Fans have been hoping, pleading and begging for a new Punch-Out for years. Now, 25 years after the original arcade game, Nintendo's beloved boxing game is back. Little Mac is facing tougher competition from more fronts than ever, but Punch-Out!! still focuses on carving its own path.
Punch-Out!! is less of a sequel and more of an upgrade. Little Mac is still a 17-year-old newcomer who is preparing for his first professional bout. The original game wasn't really broken in any way, so both the structure and playability of the game have remained mostly intact. Instead the presentation has been transformed to meet today's expectations. Newcomers are in for a whole lot of wonderful discoveries, but Nintendo has catered for the veterans as well.
The visuals have been completely redone, and the end result is a sight for sore eyes. The clear new style bring Punch-Out!!'s quirky personality to the forefront. Your opponents are a far cry from the usual pugilist, ranging from Spanish charmer Don Flamenco to the fish-eating Bear Hugger and beverage-guzzling Russian slugger Soda Popinski. The excellent animation brings characters to life more than ever before, and a bunch of one-liners during intermissions add to their personality.
Each character speaks in their native toung, and for example Von Kaiser's German comments are a laugh. The only completely new character is Disco Kid, a smooth dancer but a heavy hitter. Punch-Out!! has a healthy dose of self-irony, the best example of which is Mac's coach referring to a certain bicycle-related meme from the interwebs. The whole game is filled with humor, which suits the laid-back mood perfectly.
If it's realism you're after, Punch-Out!! is not your game. The main focus of the game is to learn your opponent's moves by heart and exploit their weaknesses. This may sound boring, but once you try the game for the first time, you'll see that it isn't. Usually it's easy to notice your opponents pattern of attack fairly quickly, but taking advantage of their flaws takes lightning-quick reflexes and perfect timing. A well-placed blow will be rewarded with a super punch star or even an instant knockout. Excellent controls mean that if you get your ass whooped, it's your own fault.
The game only uses a couple buttons, which makes it easy to learn. The Wii version also includes an option to use motion controls. The wiimote and nunchuck take care of the punching while the analogue stick handles the movement. The motion controls work well, but Punch-Out!! is best played NES-style with the wiimote turned sideways.
The traditional career mode is short and challenging, but by today's standards it wouldn't have sufficed. This is where Title Defense mode comes in. After winning the championship you have to defend your belt. You'll face all the same opponents, but every one of them has learned new tricks and tactics. This means that even the most experienced Punch-Out fans have something new to look forward to.
Beating opponents in the career mode also open up challenges in exhibition mode. Some of these can be quite tricky, and you really have to think hard about managing to beat Von Kaiser in less than a minute or knocking the crown off of King Hippo's head. This is where Punch-Out!!'s puzzle elements really start to shine, and the most patient and observant players will reap the rewards. There are also rumours circulating about even more goodies if you manage to defend your belt. Either way, there's a whole lot to play.
There's also a simple two-player mode in which two Little Macs duke it out on a split screen. Hitting the opponent and dodging punches adds to your on-screen meter, and once it's full, you'll transform into Giga Mac. The giant version of Mac is a slow hitter, but will do double damage if he manages to pull a punch in. For some reason the other characters are nowhere to be found, so Glass Joe won't get the opportunity to pummel Mr. Sandman.
The two-player split screen is somewhat of a throwaway. Each game resembles the last one, and the joy of fighting a friend doesn't last for long. It's a shame that Punch-Out!! doesn't have an online mode or any type of connectivity. For example, worldwide rankings would've kept the game going for a good while longer.
Punch-Out!! is weird in a way. Even though the basic mechanics haven't really changed, the game is still inexplicably addictive and entertaining. The gameplay is a fun mixture of quick reflexes and wit, and the further you progress, the better the bouts become. The renewal process has been done with love and care, which is probably why Punch-Out!! is the best installment in the series.
Playing Punch-Out!! is genuinely fun, there's loads of stuff to do, the game is really challenging, and when you toss in the the original theme music, an old-school gamer really feels at home. And as the series gathers new friends with the new edition, it can only get better.
9 / 10
Perfect controls, enough to do, loads of humour and personality, pretty and well animated.