Review: Super Punch-Out!! (Wii U eShop / SNES)

Brain over brawn

Whereas Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream is consistently considered to be one of the best games on the NES, console sequel Super Punch-Out!! seldom appears in the top 10 when recalling the best games on the SNES. Did the puzzle-fight formula not hold up as well for the second time around at home, or was 16-bit competition just that much more stiff?

Revisiting Super-Punch-Out!! on the Wii U eShop shows that quality isn’t the issue: the game floats with effortless ease around the ring and stings the opposition like an unholy hornet/wasp hybrid. Tough adversaries may have knocked the game out of the limelight but, just like series star Little Mac, this is one underdog not to be discounted.

Like its predecessor, the goal is simple: fight your way to the top title of the World Video Boxing Association. However, this game goes down its own structural path. Instead of swinging through all opponents in a row as on NES, there are four circuits with four opponents each to crush. Rounds are no longer a thing, either — matches have a three-minute limit in which to either smash an opponent hard enough that they stay down for the count or to knock them out three times. There are no ties or wins based on who has more health by the end of it.

Super Punch-Out!! is more of a puzzle game than a straight pugilistic one; in fact, trying to brute-force through to victory will likely end in tears and shouting. Each member of the 16-deep rogues gallery — mixing familiar faces with all new foes — has their own style of fighting, and careful observation will reveal their unique weaknesses. It’s possible to KO an opponent in a few hits if you know what you’re doing, so it pays to be patient and attentive rather than thoughtless and aggressive. When competing in the harder circuits, however, there is disappointingly little room for free-form fighting; it is next to impossible to KO a foe by simply dodging attacks and hammering away at them, so later victories require study, which can be frustrating. Judicious use of Virtual Console save states can reduce some of this frustration, and if you want to be cheeky about it you can always hop on the Internet Browser really quick for a guide — a luxury that would have saved our mid-90’s selves a lot of anguish.

Learning an opponent’s pattern will take a while if you do it the old-fashioned way — the foes are certainly no push-overs and can greatly punish one wrong move — but finally knowing when to dodge, jab and counter-punch at just the right time to wipe the floor with an opponent’s stupid smug face is immensely satisfying. If you’re prepared to commit, this rewarding of patience pushes the game’s replay value impressively high: “solving” each fighter will take a while, and once you’ve practiced enough in Time Attack mode you can aim for the quickest knock-out time on the local high score table. While Super Punch-Out!! doesn’t support two players, the high score table offers a competitive arena to see who really is the best around.

Mac’s moveset is simplistic, amounting to left and right jabs, hooks, and cardinal-direction dodges. Successfully getting a blow in fills the stamina meter, which takes the place of Punch-Out!!‘s star power-up — when full, Mac can dole out slower, more powerful knockout punches. Getting hit drains the stamina meter, making defence all the more important.

Super Punch-Out!! gets up close and personal by pulling the camera right up behind Mac, who is now somewhat transparent. Being closer to the action gives more weight and drama to each bout, making them more exciting to watch than from the NES game’s nosebleed seats. The closer view also gives a more pronounced view of each character, blowing out their already-exaggerated personalities and showing off the lovely sprite work put into each one.

Mario was seen moonlighting as the ref in the NES version of Punch-Out!!, but he’s nowhere to be found here. Well, that’s not entirely accurate — most of the voice acting was done by Charles Martinet, who two years later would go on to ya! and woohoo! his way as the voice of the Italian stallion in every Mario game from Super Mario 64 onward. So, no, Mario isn’t really missing here, even if he isn’t visibly counting down a knockout.

Conclusion

Super Punch-Out!! nails the sequel thing by keeping what works with a beloved formula while expanding in interesting new ways. And just like big brother, Super Punch-Out!! does not mess around. It will punish your missteps without hesitation, and those who are patient enough take it slow, learn when to strike and then do so methodically will be rewarded with the great satisfaction of having clocked what seemed an impossible opponent. Later fights require sticking to the script a bit too much and can reduce the illusion of strategy, but in the end the satisfaction of victory justifies the rigid means in which it is achieved.