Before we begin, a bit of clarification; today I’ll be talking about Punch Out!! on the Wii and not the original title from the 80s. Now, this isn’t to say that the original title is to be disregarded, but simply that I feel its sequel on the Wii wasn’t given as much due credit as the original was once given. Punch Out!! is at times both a remake and a sequel to the original. It really doesn’t stray far from its roots. But sometimes you don’t need to re-invent the wheel, simply shine it a bit.
For those unfamiliar with the franchise and this particular entry, Punch Out!! is about a boxer named Little Mac who is competing his way to become the number 1 boxing champion. That’s the first half of the game. The second half of the game is defending your title before you can retire. That’s it. No epic narrative here. Simply the story of an aspiring boxer.
That isn’t to say the story, plain as it may be, is without its interesting cast of characters. Punch Out!! takes characters from across various games in the franchise and puts together an all-star cast of fan favorites. From Glass Joe to Bear Hugger, Bald Bull to Mr. Sandman; it’s a great trip for any long time fan of the franchise. However, I must admit to one thing. Many of these characters were developed originally in Japan and during a much simpler time. While the game is never overly offensive, many of the characters you find are hardcore national stereotypes and those who may take offensive to such caricatures might be better avoiding this game. You have the constantly drinking Russian named Soda Popinski (originally Vodka Drunkenski), the turban wearing Indian Great Tiger, and the German Von Kaiser with his bushy mustache and suspenders to name a few. It is true that all of these are fairly tired clichés, but to be honest I don’t feel it detracts from their charm. It strikes me as being very akin to the many national stereotypes played up in other older games focused around world tournaments, like Street Fighter II. None of them feel intentionally offensive, but still, be warned if this stuff riles you up.
Mechanically, the game has benefits from a very time tested formula of simple mechanics focused around increasingly difficult challenges for you to test yourself on. You can dodge left/back/right, block, and punch high left/high right/low left/low right. You can also perform a special super upper cut at key points in the fight as well, but these have their limits. With these tools, you need to KO your opponent or at the very least perform better than them before 3 rounds are up. The great part of the game is just how much it tests you on this relatively simple amount of actions. Enemies will give certain tells before special moves and will even occasional fake players out to score an easy hit. Sometimes they’ll attack with an attack that will hit you if you are blocking or dodging left, but not if you are dodging back or right. To perform at your best potential, you’ll often have to counter punch the opponent at the precise moment before they pull off a certain attack. This game is one of the pinnacles of slowly mastering enemy fights. Eventually, you’ll be able to KO certain foes extremely early in fights, such as within 10-20 seconds. Few games highlight a player’s personal growth as well as Punch Out!!
Another thing I absolutely love about Punch Out!! is just how smoothly the difficult ramps up on players. The game starts off extremely easy, putting you against enemies that don’t take that many punches and don’t use that complicated of strategies. Slowly but steadily, it makes its way through its full cast so that players can get a feel for all the different tactics the full cast uses. Once the player overcomes all of this, they fight all the same fighters again but from the position of a champion defending his title. Make no mistake, this is no simple rematch when you are fighting all the cast a second time. Many of the fighters have refined their basic techniques and strategies from when you first fought them and require you to both recall their initial weakness and demand you learn how to exploit it much more efficiently a second time. This isn’t just done mechanically, but visually as well. Enemies will come back to fight you better equipped, covering their weak spot with whatever they can. It makes for a spectacular game that has 2 coats of difficulty, where they are able to reuse fighters and their strategies in an extremely smart way that also provides the player with a very satisfying challenge.
Overall, I highly recommend Punch Out!! on the Wii. It lives up to its predecessors and helps polish the original experience pioneered from way back when. It gives the player a simple tool kit, not too big or too small, and slowly immerses you into the game with a very smooth difficulty ramp. It’s great playing by yourself or with spectators watching you and cheering advice on what they think you should do. The characters are colorful and entertaining, their clichés feeling very retro and almost like something out of a 1980s feel good action flick. Pick it up if you have the chance!