It’s extremely difficult to craft a game that hits the “fun for everyone” mark without it also becoming a dumbed-down mess. Nintendo’s remarkably good at this though, from Mario to Wii Sports, as well as the original Punch-Out!! for NES. Even 20 years after its release, the first game remains a strong connection among gamers and non-gamers thanks to its pick-up-and-play appeal and freakish, goofy ass boxers. Truly, Punch-Out!! is one of the most beloved franchises Nintendo owns, despite having only two prior games.
Above: Rampant fandom, from scarves to shirts to bead art
We’re stupidly happy to say the latest entry is just as approachable as the classics, yet simultaneously offers a deceptively deep, frustratingly awesome fighting system that rewards risk takers and creative thinkers.
To the casual player, it’s a colorful, exaggerated take on boxing that’s plain ol’ fun to play. They’ll see the game like this:
Above: A simple dodge-then-counter approach will suffice
For the advanced players, those who’ve played the NES and SNES games over and over, the simple “move out of the way” approach disappears, revealing an ocean of feints, counterattacks and one-punch KOs that drastically change depending on who you’re fighting. They’ll see the game more like this:
Above: Experimentation reveals many, many new ways to win
Each of the 13 boxers has his own repeating pattern of trademark attacks, and each of these swings is preceded by a “tell” that lets you know which attack he’s about to do. Examples: they’ll flash red before swinging, or move their eyebrows, or say something out loud. Gamers who identify with that first image will just move and try to counterattack. Gamers who understand the second image have a bevy of choices with various consequences.
Do you just move out of the way and return punches? Do you attempt to interrupt their attack with a well-timed jab? If so, do you strike their face or stomach? Do you use your level one Star Punch or save up for more? Figuring out when and where to strike is the meat of the game, so there’s tons of replay value here for those who want to shave every last second off their KO time or discover the most destructive combos. It’s not about clearing the game and watching the credits, it’s about systematically destroying each and every opponent in the fastest, flashiest way possible.
Above: This flashing jewel means Great Tiger’s about to jab
This “deep as you want it to be” approach is mirrored in the game’s two primary modes. The first trip through the three circuits will be suitably tough for newcomers and comparatively easy for vets; if you’re really good, beating the game will take about two, three hours tops. After that, Title Defense mode opens up with the same roster of boxers, only now they’ve learned from their previous mistakes and come at you with all-new patterns and moves.
Above: Glass Joe in Title Defense is… actually kinda tough
We’re hardened fans and had a hell of a time scraping through Title Defense. You’ll have to fight some of these guys five, six, even 10 times before knocking them down. So, a casual player can “beat” the game reasonably, while the rest of us can sink our teeth into the wholly different experience that is Title Defense. The only downside to this mode is, well, they deal substantially more damage than you can, can absorb more pain than you can and apparently don’t even have to obey traditional boxing rules – you have to knock ‘em down three times in one match (TKO), but they can hit you so hard on the second knockdown, you’re instantly beaten. Makes you want to scream.
It’s one of those things where you’ll swear you’re going to break the controller in half, smash the disc and throw the Wii into the deepest volcano on Earth because Bald Bull is too goddamn hard… and still find yourself back in the ring 10 minutes later, ready to try again. Like we said, frustratingly awesome.