My thumbs have I've gone soft. Back in the NES era, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! conditioned the tip of my left thumb with a D-pad callus I proudly displayed as a badge of honor to all my gamer pals. They earned their calluses playing games like R-Type and Contra, but I was never very good at side-scrolling shooters.
Punch-Out!! was my game, and I played it endlessly in a New York City summer of '88...a summer in which Mike Tyson crashed his Bentley on Varick Street, crashed his BMW into a tree in Catskill, and knocked out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds.
If your gaming memory extends that far, you're going to love the new Wii version of Punch-Out!! But if it doesn't, don't worry. This new edition, developed for Nintendo by Next Level Games, manages to hit the sweet spot most "hardcasual" games have failed to locate.
And I must confess, I didn't see it coming. In fact, I can't remember underestimating another game so badly. As a big fan of the original, I guess I expected a spray-painted rehash with tacked on motion controls. But you know what? This new Punch-Out!! is terrific.
Punch-Out!! can be played and enjoyed by gamers of all skill levels, and it offers familiar motion controls for the Wii Sports crowd. If you've played Wii Boxing, you'll have no trouble learning how to play Punch-Out!!. Like all well designed games, Punch-Out!! teaches you how to play it and, with each step up the difficulty ladder, how to improve. As it has always been with Punch-Out!!, failure is merely a prompt to try again and solve the pattern recognition riddle each boxer represents.
But if you're itchy for a challenge, this game has a mode for you. It's called Title Defense, and at the moment it's winding me up like a cheap watch. All the boxers return, but this time they have new tricks, new defenses, and their visual cues arrive faster and offer little margin for error. King Hippo - whom veterans will remember as having a, shall we say, weak stomach - arrives in Title Defense mode wearing a manhole cover over his belly. Good luck with him and the other rematches. I'm told that if I defeat all of them a secret unlockable boxer arrives...and I swear I will meet that boxer one way or another, so help me god, I will!
Motion controls are a nice touch, but purists may opt for button/D-pad controls. There's something undeniably satisfying about turning that Wiimote sideways like an NES controller to play a brand new Punch-Out!!. The fact that these options exist is evidence that Next Level Games wants to encourage everyone to play this game...including Wii Fit owners who can use their balance board to dodge punches by shifting their weight.
I'm old-school, so I prefer to bob and weave using my trusty soon-to-be-callused-again left thumb; but Jennifer prefers the balance board and Wiimote/Nunchuck combo and won't box any other way. I have noticed, however, that when I beat her head-to-head she tends to blame the balance board. Because it couldn't possibly be related to my skill.
The new Punch-Out!! is a stylish and highly polished remake of a genuine classic. It connects with the original in the right places (controls, moves and punches, stamina, visual cues and patterns), while smartly upgrading the cosmetics (art style, animations, music) and adding welcome new elements like 2-player head-to-head boxing, scenario challenges, and advanced difficulty mode.
Online play and a few more opponents would have been nice too, but I'm not going to quibble about what's missing. Punch-Out!! exceeds all my expectations. When I remove my nostalgia glasses I can see it for what it truly is: a remake that KO's the original.