No other game series in history has combined over-the-top violence and ethnic stereotypes as effectively as Nintendo’s Punch-Out!!. Whether you are beating baguettes, pineapples, or just the shit out of someone, Punch-Out!!‘s triumphant return to current gen systems is nostalgic, frustrating fun.
This is still second (or third, or… well, fifth, really) verse, same as the first: the core Punch-Out!! experience has not evolved much from previous incarnations. You got your three circuits, your set of four or five boxers per circuit, your vintage duckin’ and divin’ and weavin’ and beatin’ gameplay. There is no learning curve to jump in—if you’ve been beating up ethnic stereotypes for a while, you will feel right at home here.
What has been updated is the presentation; everything has been given a fresh, cartoony new veneer that oozes personality. Even Little Mac, the mute-but-for-the-grunts New American protagonist, pops off the screen each time he catches one in the kisser. Doc, your chocolate-obsessed cutter, has a bunch of great (read: hilarious) mid-bout tips that provide some weird insight into your opponents as well as hark back to previous games (“Join the Nintendo Fun Club, Mac!”). Even better than the Mac Attack are his rivals faced in the circuits—it’s a who’s-who of Punch-Out!! alums, as Bald Bull, Mr. Sandman, King Hippo, and all the rest show up for their beatin’s. Each of the fights is preceded by a vignette that riffs on the character’s ethnic background (stereotypical music, overt imagery; shit, even with all this you get some character moments, too!) that totally encapsulates the fighters; these guys are larger than life both figuratively and literally.
The gameplay is vintage Punch-Out!!: this ain’t boxing, pals, this is pattern recognition mixed with high-risk, high-reward hijinks. Each boxer has his own set pattern of punishment that you learn from trial and error—I’m looking at you, Soda Popinski (Vodka Drunkinski!)—that you can exploit by dodging and punishing. Almost every boxer also has a fairly well-hidden secret “button” that if “pressed” results in a “self destruct.” These one-hit knockdowns require some serious timing and skill, and you normally have to place yourself in great danger in order to use them. But like I said, with that high-risk comes high-reward: dropping Bald Bull with a single punch makes you feel like the ultimate badass. You can control your badass in a number of different ways: motion-controlled nunchucks (paired with the balance board for dodging, if you are a sadist) as well as old-school NES style. Each is perfectly acceptable, although hardcore pugilists will prefer the NES controls and everyone should avoid the balance board. You have been warned.
Once you’ve conquered the circuits, you can experience things again from a different perspective in Title Defense, where you face all the rivals again. This sounds like some shitty, artificial way to lengthen the life of the game by repeating bosses (Hello, Devil May Cry 4!), but these fights have the difficulty ramped up to the extreme. Piston Hondo (may your “a” rest in piece, buddy) may be a cakewalk on your first go round, this guy will rape you the next time. After slogging through this mode you can fight the ultra secret 14th boxer who, while being kind of a cop out, fights unlike anything you’ve faced before.
On top of all this, you can earn medals in the Exhibition mode by meeting certain requirements—beating someone with five punches, say—that range from head-scratchers to controller-throwers. These challenges make you think about the fights in a different way and help you see Punch-Out!! the way it was meant to be seen: as a funny, puzzle/rhythm-based boxing game.
[!/mrface5.jpg "Mr. Face say this game AWESOME. Mr. Face never wrong!")
*Mr. Face say this game AWESOME.
Mr. Face never wrong!*