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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Punch-Out!! (Wii) 

This reboot of Nintendo's long-dormant, but much-loved Punch-Out!! franchise stays very true to its original form. Players will face an array of classic boxers including the famous Glass Joe and King Hippo along with a smattering of new characters. The game plays and feels very much as it did in the classic years, and many of the strategies and moves you remember work here as well. There are a few new twists, such as a cool split-screen multiplayer mode, but this version of Punch-Out!! stays very true to its inspiration. While younger players should enjoy the series, it seems targeted mostly to gamers who loved the original, making it a truly classic experience that shouldn't be missed by players who grew up on this series.

It's been quite awhile since we've seen a new Punch-Out!! title, and in fact you have to go back more than a decade to the SNES era to play the last game in the series, though most players are probably more familiar with the legendary NES version, which itself came out of the classic 2- screen arcade game back in the 80's. Both of these classic titles are now conveniently available on the Wii's Virtual Console, and make good primers for those who want to know what the fuss is all about. The basic gameplay stays true to the original game with very few changes and tweaks made this time around. On the surface, Punch-Out!! is just a boxing game, where you face off against a single opponent in the ring. Each of the fighters you face brings unique personalities and styles to bout - learning their attack patterns, timing your punches and learning to duck and block their punches is a key strategy to the game. When you're character is hit, you lose heart strength, which declines until your character is in a weakened state, at which point you have to dodge a few punches in order to regain your composure. If you successfully attack an opponent at just the right time, you can usually knock them off guard and throw several punches quickly. If you time it just right and hit your opponent when they are vulnerable, you'll earn a special Star punch that you can use to make a huge blow to your opponent, which can reduce their life bar substantially, or even knock them out. When the opposing player is knocked down to the mat, the referee counts up to ten, and if the opponent hasn't gotten up, the player automatically wins the round. When Little Mac is knocked down, you can climb back up by pressing the Wii's buttons successively. This is a fairly simple system that has its roots in the original game and its straightforward nature makes it fairly easy to use and should make Punch-Out!! accessible for players of all levels of experience.

This ease of use is only enhanced by Punch-Out's controls, which allow players to use either the Wiimote alone, add in advanced controls by plugging in the nunchuck and even shows support for the WiiFit Balance Board. Using the standard controller positioned sideways as in the original NES game allows players to box in the classic style, configured almost perfectly to the wiimote controller. It's a very simple and straightforward method of playing the game, and also highly effective if you want to jump right into the ring. There's little learning curve here, but adding the nunchuck makes things a bit more complicated, since you use the nunchuck itself to dodge, block and swing punches in motion as you would in real life. It's a fairly cool idea that's nicely implemented, but it kind of feels unnecessary in many ways. Players who own one can also stand on the Wii Fit Balance Board and use this to dodge and block, but this also feels a like more than is needed. This is a classic game at heart, and keeping things simple by using the old-fashioned controller allows for the best gameplay experience, at least as far as we can tell. The game play is fluid and fast moving, and its super-responsive controls make Punch-Out!! a joy to play no matter how you decide to play.

While this excellent remake has several new features, what's most remarkable about Punch-Out!! is how closely it resembles the original game. Everything from the player's commands and the movement of your opponent boxers remains true to the original game, at least in the initial rounds. It's a cool idea, but does seem a tad unimaginative. However, the developers have thrown a few curves in the form of a new Title Defense mode, which you can unlock after you've defeated all the opponents. This is a much more challenging mode where you have to rematch every fighter you've seen before, but this time they've got new tricks and defenses up their sleeves, which gives players an entirely new challenge to master. This makes the game much more interesting the second time around and its much harder, and should give even the veteran Punch-Out veterans out there a run for their money. The single player mode is thus fairly impressive in a number of key areas - it controls smoothly, retains the fun feel of the original game and adds a few twists to keep players on their toes. However, the developers have added another cool new mode that brings multiplayer action to the game for the first time. In this mode, you once again play as Little Mac, but this time, you face off against another Little Mac who's controlled by a friend. It plays similarly to the regular game but with a few key differences. Standard and Star punches allow you to attack foes, but you earn Giga points for each successful attack. When you've built up enough of these points, your fighter transforms into the powerful Giga Mac who is a much stronger character. When you've got the Giga Mac character, you can inflict a lot of damage on your opponents, but you aren't invulnerable, and your opponent can still dodge and block your attacks, so don't get too arrogant. The Giga Mac form also only lasts for a short time, so you need to use his attacks wisely. This makes the multiplayer matches much more interesting and gives this mode a strategy that makes things even more fun.

While the gameplay retains the original feel and mechanics, it has been upgraded graphically to Wii standards. You still view the action from a behind-the-boxer, first person perspective, but each character in the game has been retooled, giving the game a fun, animated look that allows for plenty of the series' light-hearted humor to shine through. Each boxer you face has a unique personality and character that brings the game to life in humorous tones and looks. Most of the classic characters look very much as they have in past games, while the new ones fit in with the existing cast very nicely. We'd be more specific about which characters return, but we don't want to ruin the surprise. However, one of the coolest things about the new game is the relationship between Little Mac and his trainer Doc Louis, who as usual gives Mac advice and tips along the way while providing some much-needed levity in the battles, it's lots of fun to see these two characters back at it again after all these years. There are a few nice cut-scenes that should thrill fans of the NES original, and the original music score is back in nicely updated form, making this a cool reboot that should jar the memories of anyone who loved the original game. As you might have guessed by now, the best thing about Punch-Out!! is that it stays true to its roots - you won't find anything pretentious or needless in this installment, just the solid play mechanics, humorous characters and challenging gameplay that made the original game so enduring. It's not the most innovative or original tile on Wii, but it offers a thoroughly enjoyable through a nostalgic series that should thrill the many fans of the Punch Out!! series.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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