Review By Steve Farrelly @ 03:06pm 06/08/09
If you have fond memories of "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" on NES (later renamed to just "Punch-Out!!" for obvious reasons), you're going to seriously want to check this out. It's essentially the same game with rebuffed visuals, a few new characters, a few new features and a surprisingly enjoyable (though limited) multiplayer offering.
If you're new to the world of Punch-Out!!, the game centres around the rise of you, aka Little Mac. Mac begins his life as a boxer as all sports people do – in the minor leagues, where your first opponent is aptly named "Glass Joe". From there Mac will progress through ranked fighters until he reaches the title holder for that division and if successful in his championship match, will move up to the next division, with boxers obviously increasing in difficulty.
It's a long road to the top, but a fun and laughable one and well worth the better part of a solid day's gaming.
Oh, so therein lays the rub. Punch-Out!! is brilliantly old-school and fundamentally fun as a result, but it also suffers from a lack of ultimate replayability and an unforgiving learning curve the closer you get to the end of the game. It's not that a challenge isn't welcome; it's just that frustration (a factor of old-school game design) should never be mistaken for crafted longevity. If it's a case of memorising patterns and reacting accordingly, as opposed to applying true stratagem based on skill, you're not really creating anything cerebral.
That said, this is, for all intents and purposes, an arcade game, so don't go in expecting the depth of the last Fight Night, and you won't walk out disappointed.
Punch-Out!!'s charm comes in its simple gameplay set-up and its whacky cast of characters to utilise it on. Each boxer you fight has a unique boxing style with 'tells' to offer you enough time to dodge and counter. Some boxers can be attacked without mercy, while others strictly require your patience and ability to read them in order for you to have a chance.
Mac has four basic attacks as well as a special attack. You can jab low left or right and high left or right. Land a punch in a specific spot to surprise your opponent and you'll earn a star which can then be used to uppercut, which is your special attack. Mac can also dodge left or right and duck, while blocking also applies, though you have a Heart Meter that depletes both every time you land a punch or when you get hit (also while blocking). If it reaches zero, Mac is worn out (represented by him turning pink) and unable to attack for a short period, though you can still dodge (which, if successful fills your HM back up quicker to get you back in the fight).
There are three circuits to fight your way through: Minor, Major and World and each circuit has three opponents to beat before facing that circuit's champion. And as mentioned above, your opponents will become increasingly more difficult the further in you get – it's very much in line with the original game, with most of the original cast coming back, though there are a few notable newcomers who have very easily matriculated into the style of the game.
In the Minor Circuit your new opponent is "Disco Kid" a boxer who may or may not be gay (not that there's anything wrong with that), but suffice to say, his moves are very retro 70s dance-floor in style. The Major Circuit's newcomer is Bear Hugger (who actually appeared in Super Punch-Out!! On SNES), a Canadian lumberjack, while the World Circuits new mug belongs to Aran Ryan, a hilarious Irish ruffian totally befitting the stereotype.
Beyond the core boxing Career experience, you can jump into an Exhibition which allows you to fight any opponent you've beaten or are currently facing in your Career mode, or choose to go Head-to-Head with another human player in the first multiplayer outing for the series.
Head-to-Head is great as you play splits-screen (vertical) with both parties coming in as Little Mac avatars. You then fight as normal, however, you both have the option to fill a 'Giga Mac' meter which, when full, transforms the little boxer into a hulking monstrosity. The challenge here is to be the better boxer so as to stay in Giga Mac mode the longest for a better advantage. Unfortunately there is no online MP (a missed opportunity).
From a visual standpoint, Punch-Out!! looks pretty sweet for a Wii title. It's the first time the series has gone 3D, and it really adds some great depth to an otherwise restricted game (though this restriction works in its favour). If I had to complain about anything in the way of visuals, it would just be that I want Mario back as the boxing ref.
Punch-Out!! really is an awesomely fun game. It's packed with nostalgia and old-school challenge, but is unfortunately equally marred by old-school longevity restrictions. There's not a great deal here to keep you playing for months on-end, and if you're an old-hat at the original game (like me), chances are you'll knock the game out in a few hours.
It's this factor that makes Nintendo Australia's decision to only distribute the game through JB Hi-Fi understandable, but it's also a shame not everyone will even know about its existence. It's also odd this wasn't just released as WiiWare as I can't really seeing it being a challenge to distribute that way.
There are missed opportunities in local-only two-player multiplayer and maybe more mini-games would have opened up the experience. But the core gameplay here has definitely withstood the test of time and the game's quirky humour and great presentation make it hard to feel too sore at Little Mac and co.
If you find yourself down at JB Hi-Fi at the end of this month and the price is right, I'd still recommend the game.