This was the game that finally tipped me over the edge and made me buy a Wii because I had fond memories of playing both Punchout and Super Punchout on a friend’s consoles when we were growing up.
Stepping into the shoes of Little Mac, you’re an upcoming boxer who has to fight 13 bizarre opponents from across the world to become champion.
The first thing that hits you (sorry!) about Punchout!! is that it looks great, whilst staying true to its roots. Right off, the bright, bold graphics smack you (sorry again) in the eye and grab your attention. The nicely-drawn, cartoon creations all have their own character and unique sense of personality so you stop seeing them as computer graphics and instead view them as “real” people, who are standing in your way.
Of the 13 computer opponents, 12 have appeared in earlier incarnations of the series which is pleasing to fans. Each has a distinctive fighting style, along with a devastating signature move which you need to work out how to avoid, and a weakness which can be exploited to win bouts.
You could argue that there are slightly stereotypical undertones to the characters: the German fighter, Von Kaiser, is highly militaristic and disciplined; the French boxer, Glass Joe is something of a coward. However, the game gets away with it because the characters are very much in line with the rest of the game’s tongue in cheek humour.
Happily, as well as looking good, Punchout!! also packs a wallop (look, I really am most dreadfully sorry) when it comes to the all-important gameplay.
If you’re expecting a “proper” boxing game, then you clearly don’t know your Punchout!! from your Punch and Judy. Punchout!! is an arcade experience, pure and simple. As such, Little Mac’s movement is limited to punching, ducking and weaving from side to side. Similarly, opponents have a number of set pattern moves and the key to success lies in learning it, then hitting them when they are at their most vulnerable.
Inevitably, this can make Punchout!! a slightly frustrating and mechanistic game which won’t appeal to everyone. The first time you come across a new fighter you almost certainly lose until you learn how to counter their devastating special move. It also leads to a real sense of achievement when you finally work out the optimum moment to attack them. Even then, it’s not always easy to win as precise timing is still needed to avoid the special moves and launch your own successful counter attack. If you get what the game is trying to do, though Punchout!! becomes frustratingly addictive, rather than just plain frustrating. You become determined to beat the man in front of you and will keep playing until you do.
If you’ve a mediocre gamer like me, having to play the same fighter until you beat them can become a touch annoying. The inclusion of a practice mode (where you can fight any character you’ve already come across) is mildly helpful although as you don’t sustain any damage in these bouts, it’s difficult to tell whether or not you would have beaten them in a normal fight.
With only 13 fighters, there are some concerns over the game’s longevity, but once you have beaten all 13, you have to defend your title against the same opponents; who are now equipped with new moves and so far tougher to beat.
It’s the two player mode that’s a big let-down as both players are forced to play as Little Mac. Where’s the fun in that? I wanted the option to play as any of the computer controlled players and see how they’d fare against each other; to learn the special moves of Bear Hugger or King Hippo and use them to beat my opponent into submission whilst cackling manically (or is that just me?!). For me, the two player mode is a real missed opportunity.
Another missed opportunity is the controls. Punchout!! tries to emulate the Wii Sports package by using the Wiimote and Nunchuk attachment to “throw” real punches. Sadly, it’s nowhere near responsive enough and after a few games you’ll soon give up and revert to the more standard controls which are more effective, but nowhere near as satisfying.
All in all, Punchout!! is a decent update of an old Nintendo classic, as long as you are willing to accept the limitations of the gameplay and the arcade like approach to boxing. Personally, despite some frustrations, I think it’s a simple, but hugely addictive game that will keep you playing until there’s no-one else to beat. The lack of a proper two player mode is a big oversight which limits the replay value, but in the short term Punchout!! is a good update of a retro title that stays true to its old-skool roots whilst showing the core gameplay is still a draw on modern consoles. More of a Points victory than a full KO, Punchout!! is still worth your time and money (I promise I’ll stop with the laboured boxing analogies and puns now!)