Boxing is great exercise. Highly aerobic, it requires quick reflexes, physical stamina, a lot of power and not minding having your nose broken in 17 places. For those who want the benefits of boxing without the unfortunate facial reconstruction, there is Next Level Games’ Punch-Out!!, a terrific boxing game that will leave you sweaty but unbroken.
Gameplay: Duck, Hit, Block, Hit
The game is simply a matter of getting in the ring with a series of increasingly powerful opponents. Those you face are as odd as they are dangerous, and include a disco dancer and a French boxer who when knocked out flies through the air surrounded by baguettes. It’s all pretty silly, but it adds a little low humor to the brutal task of beating people up.
Basic gameplay is quite straightforward, barely necessitating the game’s underwhelming tutorial. You hold the Wii remote in one hand, the nunchuk in the other, and punch. Holding down a button while punching will throw a “jab,” which the dictionary defines as a “short straight punch” but which in the context of the game simply seems to mean punching at the head instead of the body.
Opponents will attempt to block your punches. Failing to land punches will exhaust your boxer; too many failed punches and you will be too tired to throw a blow. This keeps players from randomly punching in hopes of landing a lucky blow.
You can also dodge and duck. This can be done with the nunchuk’s control stick, but if you have a Wii balance board you can use that instead; shift your weight to the left or right to dodge, crouch to duck. This is a great use of the balance board; it’s simple but adds a level of extra excitement and immersion to the game.
You block by pushing up the control stick. This is the game’s only glaring design flaw, because it compares poorly with the intuitive nature of the rest of the controls. I find it perplexing that Punch-Out!! doesn’t let you block by bringing the remote and nunchuk together as you can in Wii Sport’s boxing mini-game. Because of the unnaturalness of blocking, I almost never did it.
Opponents telegraph their punches, winding up and turning slightly red so you know when to duck, dodge or block. There are usually specific methods for dealing with each opponent. In once case, punching a boxer in the face causes his pants to drop, allowing you to land a flurry of belly blows while he is stands there in embarrassed confusion. Fortunately for you, it never occurs to him to tighten his boxing shorts between rounds.
As you might imagine, all this punching and dodging is pretty exhausting. After three rounds of boxing I would drop onto the couch, gasping and dripping with sweat. This makes Punch-Out!! the best Wii workout video game since Active Life: Outdoor Challenge.
The Old-School Approach: There if You Want It
I was having so much fun punching, parrying and weaving that I was rather startled to read reviews elsewhere suggesting players eschew all that for the game’s remote-only control scheme, in which you turn the remote on its side and play the game entirely by pushing buttons. For me this takes about half the fun out of the game. This is clearly another example of the reviewer nostalgia something I’ve mentioned before. Punch-Out!! has been released previously on the NES in 1987 and the SNES in 1991, and those with fond memories of the older versions want the game they played 20 years ago.
What a waste. Punch-Out!! with the full control set is incredibly immersive, making you feel like a real boxer, and I would no more trade in the punching and weaving for a 20-year-old control system than I would play racing games with an analog stick rather than a steering wheel controller.
For me, the only problem with Punch-Out!! is that it can’t get rid of button pushing altogether. Besides the unfortunate choice of using the analog stick for blocking, it is also unfortunate that you have to press a button to jab rather than simply raising your hands. This isn’t the game’s fault, since the Wii isn’t designed to register the remote’s relative height (although I’ve heard this might be possible with the upcoming Wii Motion Plus); I’m just saying it would be an awesome addition.
Conclusion: Good Fun, Good Exercise
These are minor quibbles. Overall, Punch-Out!! is a tremendously entertaining game, offering an exciting, immersive, exhausting experience that will tone your muscles, strengthen (or explode) your heart, and, most importantly, not require any treatment from a plastic surgeon.