It's hard to believe, but it's been 15 years since a Punch-Out!! game was released. Perhaps this is due to the fact that even though the games were made by Nintendo, naturally situated in Japan, they never really found an audience over there. When the Wii came out this was even more of a shame; a new instalment in the series would fit so well on the system, but it didn't seem like Nintendo would make one.
Thankfully, Next Level Games (who you might know as the developers of the two Mario Strikers games) asked Nintendo about the Punch-Out!! series and expressed interest in making a new one. Surprisingly, Nintendo agreed and the end result is this Wii-exclusive update.
The main gameplay in Punch-Out!! is still the same as always - it's not really a boxing game, but more of a puzzle game. You work your way through various opponents as you try to figure out each one's pattern, reacting correctly to each of their moves to dodge them and successfully mount your own counter-attack. The rules are exactly the same as those of the NES game - there's a maximum of three rounds in every fight. If either you or your opponent is knocked down thrice in one round you or he will lose instantly by a TKO (Technical Knockout). If you're knocked down multiple times in multiple rounds you (0r your opponent) might not be able to get up again, which will get you a normal KO. If you're good at timing, a few opponents actually have weak spots which, when hit at exactly the right time, will KO them in a single punch.
Next Level Games chose to bring back unique elements from both previous console games; as was the case in the NES game, you can earn stars by hitting opponents at exactly the right times (while they're taunting or right before they're about to throw a punch, being two examples). You can then use these stars to unleash powerful uppercuts which take away a ton of health. Unlike the NES game, however, it's actually recommended you save these up before unleashing them - if you use 3 stars (the maximum available) at the same time you'll bring down an opponent's health from full to near empty.
An element from the SNES game which has returned is the ability to recover some health while your opponent is knocked down. Simply keep throwing punches while the referee is counting down and you'll slowly but surely recover some health, which can come in good use.
Every opponent from the NES game returns (with the obvious exception of Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream) making for 10 fighters. To up the count a little Next Level Games also took two characters from the SNES game (Bear Hugger and Aran Ryan) and even added an entirely new character, Disco Kid, bringing the total amount of fighters to 13. All of these (except Disco Kid, obviously) behave pretty much exactly like they always did; it's pretty entertaining to recognize an opponent's moves from one of the old games.
Unlike the previous games, however, this time it's not over once you're champion of the world; as in real boxing, your new job will be to defend your title. You'll have to face all 13 fighters again in the same order as before, but be warned - they've been training so they're much, much stronger than before, with more health, more power and entirely new moves. Even Glass Joe - the single easiest opponent in any videogame ever - will actually put up a decent fight and probably KO you at least once while defending your title! Once you've beaten all 13 fighters again there's yet another mode which also includes a top-secret 14th opponent - but you'll have to find out who that is yourself.
If you'd like to rebattle fighters you've already fought (Both the regular and Title Defence versions) there's also an Exhibition Mode - Each of the fighters has their own set of 3 "challenges" (such as not dodging, KO-ing an opponent in a certain number of hits or finding a weak spot) which you can try to achieve here as well. Once you've cleared all three challenges for a specific fighter you'll unlock his sound test - you'll be able to listen to all music and sounds related to that fighter, including Doc Louis's between-round advice and all of the opponent's quotes.
The opponents themselves have got to be the greatest thing about the game. On the NES and SNES they weren't really interesting but because the series has now gone 3D they've all been given fantastic personalities; each opponent has their own intro "movie", consisting of a bunch of pictures detailing their personality and they'll speak in their native language (such as French, Russian, or... Hippo?) during the fight and between rounds, taunting you or praising themselves. They've all also got some great animations - they look so good that it might not be a stretch to call Punch-Out!! one of the best-looking games on the Wii.
Each fighter also has their own personalized music. All of the classic NES Punch-Out!! songs have been remixed 13 times - once for every fighter - giving them all a unique style befitting the character they belong to. There's not a bad song in the bunch and you'll be wanting to clear all challenges in Exhibition Mode as fast as you can just to unlock them all in the sound test.
Next Level Games has also attempted to include a multiplayer mode. When this was first announced it didn't really sound like it would work with the Punch-Out!! gameplay and as it turns out that's completely right - both players will play as Little Mac, simply punching away at each other while occasionally dodging. Once you hit your opponent enough times you'll turn into Giga Mac, a gigantic version of the tiny fighter who can dish out far more damage. In the end though, all you'll really be doing is mashing buttons randomly; the attacks are too fast to actually react to, meaning multiplayer is a rather useless addition.
As with any Wii game it just wouldn't be complete without motion controls. In Punch-Out!! you can use the Wii remote and nunchuk to throw your punches and it actually works quite well for the first few fights. Once you get to the later opponents though, you'll begin to find the reaction time far too slow. It might have been nice if the Wii Motion Plus was released earlier and implemented into the game. Thankfully, there's also a "classic" control option - just tilt the Wii remote on its side and you can play it exactly the same way you play the NES game on Virtual Console.
Punch Out!! also allows you to use the Wii Fit Balance board, but it ends up being more of a novelty than a useful control method. You can choose to make use of it for the ducking and dodging play control aspects of the game, but it ultimately ends up being too sluggish and unresponsive. You'll also likely find yourself concentrating more on trying to effectively use the Balance Board than throwing the various punches and combinations needed to win the fight. Much like other Wii titles that have allowed the use of the Balance Board, it once again feels like a very tacked-on feature that little thought was put into during development.
After their great efforts with the Mario Strikers games, Next Level Games have once again proven they know how to handle Nintendo franchises. Punch-Out!! on the Wii is an absolutely amazing new instalment in the classic franchise with a ton of content for both new and old fans. The multiplayer and motion control aspects are a bit of a let-down but there's just so much other good stuff here that it's easy to overlook these minor niggles. This is quite possibly the greatest revival of all time; please Nintendo, don't let the franchise die off again!