Punch-Out Wii review. Little Mac returns to prove himself King of the Ring once again

Punch-Out Wii King Hippo character screenshot
Punch-Out Wii returns Nintendo to the classic boxing franchise that has been completely missing in action since Super Punch Out was released for the SNES in 1994.

As in past titles, the game is a behind-the-back boxing title in which you play as Little Mac, an up and coming boxer who must take on a series of colorful and crazy challengers while being trained by the eccentric chocolate-bar-loving coach Jerome “Doc” Louis.

No knowledge of previous Punch-Out titles is required for you to enjoy Punch-Out Wii. In fact you will probably enjoy it even more if, like me, you are a newbie to the series and haven’t played the previous titles.

Although the game features the returns of all the old characters you know and love, it does feature some new ones as well (although most of them are not new).

So how does the classic Punch-Out gameplay hold up in today’s world?

Punch-Out Wii logo

System: Wii
Also On: None
Release Date – USA May 18, 2009 – EUR May 22, 2009
Genre: Sports (Boxing), Action
Players: 2
Controller: Wii Remote and Nunchuck, Wii Remote turned sideways or the Wii Balance Board. Punch-Out won’t work with a Wii Classic Controller or GameCube controller.
Save: 6 Save Files/Profiles are available, you can assign a Mii to each one and it’ll keep track of your progress. The game saves automatically after each boxing match.
Developer: Next Level Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Origin: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Rated: E10+ for Everyone 10 and older (Contains: Cartoon Violence and Comic Mischief)

“Helz yeah! LITTLE MAC IS BACK!” That is what it says on a promotional bumper sticker I received from Nintendo for my review copy of Punch-Out Wii (along with a much cooler Punch-Out shirt!). And while I don’t exactly think that saying “Hellz yeah” is a phrase Nintendo should continue to use, I certainly DO think that it is warranted in this case. That’s cause Little Mac’s return to fame utterly surprised me by being even better and funner than I thought it would be.

As I stated above, I have never actually played a Punch-Out title before, despite being a huge Nintendo fan who has been gaming since the NES-era. I don’t really know why, perhaps it’s due to the fact that I have very little interest in sports (outside of watching my home Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team that is) . . . Whatever the reason, the games passed me by and I was never interested enough to look into them or to purchase them on Virtual Console when they were re-released, even though I thought about it (and after playing Punch-Out Wii, definitely will!).

And maybe it worked out for the best, because I was able to go into Punch-Out Wii with completely fresh eyes. I know the past games were critically acclaimed and I know some of the character names, but outside of that . . . I’m a total newbie.

Punch-Out Wii Von Kasier Knockout screenshot

So right from booting Punch-Out Wii up, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they took pains to make the game both a throwback to the old games (classic music) as well as making it “cool”. This is immediately noticeable thanks to the fun intro where Little Mac bops around throwing punches until he eventually punches at the screen and it shatters. Then the silence is punctuated by deep sound effects as the title screen comes up and the classic music starts playing. Definitely a nice way to start things off.

I was also glad to see that there are six profiles. This means that other people can play without having to play your file. Always a plus.

The first thing you will want to do when playing Punch-Out Wii is to start the campaign or “Career” after watching the Tutorial video under Options. There are three difficulty settings but you will need to start from the beginning and work through each, with each one getting significantly more difficult than the last. You start off in Contender (Beginner), then move to Title Defense (Medium) and finally it’s on to Little Mac’s Last Stand (Hard).

To navigate in the menus you simply use the Wii pointer and move your boxing glove cursor around and press the A Button to select.

Little Mac Punch-Out Wii artwork Punch-Out Wii is one of those games that is easy to learn but hard to master. You will really feel yourself excel the more you play and before long you will get pretty good at the game, able to duck, dodge, weave and sting like a bee with the best of them.

The controls are simple although they are a bit confusing at first. There are three ways to play the game. If you are playing with the Wii Remote & Nunchuck then you will play it using motion controls. This way is pretty self explanatory.

In Punch-Out you don’t actually move your character around the ring but instead your character stands in place as you face your opponent and try to dodge his attacks while making punches of your own.

You gesture with your right or left hand by literally making a punching motion (or simply thrusting your arm out, depending on how realistic you want to act) and that will throw a hook (normal punch). You can throw an upper-aimed punch (jab) by either holding up on the Control Stick on the Nunchuck and swinging your arm or by holding B on the Wii Remote and swinging. You use Left or right on the Control Stick to dodge in that direction, press down to duck and press up to block. Lastly, when you accumulate Stars you can throw a Star Punch by holding A while you swing.

While the motion controls work well and are fun, your arms actually do get tired out pretty quickly (course, this will differ per person). Thankfully you can switch between control schemes at anytime by simply unplugging the Nunchuck, at which point you can play with the Wii Remote turned sideways as if it was an NES controller, in classic Punch-Out style.

This works REALLY well. I was surprised at how fun it is to play with the classic style. And the controls are arguably easier here. You use the D-Pad to dodge (just like with the control stick above) and throw a left or right punch with the 1 or 2 buttons. You can jab by holding up when pressing 1 or 2 and throw Star Punches by holding A and pressing 1 or 2 when you’ve accumulated Stars.

Finally you can plug in the Wii Balance Board and use that to control Little Mac’s movements if you have a Balance Board. This is done while using either of the control schemes above for boxing and the board for Little Mac’s movements. As you’d expect, you lean left or right on the board with your feet to make Little Mac dodge and put pressure with both feet to make him duck.

When you first start up the Career mode you will only have access to one boxer, so you gotta beat each one before you can progress further in the game and fight different boxers (part of me wishes they would allow you to fight the bosses in any order).

