I know the series is filled with stereotypes but they aren’t played out to be overly vicious or mean spirited, they are simply played out in more of a light-hearted and goofy way like you would see in a Saturday morning cartoon and for a game like Punch-Out!! it actually works and makes the characters more memorable.
(I could have shown a more obvious example but it would lack the subtlety of Sodapopinski)
The game’s soundtrack consists mainly of two songs. Those being the classic fight song and training montage song from the classic NES game. Of course both songs are remixed to meet the tastes of the current console generation. They sound great, although I wouldn’t quite say that they sound as good as their 8-bit counterparts. I guess I’m just a sucker for those vintage bleeps and bloops. I should mention a pretty cool aspect about the fight song, which is the fact that in Exhibition Mode it is remixed to match the personality of each fighter. For instance, the song takes on a suffer tone when fighting Super Macho Man and it is given a bit of an obvious disco flavor when fighting Disco Kid. This is actually a nice subtle touch that firmly compliments the game’s over the top sense of humor.
I also like the use of the sound effects from the old school Punch-Out!!. You may not hear them at first but if listen closely, you can hear some of the original 8-bit sounds at certain points in the game. There are also some newer cartoon style sound effects that are used when punches are thrown and when they land, which adds to the game’s family friendly appeal.
The other important aspect in terms of audio quality is the brilliant use of voice acting. All of the fighters speak in their native tongues and do so beautifully. Before you start thinking that Next Level just had the voice actors speaking random gibberish, let me assure you that Glass Joe is really speaking French. Bald Bull is really talking smack in Turkish and Von Kaiser is really laying down the law in German. It just goes to show the amount of effort that Next Level put into the game and just how authentic they wanted to make the characters. It just sucks that their speeches go on un-understood because of a lack of subtitles. Seriously, Next Level. If a boss is mocking me, I want to know what the Hell they are saying.
You might be expecting me to now mock the lack of voice acting when it comes to Little Mac but he is meant to be the strong silent type and this is perfectly counter-balanced by his manager Doc Louis, who is legendary for his outspoken attitude. They play-off of one another and make for a great duo, like any other comedic paring. Just like in the NES classic, Doc is always there to lend Mac his sage like wisdom, in the form of helpful strategies or hilarious useless tidbits like his professing his love of chocolate or advertising for Club Nintendo. Props to Riley Inge for nailing each line with such a great sense of comedic timing.
(Come on Mac baby, feed that Hippo a kunckle sandwich)
Graphically, the game is a superb. The characters are given a great cell-shaded polish to enhance their sense of style in this modern world of 3D technology but all the while they still keep the same designs (and thus the charm) of their 2D counterparts. I should also say that the character animation is flawless. Whether it is the basic attacks/character movements, the use of body language used to signify a signature move or the pre-round smack talk, the game’s animation is absolutely perfect. Again, Next Level has done a fantastic job in this regard. If I wasn’t holding a control, I could have sworn that I was watching a computer-generated feature.
Punch-Out!! sports the same gameplay mechanics as its predecessors. As always, your opponent towers over you on the top half of the ring, as Little Mac fends him off on the bottom half. The opponent is going to be throwing a variety of different punches at you and you are going to watch for certain cues like body language, verbal insults (new to the series) and glowing colors (also new), to either dodge at the correct time or launch a counter attack. In other words, it is reaction-based arcade style gameplay at its best. Fight Night this is not.
Here’s a helpful hint: When your opponent turns red, prepare to dodge and counter. When he turns gold, this means he is simply taunting you and you can take advantage of that by hitting him and earning a gold star that can be used to perform a Star Punch. The Star Punch is your special move and it can cause much more damage than your regular punch but be careful because if you use it without first stunning your opponent, it leaves you open for a counter attack. That and the more stars you have, the more powerful your punch is going to be but you can only hold three at a time.
(Super.. Macho.. Man!)
The basic control scheme follows the same blueprint as the NES version. Dodging is done with the D-Pad, the 1 and 2 buttons are used for throwing punches. Although, in order to punch an opponent in the face, the player will have to press up, while pressing the 1 and 2 buttons. I really like this control scheme because it is just as flawless as it was back in the NES days and to add to the nostalgia, it requires you to hold the Wiimote like an NES control, which is pretty damn cool.
What kind of Wii game would Punch-Out!! be without the use of motion controls? Well, players are also given the option between using the classic control scheme or using the typical motion control settings that most Wii games have. You can also use the Wii Balance Board for ducking and dodging but I did not have access to a balance board, so I didn’t get to try it out. The motion controls are pretty standard. Mac punches when you throw punches at the air, while holding the Wiimote and nunchuk and the nunchuk’s analogue stick is used to dodge. The motion control is a nice feature to have and definitely adds a fair bit of challenge and even gives you a nice little workout. However, as the game progresses and as the challengers begin to get harder/faster, they become a bit of a pain to use.
Out of the two control methods, I would recommend sticking with the vintage NES route.
In what is a series first, rather than just offering a single campaign in which Little Mac would face a series of boxers to reach main event status and get his dream match and a chance at the World Heavyweight Title, Punch-Out!! offers up a good selection of game modes and significantly increases the length and depth of the campaign to keep things fresh.
