Modern remakes of old movies, games and TV shows have to tread a fine line. Change it too much, and you'll enrage the existing fans. Don't change it enough and you get accused of just cynically re-hashing a classic. So you might imagine some trepidation at Next Level Games when Nintendo asked them to develop the first new Punch-Out!! game since the early '90s.
But to our delight, the Vancouver-based studio pulled it off with aplomb. Punch-Out!! on Wii brought back all the charm, character and reflex-based gameplay of the old games, as well as creating an incredibly handsome new stylised look, motion controls and a much deeper challenge.
We loved it, and we wanted to know more. So we asked gameplay lead Bryce Holliday, producer Ken Yeeloy and audio director Chad York all about the game's journey from concept to the store shelves.
ONM: What did you find were the main challenges involved in resurrecting such a treasured franchise?
Bryce Holliday: There were many challenges in resurrecting the Punch-Out!! franchise but two really stuck out during development of the game. The first was how much can we stick to the original gameplay mechanics and camera. In the beginning there were grand designs of adding lots of controls, moving around the ring and adding new camera movements but during the prototype phase these were all left on the cutting room floor because, as fans of the original games, they just did not 'feel' like the old Punch-Out!!.
After discussions between Next Level Games and Nintendo, we felt that the old way of playing was still really fun and we could build an entertaining product from the base that already existed.
Secondly, there was modern era feature-creep stuff like building your own character, making RPG elements to increase Little Mac's skill or adding mini-games to the mix. All these ideas went through various stages of design and implementation and they were eventually all chopped because we wanted to get people interested in Little Mac again by using their own skills to solve new and interesting boss puzzles. We really wanted old fans to 'feel' the nostalgia while giving new users a taste of the classic gameplay.
ONM: What's the thinking behind the look of the game, and what were your influences in terms of the art style?
BH: Next Level and Nintendo were pretty much always together on what the 'look' of the game would be. Both teams thought that it should be immediately identifiable to someone passing by a booth displaying the game. The art style needed to invoke the old while treating the user to some new visuals. The cartoon/sprite style evolved as the logical choice and I think we've been successful in bringing the old characters new life and adding a little more depth with the move to stylized 3D.
ONM: How long did the game take from concept stage to completion, and what part of the process was most enjoyable for the team?
Ken Yeeloy: The game took approximately two years from the start of prototype to the finished product.
Chad York: Speaking for myself, the most enjoyable part of the process was recording and integrating the voice elements. It really brought the characters to life and we had a lot of fun doing it! The trickiest part of development was tuning the game to appeal to casual gamers but having enough gameplay challenge for the longtime fans of the franchise.