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GDC 09: Hands-on with Punch-Out!! Wii

8:00 PM on 03.26.2009 // Anthony Burch

I love Punch-Out!!. You love Punch-Out!!. Everybody loves Punch-Out!!. There's no real surprise there. And since everyone loves Punch-Out!! just as I do, I'm going to go ahead and presumptuously assume that whatever emotions I experienced upon hearing of a new Punch-Out!! for the Wii were pretty much the exact same emotions you felt as well.

Namely: adoration of the graphics, but intensely cynical worry about crappy motion controls and a toned-down difficulty level for the casual Wii audience. 

Granted, by the time I played a four-match demo of Punch-Out!! on the GDC expo floor, it'd been months since I'd even thought about the third console entry in one of my favorite not-really-sports game series. Were my half-remembered worries and complaints justified, or did Nintendo manage to assuage them? 

In other news, assuage looks and sounds like a perverted, possibly fecophilic activity. Especially when put in italics.


Those who have been closely following Punch-Out!! Wii's development will probably remember that, while the game supports both motion-controlled and regular play via turning the Wiimote on its side, the waggle setting is the default. 

You'll probably want to switch to regular button-based controls after about a half-hour of play, though.

It's not that the controls are awful, necessarily -- you won't be mindlessly throwing your arms in every direction in some random attempt to land punches like one might in Wii Boxing -- it's just that they're, well, typical of every other Wiimote motion scheme ever. Punches are controlled by thrusting the nunchuck or Wiimote forward. This works fine if you make very sharp motions and slow your punching speed so that only one controller is moving at a time, but considering how quick and reflex-based the series has tended to be I couldn't help but try to do the motion-control equivalent of button-mashing by quickly shooting my arms out to do quick combos, which ended up just confusing the motion sensors. Everything else is controlled through buttons -- holding up on the nunchuckanalog stick allows you to throw face punches, while pressing the stick left, right, or down dodges in that direction -- I screwed up punch combos frequently enough that if it'd been up to me, I would have just turned the Wiimote on its side and played that way.

Then again, perhaps the game's difficulty curve will make it such that it won't really matter which control scheme you use. I only fought two of the four available demo characters, Glass Joe and Von Kaiser, and watched someone else defeat a third, new character named Disco Kid, but what I experienced seemed surprisingly easy for a Punch-Out!! game. It's entirely possible that a great deal of this is due to the fact that all four characters (I didn't get to fight King Hippo, to my undeniable disappointment) come from the game's minor circuit, but what are we to make of the way that all enemies flash red for a split-second when initiating any attack  to let the player know when to dodge?


The console Punch-Out!! games have gotten progressively easier through the ages (I can't beat more than six fighters in the NES version, but I can complete Super Punch-Out!! one out of every three times I attempt to), but I was really surprised to see the Wii version outright telling me when to dodge. I only got hit bt perhaps three or four punches during the entirety of my two fights. Trying to figure out where and when the enemy's attacks came from, and how to time your responses, resulted in great reflex- and memory-based fun in the previous games. Again, I can't claim to truly know how difficult the game will be given that I only saw three of the game's 13 fighters, but I really didn't expect the red flash mechanic. 

Beyond the motion control and colorful punch warnings, Punch-Out!! Wii has a few smaller changes. There are now actual rounds which last two minutes or less, so it's no longer easy to just win a fight via TKO by knocking your opponent out three times; the rounds are so short that even against really easy fighters like Glass Joe, the first round ended (and thus reset the knockout counter) before I had the chance to land that final third knockout blow. Between rounds, Mac's trainer will give advice as to what Mac is doing wrong a la Fight Night Round 3's corner man. If you're not doing anything wrong, the trainer will spout out dadaistic pearls of wisdom like, "You know what my favorite kind of flower is? Chocolate!"

Cosmetically, the game is pretty cool. Each fight is prefaced by a series of well-illustrated stills relaying the fighter's backstory, and the characters themselves are really emotive during the actual matches. They'll also show scripted signs of wear and tear as the fights progress; by round two, Von Kaiser was sporting a satisfyingly large bump on his face and a few bruises around his stomach.

All in all, I'm torn -- the motion controls are "eh" and thus far the game seems really easy, but there are significantly more fighters than I've seen who notably don't come from the minor circuit, and the controls seem very well-suited atraditional button-tastic control scheme that Nintendo thoughtfully provided. Emotionally, I'm pretty much back where I was when Punch-Out!! Wii was first announced -- hopeful and happy in the short term, but intensely skeptical of the game as a whole.

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