The game’s Career Mode is just what you would expect. Little Mac works his way through three divisions until he has his shot at the Title. You would think that this is just like any other Punch-Out!! game but there are a few exceptions. First, you have unlimited continues. Remember in the original NES Punch-Out!! Little Mac would be forced into retirement after three losses. Here he can lose an infinite number of times. The second difference is that Little Mac doesn’t loose his spot in the rankings when he loses. So not only does he have infinite continues this time around, but he can always continue right where he left off. There is also a third difference that separates the Wii version from the rest. This difference is actually a major game changer. This difference is the fact that Career is actually divided into three modes. The basic Career mode, which again is Mac’s road to the title, Title Defense Mode and Mac’s Last Stand.
Title Defense Mode begins as soon as Mac defeat’s Mr. Sandman to become the new champ. Here Little Mac must face all of his opponents once again. But this time the Title is on the line, their weak spots will be better protected and their attack patterns and moves are going to be changed up. Not too mention, they are also going to be stronger and faster, so you’re really going to have to be careful. After all, you are going to have to memorize an all-new set of attack patterns and come up with some new strategies. Luckily, you won’t have to worry about loosing the title because if you do, you have an infinite amount of rematches against the guy who took it. Take my word for it, the title is going to change hands. A lot. Veteran players might not have too much trouble with the first chapter of career mode because for the most part, each boxer sticks to his original move set. However, once the title is up for grabs, even resident jobber Glass Joe can become quite the formidable opponent.
(The video quality isn't great but it proves my point)
Finally comes the third and final part of Career Mode, which is called Mac’s Last Stand. In this mode, Little Mac will once again square off against all of his previous opponents but this time something far more precious than his championship is at stake. His career! That’s right, just like in the original Punch-Out!!, if Mac loses three times he will be forced to retire. I will admit that I haven’t made it this far because Title Defense Mode is hard. Damn you Piston Honda and your monorail like swiftness!
Anyway, despite this I can tell you a few things about it. Let’s start with the most important detail first. You will loose three times and it doesn’t matter how many fights you win, you will have to continue on fighting until you are forced into retirement. Secondly, your opponents will be chosen randomly. They will come at you in their Title Defense Mode settings. You may not have to memorize new attack patterns but the ante is once again raised by means of increased strength, speed and a larger life bar.
Other than Career Mode and its two life extensions, there is also an Exhibition Mode. This is a standard mode in other boxing games but it has its own twist. In this Exhibition Mode, players can square off against any opponent you have already encountered (both the regular and Title Defense versions), each of which have a list of three challenges that the player can complete to unlock bonus content for the game’s gallery.
("I'm seeing double. Four Macs!")
For the first time in the series, Punch-Out!! has something that fans have been wanting for since its humble beginnings in the arcade and that is a Vs Mode. In Head to Head, two players can square off in a split-screen battle of the Mac’s. Both players (each playing as Little Mac) will pound on each other until they either knock out their opponent or get a TKO or by a decision if the fight lasts for a full three rounds. So, it is just like the single player modes. Except Little Mac can turn into his freakish large alter-ego, Giga Mac if he dodges enough attacks without taking damage. Once one of the two players turns into Giga, the split screen will be replaced with the standard single player view, as Little Mac tries to fend of is ginormous bizarro self.
(Giga Mac smash!)
What do I think about these game modes? Career Mode is fantastic and quite a bit of nostalgia for those who’ve played the originals on the NES & SNES. Title Defense Mode is a great idea but I would have liked to see some different boxers used here, rather than just having a series of rematches. I mean there are still several boxers from Super Punch-Out!!, as well as the original arcade game that weren’t used. Mr. Dream could have even been the final title defense or they could have created more new fighters like Disco Kid. But the fact that the fighters that are used are given both a physical and strategical makeover definitely breathes some new life into their characters and adds a good bit of fun to the mode’s concept. Mac’s Last Stand could have been a mix of new fighters that could have been added to Title Defense Mode and the fighters from the first section of Career Mode. However, the idea of three losses leading to retirement is a really nice (and subtle) throwback to the original and the mystery opponent you unlock after 10 wins is pretty cool and hilariously unexpected. The idea of adding to the challenge is good but it still would have been nice to see some fresh faces rather than just having even more rematches against the same opponents. Head to Head is a solid two player mode but only being able to play as Mac and not as any of the other fighters is a bit of a bummer. It also can’t be played online. I’m not much of an online player but even I will admit that the idea of testing my Punch-Out!! skills against other players from across the net is definitely a great idea. Next Level was capable of doing it, so why didn’t they?
As a huge fan of the original, I can honestly say that this new(ish) incarnation is not quite perfect in the sense that we could have seen some more opponents, we could have been given the chance to play as the other classic characters in multiplayer and online play should have been a feature. However, the animation and voice work is flawless, the sense of humor is great and the gameplay itself is still perfect enough to live up to a fine boxing legacy! Please Next Level, don’t wait another 15 years before taking Mac out of retirement again.
(He can always take a whoppin!)
Final Score: 9/10