Punch Out!! Review

Earlier this afternoon, something piqued my curiosity and I decided to see how many games, DVDs, etc. I've reviewed since I starting working with gamerstemple.com about three years ago. Going through the document folders on my laptop, I was floored to see that up to this point, I've reviewed over 100 games for this site; a number that grows quite a bit when you add all the DVD, iPhone and gadget reviews to that grand total. That seems like a whole lot, but writing these reviews has become almost as reflexive as inverting the Y-axis in shooters or ignoring instruction booklets - I get the games, I play the games and it has become second nature to then review the games. So what does any of that have to do with Nintendo's long-overdue update/remake to the twitchy NES classic Punch-Out!!! (or Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!! for those of you who are older than dirt)? In learning the number of reviews I've have had the pleasure of writing over the past few years, I realized that assembling the review for the sequel to my absolute favorite game of all time is not only a privilege, it is something I've been anticipating for literally 20 years. And guess what? Punch-Out!!! on Nintendo's Wii system was worth the wait - every last second of it.

I realize that there is a huge segment of the gaming population who isn't old enough to remember the original arcade Punch-Out!!!, let alone the NES version of the game, so here is your background info. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!! hit the NES in the late '80s and instantly become one of the most fondly remembered games of the day, right up there with Super Mario Bros. and Contra. Unforgettable opponents, tight, twitchy gameplay and arguably the best and most memorable final boss fight EVER melded to produce one of the single greatest video games in history. A follow up, Super Punch-Out!!! was released on the SNES a few years later, but it lacked the cast, charm and difficulty that made the first game a classic. Thankfully, Nintendo went back to everything that made the NES original great, and in turn, released not only a game worthy of being held up next to the flawless original, but also the one of the best games (possibly THE best) on the Wii to date.

I'll start with this: Not everyone is going to enjoy Punch-Out!!! the way they should. The game is extremely old school in its presentation, which I can imagine will turn off some of the newer gaming generation. In Little Mac's shoes, you'll fight through three circuits worth of boxers in the career mode, complete a series of difficult challenges in exhibition mode and a fight through a mode or two I won't ruin for you. Listen to this next bit very carefully - Nintendo's Punch-Out!!! has zero online capabilities, no story, a microscopic multiplayer mode (that isn't even close to being entertaining), no downloadable content… pretty much everything games boast about these days. And while most would lower the game's score for these oversights, I'm actually adding points to the final rating because of them. What? Why? To put it as plainly as possible, Nintendo deserves a medal and a slow clap for not caving to the online multiplayer crowd and creating a bizarre product that couldn't be enjoyed by anyone. Remember Metroid's multiplayer? I do - it was awful. Like Metroid, a game based around single player solitude, a multiplayer mode in Punch-Out!!! simply makes no sense at all. Yes, they've included a small multiplayer component in this game (not small enough), but it is little more than a minor distraction from the better single player modes, putting it in a position to not ding my final overall score.

Remember what I said about people not getting into this because of its old-school sensibilities? That is important to keep that in mind when discussing this next part. Punch-Out!!! is a difficult game, no questions asked. It requires lightning fast reflexes, memorization of patterns and a hefty bit of exploration, especially when earning better times or more super punches. Add to the steep difficulty the fact that your only reward for playing well is satisfaction and bragging rights and you'll turn off more than a few. For whatever reason, I can't imagine the online deathmatch people, folks who are used to the modern age of gaming's complete lack of truly challenging games and single player campaigns, striving to beat their own times in Punch-Out!!!, but then again, I can't imagine myself ever enjoying an online deathmatch. Different strokes, I guess.