|System: Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Next Level Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Nintendo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 18, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Pattern memorization and twitch inputs are skills I'm happy to say I honed to a fine point back in the 80s. However, as the years went by and the arcades closed, my technical gaming prowess softened due to a glut of turn-based RPGs and strategy titles. While I'm ecstatic the gaming industry has progressed so far as to incorporate insane visuals, guitar peripherals, and the first-person perspective, there's something to be said for run-jump-shoot, or in the case of Punch-Out!! for Wii, block-jab-hook.
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for NES is without a doubt one of my favorite games of all time. While I never got into Super Punch-Out!! (I was an older, bitter Genesis owner), the franchise will always remain near and dear to my heart. Thankfully, the series that blessed a generation of gamers has been redone in such a way as to pay homage to its roots while still providing for a fresh experience for old-hats and newcomers alike.
If you've never played a Punch-Out!! title, you take on the role of Little Mac - a spunky young kid from the Bronx - training and fighting his way to the top of the WVBA (World Video Boxing Association). Seemingly overmatched by an oddball assemblage of larger-than-life, international competitors, each with their own fighting style that is a caricature of both their background and their lifestyle, Little Mac has to use his reflexes and heart to find the chink in their armor. On your quest to the top, you'll be faced with 13 fighters and three title bouts, marked by evermore difficult foes. The key to success in Punch-Out!! is to recognize and react to your opponents' patterns fast enough to not get hit and deliver decisive counter punches. As such, Punch-Out!! is all about timing and patience lots and lots of patience.
For veterans of the series, Little Mac can still activate a Star Punch by accumulating stars after landing surprise punches. There are three rounds in which to KO or TKO your opponent (or wait for the decision from a decidedly friendlier ref than Mario ever was). Between each round, your manager Doc Louis will continue to give you advice that typically proves to be more useful than "Join the Nintendo Fun Club today, Mac!" (though, he does give a similar bit of guidance, replacing Fun Club for Club Nintendo). Also, players can still press the Select (-) button to give themselves a health boost; Doc Louis will pull out a chocolate bar in confirmation. Additionally, players are even treated to a nostalgic training montage of a pink jump-suited Mac running behind Doc's bicycle after winning each belt. In fact, lots of little touches went into this game to make it utterly reminiscent of the original title.
Whereas Super Punch-Out!! for SNES abandoned a lot of its predecessor's charm in the name of innovation, Punch-Out!! for Wii is much more true to the original despite the modernization. In fact, Punch-Out!! for Wii is every bit as enchanting as the NES version, without feeling stale. Initially, when many of the fighters' names began to surface, I was nervous that there wouldn't be enough originality in the title; practically every competitor except for one (make that two ) is a holdover from one of the other two games. That being said, the developers did a remarkable job of giving the classic characters all the qualities and attributes they should have, but varied up their patterns and added a few new skills to make them feel fresh and challenging. They struck a great balance that is sure to please even diehard fans.
On the downside, Time Attack from the SNES version was not included; besting your own times and challenging friends to do the same was perhaps the most engrossing portion of the sequel. On the other hand, multiplayer support has been added for two people to rumble locally. This head-to-head challenge is quite fun, pairing two Little Mac variants against each other. Rather than just using a split-screen presentation, the developers chose to also incorporate the standard single-player view. Once one of the competitors fills a power meter, they will transform into Giga Mac; a real gorilla of a fighter. Giga Mac can throw devastating punches that can be charged for even greater power. Throw enough punches and the meter will eventually deplete, shape-shifting the beast back to Little Mac and reverting the view to split-screen.
As fun as local multiplayer is, I would have loved to have challenged others from around the world online. At the very least, I would have liked to have seen leaderboard support; something that tracked the world's best times per character and the date the feat was accomplished. I would also have liked to play as any one of the various characters used in the single-player Career mode; playing Mac against Mac, while fair, doesn't lend itself to a lot of replay value.
New this time is Exhibition mode. This training mode is great for helping players learn fighter patterns in no time without any fear of ever getting KO'd. But, it also seems to greatly diminish the game's level of difficulty. That means skilled players can comfortably beat this game's Career mode in about three hours the first time through. By the same token, the unnecessary frustration that came at the gloved hands of Sandman, Super Macho Man, and Tyson in the original is mercifully avoided in Punch-Out!! for Wii. That being said, a second go 'round is in the offing for advanced players called Title Defense, which ameliorates the initial ease of the Career mode by adding a second tour against the same foes (now as challengers) with tweaked pattern progressions and greater protection against weaknesses. Topping it all off, a challenge mode eventually opens up that will have players truly hone their skills by beating opponents with various stipulations attached. For every completed challenge, players are rewarded with bonuses accessible via the main menu.