Punch-Out!! boasts the sort of design clarity that went out of fashion when consoles started coming with 20-button controllers in the late '90s. But its intricacies are so subtle that it's entirely possible to rinse the 13-
man Championship mode and not realise how smart a game you've just played. The same can be said of the original Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!!, but where they relied on dedicated play to prove otherwise, the devs wisely signpost it.
Signpost 1: Defend The Title mode, unlocked once you've completed Championship mode. All the boxers you humiliated on the way up? They're out for revenge and they've adapted their strategies to force perfection from your play. Glass Joe's jaw is safe under protective headgear and Von Kaiser has shaved his head and toughened up. Comic alterations aside, combatants sport new moves, timings and tells - if your climb to the top was slow, Defend The Title refuses to let you pass. Nightmarishly tough, but fairly so - a big step forward for the devs of Mario Strikers Charged and that AI.
Signpost 2: what looks like basic training in Exhibition mode is really a game unto itself. Every fighter is here to practise against (in both their initial and Defend The Title form) but each has three special objectives. From simple 'achieve TKO in the first round' to the insanely tough 'achieve TKO without using any dodges or blocks', you're constantly asked to reappraise your approach to the game. Hey, if the only way to demonstrate depth is to shout about it, so be it.
If this reads like a defence of a game rather than a glowing recommendation, it's because Punch-Out!! is a lot like Little Mac himself. While certainly talented, he's not the biggest of contenders - there's no denying that a cartoon boxing-puzzler is rather niche. Let's remember that for all the game's smarts, we're talking about punching big men in the face. You'd have to be drinking whatever Soda Popinski's swigging to claim otherwise.
And like we said, the extra goodness - while appreciated - is really doing nothing more than pushing newcomers towards realising the cleverness the games have had since the NES - the cleverness the games still have on Virtual Console. If we were feeling mean, we'd point out that with its in-depth score breakdown Super Punch-Out!! is still the better high-score challenge. Best times aside, there's perhaps not as much here as those extra challenges would suggest.
But just as this adversity rises, and Punch-Out!! finds itself on the ropes trying to justify its place in your Wii collection, it does something to make you smile. Don Flamenco lays a rose on Mac's defeated body. Or doughy coach Doc Louis barks out something nutty about "punching some sucka!" Or you're shown a picture of a Russian giant in his pants carrying crates of fizzy drink atop his shoulders. Question it and it may teeter, but while you're in its world, Punch-Out!! always has a leg to stand on.
Punch-Out!! is an odd choice for a revival, but it suits the Wii perfectly. Thumpy and brash but not without brains. It's time to get reacquainted.