Punch-Out!! Fists-On Impressions: Little Mac Is Back

Nintendo is giving players the opportunity to lace up their gloves for some hands-on time with Punch-Out!! on the Wii. I went a few rounds with the game to get an idea of how developer Next Level updated the classic arcade boxing game for the Wii.

nope Punch-Out!! once again puts you in the boots of Little Mac, a small-time boxer with big dreams and an always-get-up attitude. Much like the Punch-Out games for the NES and SNES, Punch-Out!! on the Wii starts you off on the minor circuit where you have to fight your way up the ranks to eventually become the champ.

If you've played the older Punch-Out games you'll instantly recognize most of the cast in Punch-Out!! on the Wii. Aside from Little Mac there's his faithful trainer Doc, and a familiar roster of zany characters to battle, including Glass Joe and King Hippo.

The most significant update in Punch-Out!! on the Wii is of course the controls. Punch-Out!! has always been a series that demanded quick reflexes, pattern recognition, and a lot of repetitive button mashing, and this new version remains faithfully devoted to that style of gameplay.

The difference is that now instead of mashing the A and B buttons on your old NES pad, you're actually performing the punching motions. Holding the Nunchuk in one hand and the Wii Remote in the other, you simply punch the air in front of you to make Little Mac pummel his opponents on screen. Using the analog stick on the Nunchuk you can dodge incoming punches by moving left, right, or ducking.

If you're on the attack you can push the analog stick up to attack the head, or leave it in the neutral position to attack the body. The only button pressing you'll have to do in the game is pressing A to initiate a super punch. The result is a game of boxing that feels just as responsive and quick today as it did more than 20 years ago on the NES.

If you're looking for an even more old-school experience you can simply unplug the Nunchuk, turn the Wii Remote sideways, and play using the d-pad and face buttons. Using this setup I was able to dodge attacks and unleash combos quickly and easily, making short work of King Hippo and a new fighter, the flamboyant Kid Disco. If you've ever played a Punch-Out game before, you'll be right at home with this control setup.

Once again the fighters you face all have their own unique attacks and weaknesses, and if you can time your attack right you can maximize the damage you inflict and earn stars, used to perform super punches. BOOM video 1651

I knew from previous experience that King Hippo would be difficult to hit in the face. Instead I had to wait until he attacked, then dodge and pop him in the mouth. At this point his shorts would fall down, leaving his massive belly exposed as he tried to pull up his trunks. Then I could pound away on his pot-belly until eventually he went down, unable to recover under his own power.

The few fights I played weren't especially challenging, but you can bet the fighters will get faster, stronger, and probably cheaper as you progress through the game.

The graphics in Punch-Out!! stick very close to the cartoon style of the previous games in the series. One odd feature in this version of the game is the complete lack of any background details while in a fight. Aside from the fighters, the ring, and a couple life bars, there are no visual touches whatsoever. The fighters look good though, with perfectly quick and smooth animation, cinematic super moves, and faces and bodies that become bloody and bruised as the fight wears on.

Punch-Out!! on the Wii feels very familiar, but that's a good thing. The gameplay is exactly what you would want or expect from a Punch-Out game, and the controls are responsive and easy to pick up.

Aside from the motion controls and at least one new character, Punch-Out!! on the Wii doesn't appear to bring anything new to the series. That's just fine, but if the major addition is just motion controls, some fans may be better off downloading the excellent (and cheaper) Super Punch-Out on Virtual Console than paying full price.

Punch-Out!! arrives in North American retailers on May 18, with the Virtual Console release of Super Punch-Out due sometime in May.