This would have been oh-so-easy to screw up, and at many points, we thought they had. Handing the rights to Next Level Games; Famous for ‘That’ character roster in Mario Strikers and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe- One of the most depressing games we’ve played in many years. Realising it’d only taken us three days of not even putting too much work into it (Say, about six or seven hours?) to collect the world champion’s belt, and seeing there was only one newcomer. Discovering the lack of MotionPlus. The multi-player mode at first felt too flimsy and lightweight, inappropriate for a boxing game that consists of you bringing down fighters roughly the sizes of Barry Island. And yet, it turned out none of that mattered. Punch Out!! on Wii is brilliant.
Beginning with Next Level Games, they seem to have learnt from their critics in the past. There’s only one character in multi-player, which may sound disappointing, but it means you don’t have a punchy version of Hammer Spamming, and the audio from Mario Strikers sounded like it was being broadcast to prisoners in a desperate attempt to brainwash them into thinking that there was a worse place than where they are right now, and just happened to get caught up in NLG’s recording device. This latest from them, however, has likeable music all the way through, and the sound clips for each fighter are even better. Each fighter’s different nationality (More on that later) has lead them to have the most ludicrous, most OTT, most insulting accent work they can. Best bit is, it’s also rather funny. We’re just glad the Sun (Or at least the Irish Times) hasn’t complained yet.
Playing as Little Mac, whose name is actually quite appropriate, you must claim the Boxing world championship’s belt by taking down many fighters, one-by-one. You’ll begin with the easy Glass Joe, who shouldn’t pose any sort of threat, (Even the Punch Out!! newcomers at KN sorted him and his ‘Glass Jaw’ before the Round Three bell went) who can be dealt with by simply swiping at him in the right place, making sure you occasionally dodge his blows. Even then, they wouldn’t do you too much damage.
Move on past Hitler-alike von Kaiser, and you’ll slowly be introduced into what the world of Punch Out!! is really like. Next up is Disco Kid, who’s –Well- a kid who likes to disco. The entire game isn’t about young men dancing and punching. But the introduction is in fact to the idea that more-or-less every blow you land comes as a counter.
In Punch Out!!, it isn’t simply a case of pummelling the opposition until they collapse under the weight of your fists, or ducking and diving whilst jabbing at the head in front of you without a care in the world. Little Mac’s take on the sport is all down to timing. Dodge at the right moment, you’ll successfully avoid it. Punch when the time is right to land a counter blow, which stuns the opponent. Then you can jab away to your heart’s content. The trick is to know when to dodge, and it gets progressively harder and harder. The opposition develop new moves regularly, and then begin to do bigger and bigger damage.
However, it’s not always as simple as countering the move at the right time. Often, there are other hidden complications such as helmets and covers and such, which you need to get around first. Sometimes, the game hides certain combos. Land a jab to the face on the mysterious King Hippo, and he’ll raise his hands to cover. Land one on his weak belly, and his shorts shall drop. Punch him again, and he’ll be temporally stunned, opening him up for a thrashing.
On the whole, the game gets harder and harder as it goes on, (We found that the fight at the beginning of the final circuit against Irish stereotype Aran Ryan was probably the hardest) but with only the one newcomer and just 13 fighters, it’s not exactly that tough. So by the time you’ve conquered Super Macho Man and then defeated world champion Mr. Sandman, you’d probably be feeling a bit short changed. Especially if you’ve bought the original NES version on VC for £3.50, and seemingly have just purchased the exact game but with flasher graphics on a disc for £35.00.
However, it’s just here where Punch Out!! reveals it’s master stroke. A little pop up comes after the titles, along with a cut-scene of Little Mac’s trainer, Doc Lewis, saying how Mac can’t give up now. He’s going to have to go back and defend the title....
A second campaign opens up, only this time; things don’t start off to easy. Perhaps Glass Joe’s new form isn’t quite Aran Ryan or Mr. Sandman, but he’s certainly far tougher. See, remember how you constantly jabbed his ‘Glass Jaw’ before? Well he’s seen what you did, and been for an operation, and been given safety equipment. Now, the wimpy Frenchman wears padding round his head that nullifies your punch, but still wears you down. Jabbing his skull is a no-no, so you’re going to have to focus on the torso, but by pummelling that.
Or so you’d think. See, this is where Punch Out!!’s casual punchy-punchy Wii Sports Boxing beginning begins to really fade. When we were on the wrong side of a winning blow, against Glass Joe of all people, and only survived down to a single well-timed remote shake, we knew Next Level Games were on to something. You need to time your dodges and counters to beat him, but he’s altered his timing –Just- so he’ll catch you out almost every time. It took us ages to adjust. The following fight with von Kaiser is worse yet, his every punch just timed to make your ducks pointless.
Some fights, such as King Hippo and Great Tiger, just add an extra defensive element to the boxer, while Aran Ryan introduces a boxing glove on a rope, which he swings with the intention of knocking your head off, and Bald Bull is made into the most infuriating fighter in the game, by offering massive charges, massive hits, but only being brought down by star punches- A form of reward gained for well-timed jabs. You can save them up for bigger blows; however, if you’re hit once, you lose all your stars. This really is risk-reward at its finest.
Once you’ve defended your belt, the game still doesn’t end. It’s got one more mega-tough unlockable mode for you, and while we have a couple of little criticisms of that, we won’t go there as it’s an extra in anyone’s eyes, and they easily could have left it out, and we’re rather glad they didn’t. It’s a great challenge, even if you don’t get anything big for beating it.
There’s so much more to Punch Out!!, though. There’s the multi-player which is slightly weak, but as a bit of throw away fun, it’s OK, just don’t expect it to be the same as Wii Sports Boxing. There are three control set-ups, (Well, two and a half more like) allowing for classic remote-on-side NES-style precision, or remote-flick-tastic Motion Control. No MotionPlus, but it actually works better without it- You only have three sorts of punch on each hand, so simply moving the Nunchuck’s joystick as you fire off a punch works fine. Dodging with the stick is far easier and more satisfying than using the D-Pad, and although we found the former set-up better for a couple of fights where you really needed to control your punches, we used the Motion controls through most of the game.
There’s also the ‘Exhibition’ mode, which is fantastic. To explain it in 10 words, we’d say “Fight old opponents, practise new ones and clear set challenges.”, which is just to save us a bit of room in the 1,500 word limit here. Once you’ve taken down a fighter, they’re there to be fought, but the best bit comes with the little missions you get. Some are easy-ish (Beat Glass Joe in Round One) whilst some are next to impossible. (Beat Glass Joe without dodging, ducking or blocking any punches) Even on the simplest of enemies, it turns a simple scuffle into a desperate attempt to claim the challenge. Some require the ability to find the exact frame of animation needed to knock down the opposition in one punch- We thought this was a boxing game, not Trauma Centre.
Punch Out!! is, though, very impressive. Visually it’s up there with the best one Wii, (We named it the greatest-looking Wii title in our countdown not too long ago, although it doesn’t quite hold up now, for some reason we can’t pinpoint.) and even the audio –Especially for Next Level Games- is great. Silly vocal acting seems to wrap the game up beautifully, (“Have you got cheeseburgers in those gloves?”) but it’s the way that none of the apparent flaws seem to screw up Punch Out!! that makes it most impressive. Next Level Games are officially saved.