Infendo@GDC – Hands On With Punch Out!!

Branded with heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s name, Punch-Out!! on the NES locked itself into the classic console’s top twenty – and still remains a prime example of simple yet solid gameplay.  It’s no surprise that Punch-Out!! has been one of the most heavily anticipated Wii titles of 2009, the very moment we tried Wii-Sports boxing, we knew it had to happen.  At GDC 2009, I had a chance to go three rounds with legendary pushover Glass Joe – and found Punch-Out to be a far cry from Wii-Sports boxing – for the better.

Punch-Out!! on Wii oozes that classic feel – from the moment you throw your first punch, you know where this game stands, it’s a punchout title through and through.  Familiar characters with familiar traits leaves you feeling right at home in the new iteration  – and the transition looks amazing.  The graphical style suits the series quite well, character animations are smooth and fluid – it’s a visual joy to see how Little Mac dodges, ducks, and bashes his opponent’s face in.  As the fight wears on, your opponent’s physicque will suffer blemishes, bruises, swelling – but not to any gross or disgusting extent – the cartoony design certainly suits this title well, but let’s get into the meat of it – is it fun?

Boy howdy it is!  Basic controls are pretty simple – punch your fist forward and Little Mac does the same – but it’s not quite straight up motion control boxing.  Seasoned WIi owners know that in many games, motion matters more than direction – while punching forward to attack works fine, it’s more comfortable and easier to shake the Wii Remote and Nunchuck down as if playing the drums – in fact, the Nintendo Staffer who demoed the title to me recommends using the “drum method.”  As a result, it seems there are only two motion controls in the game, “left punch,” and “right punch.”  They style of your attack is determined by what buttons you are holding down, or where you have positioned the control stick.  It’s an easy and comfortable control scheme that suits the Punch-Out!! series very well, but it’s clearly no boxing simulator – a punch is a punch, no matter how you swing it.  By design, playing with the Wii-Remote along in “classic style,” also suits the game very well.

Gameplay is also very similar to the title’s predecessors.  Little Mac stands in front of his opponent and can dodge left and right, hitting blows to the face or stomach – the limited movement area is no more restricting it was in it’s predecessors – all the gameplay that matters is right in front of you, and you ome away with the same satisfying experience presented on the NES. Tactics have changed a little – you no longer need to look for a “tell” in your opponents actions to know when you can land a hit – punches will damage your enemy at nearly any point – but knowing to watch for specific motions or flashes of red will allow you to power up your “star” punch, delivering a devastating and often quite animated blow to your opponent.

While the demo seemed a little too easy, I’ll give it the benefit of the dobut – there may be more difficulty settings, and my time spent with the game only pitted me against the weakest of the game’s boxers.  It also strikes me that more could have been done with motion controls, but there is absolutely no denying the fun this game puts out as is.  Punch-Out!!! for Wii is shaping up to be a great single player title, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays when combined with the Balance Board – a control option that was announced, but was not on demo at GDC.  Keep your eye on Infendo for more on Punch-Out!! as the game draws nearer to release!