Each boxer has their own unique patterns that you will have to master before you can topple them. This includes their own unique normal attacks and super attacks. Naturally, Punch-Out is a game that is all about timing. It is completely possible to topple all of the game’s bosses without getting hit. Of course, it will be quite a long while of playing and re-playing before you get that good. Even when you know the timing for most attacks, you won’t always actually dodge at the correct time so even when you have a boxers patterns down you are not assured of a victory. I had to replay almost all of the boxers more than once before I beat them. And more often than not it would take over 5 matches or more before I was able to knock them out.

Basically you want to time your punches to make sure that they land on your opponents body or head without being blocked. If you get blocked too much or hit by your opponent you will eventually be stunned and unable to throw a punch until you successfully dodge an attack. If you can dodge your opponents attacks that will leave them open for a punch to the body or head. There will also be certain situations where, if you time your punch exactly, you will earn a star and/or do more damage. A Star will let you throw a Star Punch which is much more powerful than a normal attack. If you can accumulate three stars your Star Punch will be even more powerful. However if you are hit you will lose all your stars, so you want to make sure to use your Star Punches when you have them or risk losing them.

Matches last for three rounds each of which is three minutes long. If you are knocked out three times before a round is over you will be TKO’d (Technical Knock Out) and lose the match. You also will lose if you are knocked down (which happens when all your health is drained) and don’t get back up before the 10 count.

The 10 Count is done really well here and makes you feel like you are really fighting due to the way the camera follows you as you get up and you furiously have to alternate punches or swings of the Wii Remote & Nunchuck to make Little Mac slowly rise to his feet. Additionally, if you knock your opponent down you can gain more health while they are down by throwing punches (much easier with the Wii Remote only control as you simply alternate pressing the 1 and 2 buttons as fast and furious as possible). If you are fast enough you can gain a significant amount of health back.

In between rounds you will see a cut-scene interlude where you are taunted by your opponent and then given some “advice” by Doc. While some of it is real advice, a lot of it is funny conjecture about his love for chocolate bars or just nonsensical comments. While these are somewhat funny the voice acting isn’t the greatest and he only has a few lines before they will start repeating. Everything can be skipped though with a press of the Minus Button.

The characters in Punch-Out are great! I loved every single one of them and because I am new to the series I found every one of them to be unique, fun, well-designed and, often, quite funny and/or amusing. The animations for all the fighters are top-notch and I loved the international angle. Every character hails from a different location of the world and the game really plays up their nationality, going as far as to have the characters speak in their own foreign language (well, foreign to you and me) which is a nice touch. Certain objects related to the characters will even fly out when you punch them, which is fun.

I think that the cast is diverse enough that everyone will have their favorite boss characters and the move-sets of said characters are diverse enough that some people will find certain boxers easier than others will.

I won’t spoil the cast here by listing characters, even though I have to force myself to resist that urge since they are so awesome! Don’t forget to check out our how to unlock all Punch-Out Wii characters guide (note: Spoiler warning if you click the guide).

In addition to the Career Mode (which is quite long even though you will refight the same boxers just on higher difficulties) there is also an Exhibition Mode. Here you will fight against the same fighters you’ve conquered in Career but in addition to a bit of different ambiance (with unique tunes per fighter) you will also have three “challenges” to try and earn per character. These range from defeating the opponent without dodging or blocking a punch, to finding each way to earn Stars to more unique ones like stopping Soda Popsinski from taking a drink.

By completing Challenges (in addition to playing through the Career) you will earn unlockables such as new music that you can listen to in the Gallery.

In addition to the single-player mode there is also a fun multiplayer mode that you can play with a friend which is essentially the same as the single-player with the added ability to transform into Giga Mac! This mode is really fun although doesn’t quite hold the weight of the single-player modes and I wish it was online and/or had more modes. But it’s a fun addition that developer Next Level Games didn’t have to include.

Overall Punch-Out is an exceptional Wii title that is arguably better than nearly all the other boxing games before it that have tried to capture what the original Punch-Out did so well. And this new title does it by, of course, going back to the basics and yet NAILING the graphics, music, animation, ambiance, controls, humor and everything else that made the original game’s so appealing. Punch-Out is one of those games that every Wii owner should have in their library. Whether you played the original games or not, “Little Mac is Back!” and you don’t want to miss it!

Punch-Out Wii Characters artwork

FUN FACTOR: 9.0
Punch-Out is a really fun boxing game that is so accessible that anyone and everyone will have a fun time challenging the game’s crazy and eccentric bosses. The game is easy to pick up and easy to learn yet difficult to master. The game is essentially exactly what it needed to be and nails the Punch-Out look and feel that will have fans and newbie’s alike cheering.

Graphics: 8.0
The game has some very fluid animation and the boss characters look great. As do the CG cut-scenes that are throwbacks to the original games. However the backgrounds are very sparse. However the focus is on the fighters afterall, and I don’t see how they could’ve done a better job in that department.

Music & Sound: 8.0
Punch-Out’s soundtrack is pretty good with lots of classic tunes (slightly updated). The music isn’t very memorable though in my humble opinion. The sound effects are pretty good as well although sometimes I feel that the game could’ve used a bit more in both the music and sound effects department. But overall what is here is good enough. No real complaints (although Doc’s voice can be pretty stilted and forced at times. But amusing at others so it’s not a bother).

Ingenuity: 7.0
Punch-Out plays just like its predecessors. However the fluidity of the controls and animation and the fact the the game supports two styles of controls and the Wii Balance Board make it a great effort by the developers to spice it up.

Replay Value: 7.5
Punch-Out has quite a lot to unlock and it will take you a while to play through the entire Career, but the game isn’t exactly “feature-packed” and could’ve included more unlockables and more modes. But overall I was satisfied.