The "Punch-Out!!" series has been a victim of revisionist history. Few people mistook the games as simulations of real boxing, but were all of those fond memories still misguided? Every opponent was just a fixed pattern of jabs and uppercuts, designed to be memorized through trial and error.
Next Level Games accepted the task of re-introducing "Punch-Out!!" to the gaming world on Wii. Part re-make, part re-hash, yet all raucous fun, this version focuses on what made Mike Tyson’s "Punch-Out!!" great in the first place. So, as most fans’ idea of what a new "Punch-Out!!" game should be, it’s pretty much perfect.
"Punch-Out!!" is not a boxing game (the fighters can’t even maneuver around the ring), but as an action/puzzle hybrid where the puzzles are presented as boxing matches, it’s pretty fantastic. Every attack has some form of answer: dodge left, dodge right, duck, block or interrupt with a punch. Finding the fastest and most efficient path to a TKO can be addictive fun.
Reviving a series designed around two buttons and a d-pad in 2009 sounds foolish, but the twitch-reflex-based mechanics of "Punch-Out!!" have aged remarkably well. With a Wii controller held sideways, this game offers Nintendo Entertainment System-era precision and challenge in their purest forms.
A "Punch-Out!!" designed for motion controls (which are an option should you desire) isn’t a bad idea, but this rendition clearly uses the NES original as a starting point. At the end of the day, nothing beats the responsiveness of an analog button. You’ll have more fun quietly ignoring the motion control options altogether.
Although the initial pursuit of the world championship belt feels a little too familiar (most boxers use the same moves and even have the same weak spots as their NES counterparts), "Punch-Out!!" shines brightest here because you can actually read incoming attacks and react accordingly. Memorizing the patterns is just a crutch to fall back on if your reflexes can’t do the job alone.
After Little Mac claims the belt, all of the defeated opponents line up for rematches in the significantly tougher Title Defense mode. Some have new tricks up their sleeves and can’t be put down the same way as before, but the immense challenge comes from their increased speed and multitude of fake-outs. Losing the belt to the puny Frenchman, Glass Joe is a humbling experience indeed.
The best part of this classic revival has to be the returning cast of characters, now more emotive and colorful than ever. Favorites such as King Hippo, Bald Bull and Great Tiger never got the attention they deserved next to the rest of Nintendo’s iconic mascots, so it’s great for these guys to have a second moment in the spotlight.
Each fighter is a blatant stereotype of his ethnicity, but it’s all in good fun. Their personalities are akin to pro wrestlers’ villainous personas on television: you love to hate them. Some might perceive "Punch-Out!!" as the most racist game of all time, but like the musical "Avenue Q" says: “everyone's a little bit racist.”
If you never understood what the big deal was about Mike Tyson’s "Punch-Out!!," let this game turn you into a believer. The Nintendo faithful are bound to master every facet of the Wii game in the same fashion as they did the NES game. Record times will be set and new secrets will be discovered, but one thing will always remain the same: Little Mac looks funny wearing a pink tracksuit.