Video-game review: 'Punch-Out!!'
Style: 1 to 2-player fighting
Developer: Next Level Games
Release: May 19
Concept: Classic "Punch-Out" gameplay with a modern coat of paint.
Graphics: The wacky animations and crisp cel-shaded look add to the fighters' personalities.
Sound: All of the boxers speak the language of their home country.
Playability: Feels like you're back on the NES; motion controls are functional for the most part.
Entertainment: The best arcade-style boxer out there.
Replay Value: Moderately High
The Bottom Line: 9/10
I've dreamed about a new "Punch-Out" ever since the Super Nintendo. The N64 and GameCube came and went without even a boxing-related rumor. Three consoles later, Nintendo finally caved and hired the development house from Mario Strikers to reinvent this beloved franchise. So many things could have gone horribly wrong, but the core single-player experience gets everything right.
Every boxer from the original "Punch-Out" on NES returns except Mike Tyson, and the traditional high punch, low punch, dodge, block, and duck moveset is still in place. As you progress through the roster of rivals, the difficulty ramps up at an even pace (OK, Glass Joe is still tremendously easy). You can cruise through the first few fights, but things start to get tricky in the Major Circuit. The good news is an effective practice mode allows you to take on a hologram version of the boxer currently giving you trouble. Determine the timing to halt Bald Bull's charge, count how many uppercuts Popinski performs after you punch the soda bottle out of his hands, or learn how to dodge Macho Man's hurricane punch without the threat of getting knocked out.
The pre-match cutscenes and comical fight animations add dimension to the boxers and manage to steer clear of stereotypes for the most part. You learn that Glass Joe likes to wear black turtlenecks out of the ring, Bear Hugger trains with real bears, and King Hippo's diet consists mostly of meat and tropical fruit. After you defeat every opponent it gets even better: New cutscenes in the second career show how they've dealt with defeat at your hands and what they're planning for revenge. These guys must have trained well, because the second career is incredibly difficult. Boxers have added defense skills, new attacks, new looks, and more strength to their punches. It's almost like you're fighting a new set of rivals.
Using the motion controls, players swing the remote and nunchuk to punch and use the analog stick for defensive maneuvers. These controls hold up during the first round of bouts, but you're better off using the NES control scheme in the challenging second career. Balance board control is also an option, but it isn't accurate enough for the careful timing required in "Punch-Out." Sometimes I would lean right and Mac would dodge left. You just can't risk that kind of imprecision in a fight.
At any time you can schedule an exhibition fight with any previously defeated character to attempt three achievement-style challenges. I loved trying to KO guys in under a minute or discovering their one-hit kill, but the only reward is a lame set of audio files.
Multiplayer finally comes to "Punch-Out" in the form of split-screen Mac versus Mac battles. Wildly flailing your arms like a Wii Sports boxing reject won't work here. Fights are more about timing and predicting opponents' moves like in a traditional game of rock, paper, scissors. Skilled players can fill up a blue gauge and transform into a hulking Giga Mac capable of crushing blows. While it's amusing to unleash this kind of power on your friend, the multiplayer doesn't have the legs to keep it interesting. This could have been the chance to finally play as enemy characters or to take the franchise online somehow, but it ends up feeling like the team settled for the easiest route.
Despite these complaints, the single-player has always been the focus of "Punch-Out," and Next Level delivers. What better way to show your buddy up than to totally annihilate the boxer that just KO'd him?
SECOND OPINION: 8.25/10
I played the original "Punch-Out" until I could pull off the moves in my sleep. Wii "Punch-Out" is similar to the NES title, but if you think nothing can top that classic, then you're underestimating this game. "Punch-Out" relies on decades-old gameplay – even in its career format – and yet remains engaging, demonstrating that you are not served by memories of "the good ol' days" alone. Hats off to developer Next Level for keeping the gameplay so tight that even when you've memorized everyone's attack patterns, the game still demands the skill and timing to win. The lack of more features – despite the fun multiplayer – keep this title from being a new classic, but my memories of it are already superceding those from the NES "Punch-Out." _ Matthew Kato
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