Nintendo has brought its boxing game out of retirement after 15 years, with Punch Out!! for Wii being the most recent addition to the series since Super Punch Out!! on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. As in previous versions of the series, the game follows the career of Little Mac, an up-and-coming contender who starts at the bottom of the Minor Circuit and fights his way up through the ranks to become a contender for the World Circuit championship. Also as before, the Nintendo boxing title is more of a platformer and pattern recognition game than a true boxing simulation -- even when compared to the Wii Sports boxing game.
Nintendo hasn't lost the gameplay of the much-loved franchise, and for some the Wii version of the game may be far too similar to past versions to be of much interest (at least at the full price tag). What truly makes the Wii version of the game unique is the different methods of playing. Players can use traditional controls, turning the Wii Remote sideways and using it like a classic controller -- much as they would for playing the Nintendo Entertainment System version that can be purchased from the Wii Virtual Console store. Punches are thrown and dodges are made by pushing buttons and using the directional pad, respectively. This is probably the easiest way to play and get good at the game, but it's also the least fun when considering the other options. For those who prefer the old-school Punch Out!! style, though, the classic controller scheme will be just fine.
Oddly enough, the Wii Classic Controller is not actually supported; neither is the GameCube controller. While it's understandable that Nintendo chose not to support the GameCube controller (even though they did support it with the latest instalment of Mario Kart), it seems like an odd choice not to support the Classic Controller. One might consider this a minor flaw in the game's controller support. However, the gameplay really starts to shine when using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk -- a combination that has players boxing much like they would while playing boxing in Wii Sports. As Little Mac, players have a little bit more choice in their moves and punches than in Wii Sports boxing. Players throw right and left punches with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and then block, dodge and duck using the control stick on the Nunchuk. Additionally, jabs are made by holding the B or Z button and throwing a punch, while the star punch is achieved by holding the C button and throwing a punch. Players who enjoy Wii Sports boxing will probably prefer the Wii Remote/Nunchuk controller scheme over the Wii Remote classic controls, and the ability to throw punches is what really makes the Wii version of Punch Out!! different from its predecessors.
Is the ability to throw punches not enough? Add in the Wii Balance Board to make things even more challenging and engaging. Now leaning side-to-side to dodge and bending at the knees to duck adds another level of play to the game. While tricky, the Wii Balance Board addition may not be for everybody (like this writer), but it can add another level of immersion into the game that hasn't been seen in the console series before.
In Punch Out!! for Wii, the story follows the same format as before. Little Mac is an up-and-coming boxer who kicks off his career by fighting in the Minor Circuit before making his way up through the ranks of the Major Circuit and World Circuit. The opponents are a mix of old and new, with the old fighters following many of same patterns gamers used to the series will already be familiar with. Minor Circuit features familiar faces Glass Joe, Von Kaiser and King Hippo, as well as newcomer to the series Disco Kid. Figuring out the patterns of the Minor Circuit fighters is no great feat, and most gamers should be able to progress through the circuit fairly quickly before moving on to the Major Circuit, which features series regulars Piston Hondo, Great Tiger and Don Flamenco, as well as newcomer Bear Hugger.
When moving from the Major Circuit to the World Circuit, the difficulty increases sharply, which may result in some unexpected -- and rather quick -- losses. Aryan Ryan, Soda Popinski, Bald Bull, Super Macho Man and Mr. Sandman are the folks to beat here, and it'll take some time to get used to their combos before being able to counter their attacks. Thankfully, Punch Out!! features Exhibition Mode in addition to Career Mode to keep that win/loss ratio as good as possible. Once fighters have been unlocked in Career Mode, they are made available in Exhibition Mode, which pits Little Mac against hologram opponents that act in the same way as their Career Mode counterparts. However, Little Mac is given unlimited health, which gives the player the ability to fight until the combos are mastered without fear of getting knocked out. This is in contrast to previous entries in the series. Whereas the original Punch Out!! featured codes that the player would enter to resume where he left off, now players simply rack up a win/loss count as they fight opponents.
Unfortunately, once an opponent is defeated, players can't go back to fight them again without restarting the game again. Even if wins against defeated opponents didn't count towards the win/loss ratio, it would be nice to have the opportunity to very easily jump back to fight a favoured opponent. Sadly, this isn't the case, and it truly feels like a missed opportunity.
A bonus over the previous games in the series is that once players have beaten Career Mode, the game still offers some additional replay value. Once Career Mode has been completed, Title Defense Mode opens up. Players fight through the same range of fighters, but their moves and combos have been changed so as to offer gamers who have pushed this far an additional challenge. If a player manages to beat the Title Defense Mode Mr. Sandman, then a secret character opens up, allowing the player to go toe-to-toe with Donkey Kong.
If that's not enough, the completion of Title Defense Mode opens up Last Stand Mode, where the player has to face a series of random opponents. Three losses and it's all over for Little Mac, but if players can push through and beat ten opponents, Champions Mode will open up, in which Little Mac gets knocked down after one hit.
Really, there's a fair bit packed into the game, and it should keep gamers busy fighting through the ranks. While the comparisons to Wii Sports boxing are obvious, the two games play very differently and offer different options for boxing (sometimes it's difficult to believe I'm still really enjoying a launch title that came with the console). Whether the replay value is the same is really up to the individual player to decide, although I find I almost prefer to pop in Wii Sports when I'm looking for some casual and quick fun. As with Wii Sports boxing, Punch Out!! also gives players the option of going head-to-head in a split-screen mode.
Overall, the gameplay itself is fun, and there are enough options (Wii Remote, Wii Remote/Nunchuk, Balance Board) to suit the preferences of any gamer. While graphically the game may not match up against games on powerhouse systems Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the Wii has not really been about graphic-intensive games. Taking Punch Out!! into the realm of 3D graphics is a nice touch but really has little bearing on how good the game is. For fans of the series, Punch Out!! for the Wii will provide a nice mix of old school gameplay and new challenges; and for those who have never played a Punch Out!! game before, it should be a nice change of pace that hearkens back to a different era of video games.