I initially started writing this review in response to some negative reaction I’ve read to Punch-Out!! and to Nintendo overall, even drawing comparisons between the company and Canadian rockers Sloan. But after wading through thousands of my own words I realized that a forced 1990s music history lesson had as little place in a game review as arbitrary numerical scores and choice quotes pulled from the backs of boxes.
Punch-Out!! is the successor to Super Punch-Out!!, itself a successor to the NES version of an arcade game. The series has followed the career of Little Mac throughout the World Video Boxing Association. Although in each game the player presumably rises through the ranks to become the world’s best boxer, something must happen behind the scenes that drops poor Little Mac back down to rookie level. Luckily this kind of backstory isn’t important to each game – all we need to know is that there are dudes that need punching, and that we’re the ones that will knock them out… eventually.
The Wii Remote and Nunchuck work well as Little Mac’s right and left fists, respectively. Swinging either forward results in Mac mimicking your moves. Face jabs are performed by pushing the control stick upwards while swinging, while dodging is handled via left, right, and down directions.
There are three circuits to complete, and surviving them will in turn open up alternate and more challenging modes of play. Each consecutive match presents new challenges, faster boxers, and trickier patterns to recognize. The classic Punch-Out!! theme has been re-composed, and variations of it play during the fights, adding to the intensity of the matches. The game can be played the old school way in which you hold the Wii Remote sideways and use only button combinations for moves, but the motion control option brings things to a whole new level, thus validating the game’s existence on this merit alone.
I can only play Punch-Out!! for a little more than half an hour at a time, each time making my way through only a handful of boxers. The game can be physically demanding of you if you allow it to be, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find an incredible amount of enjoyment in counterpunching enemies and unleashing a flurry of punches their way. You will work up a sweat, you will pant, and you will absolutely love it.
But good, engrossing, controls are not a good enough reason to like a game, and thankfully Punch-Out!! delivers on several other levels as well. The cel-shaded look doesn’t come across well in still images, but on the screen the characters come alive with colourful personalities and fluid animations. The first few boxers present little challenge if you’re familiar with the series, but soon enough you’ll come across enemies you’ll have to face a few times just to figure out.
Additionally, it’s not the kind of game to play from start to finish in one sitting – in fact doing so might cause you to pass out from exhaustion. If you swing with enough vigour, landing punches can be incredibly rewarding. Getting trounced, on the other hand, is oftentimes devastating, especially when a fight goes three rounds and you’ve exhausted yourself from swinging like mad. The cast of characters also includes a special secret boxer that Nintendo fans will get a kick out of, but that’s all I will say regarding that.
Each boxer brings his own distinct moves and personality to the ring. Be forewarned: these personalities are somewhat based on inappropriate and even racist stereotypes that thankfully do not subtract from my overall enjoyment of the game. But I’m left to wonder why they’re included in the first place, and I wish they weren’t in there. Yes, the original title abused these stereotypes profusely, but does the fact that this game is a successor to it mean it needs to also include the stereotypes, as toned down as they may be?
It’s one thing to make use of stereotypes to point out how stupid they are, but I don’t believe the game’s designers were trying to do this since the medium isn’t one that is conducive to this kind of subversion, and that Punch-Out!! isn’t the kind of title that should attempt this. Even if they were trying to poke fun at stereotypes by using them, the producers should be reminded of Dave Chappelle’s attempt to do so which resulted in several people (including members of the live audience at his shows) not understanding it and instead taking his jokes at their superficial levels. There are also people that don’t realize Team America World Police and The Colbert Report make fun of right-wing American politics. I’m not saying the subversive approach is bad – in fact I’m a huge fan of it when done correctly.
Sadly most gamers won’t give any of this a second thought, and those that do may end up getting uncomfortable, defensive, and possibly flippant should the topic arise. They might resort to statements such as, “It’s only a videogame – why are you trying to bring race into it?” Well, I didn’t put the stereotypes in the game. I’m just saying they’re there, and that they don’t need to be.
In the end, Punch-Out!! still delivers in all the important ways a game should. It’s fun, challenging, and compelling enough to keep players coming back for consecutive beatings. The graphic style established in previous games in the series hasn’t been compromised by the 3D facelift, and the updated look suits the franchise perfectly. Don’t let its goofy façade and initial ease of play fool you: Punch-Out!! is a game that even gamers who call themselves “hardcore” can enjoy.