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Punch-Out!! Review

Little Mac comes out of retirement in a knockout game

This could have so easily been a failure. When developer Next Level Games (responsible for Mario sports games like Mario Tennis and Mario Strikers Charged Football) were given the task of bringing back one of Nintendo's most beloved cult franchises, it could have been so easy to mess it up. Especially when the series in question is Punch-Out!!.

Had it been too tricky, the vast majority of Wii owners would have been put off. Like it or not, the Wii's audience is very different from that back in the days of the SNES and NES. Had it been too easy though, the game would have certainly upset the hardcore Nintendo gamers; long time fans who have been waiting upwards of 14 years for a new Punch-Out!! to emerge. This is a tricky tightrope to cross, and yet Next Level Games have done it with ease. On a unicycle. While juggling fire.

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Easy Does It?

On first glance, it seems that Punch-Out!! doesn't have much in its locker. It's got an Exhibition mode, a Head-To-Head two-player mode and a Career mode where, like in the previous games in the series, you fight your way through three circuits (Minor, Major and World) in order to become the champ in each one.

Punch-Out!! is faithful to the original game, to the point that some opponents can be defeated using the same tactics as before. When we made King Hippo expose his weak stomach so we could punch away at it, or realised that with the right timing we could once again hit Bald Bull and knock him down as he charged towards us, we couldn't help but think that this was little more than a re-imagining of the original NES game, something that newer gamers would love but older ones (or those who took our advice and have already played through the original games on Virtual Console) would feel short changed by.

In fact, it seemed to us that anyone who'd played the SNES and NES games would have no problem breezing through the 13 opponents here, all of whom (with the exception of one newcomer, Disco Kid) featured in previous instalments of the series. And as we got to the thirteenth and final opponent after only an hour and a half, we feared this would be the case.

We were worried. Sure, anyone who hasn't played Punch-Out!! on the NES or its SNES sequel would indeed take a lot longer than a couple of hours to play through the game, and they'd probably get a lot more enjoyment learning how to defeat each opponent. But nobody's been looking forward to this game more than Punch-Out!!'s long-time fans, and as we finally disposed of our 13th foe, we couldn't help but feel let down by how easy it all was. We had this review all planned out in our head: "great for newcomers but far, far too easy for Punch-Out!! fans. 70%." And that's when things got interesting.

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Punch-Drunk Love

You see, as with all great boxing champions, once Little Mac wins the belt he has to defend it. In this case, by fighting again against everyone he's already fought. "Fair enough," we thought, "at least we already know how to beat them all". Ah, how foolish of us. This string of title defences comes under the heading of "World B", and every opponent is significantly harder than they were before.

Take Glass Joe for example. He's long been the butt of many a Punch-Out!! joke. Having never won a match, he's by far the easiest opponent in the game thanks to his glass jaw (hence the name). Before defending the belt against him though, a cut-scene shows him going to the doctor. The doctor shows him an X-ray and explains that his jaw is weak, giving him a headguard to protect it. As a result, punches to the head no longer faze him. His fighting style is much trickier now too. When he leans back to punch, he'll sometimes fake it, making you dodge at the wrong time and leaving you open.

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