Thursday, October 22, 2009

Game's I've Loved this Year: Part 1 - Punch Out

Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Wii
Right to the point: the new Punch-Out!! for the Wii was one of the very few games that exceeded every expectation I had leading up to its release this year. Granted, a new Punch Out is a much smaller production than a new Call of Duty game or a Halo spin-off, but you really can't overstate how much fun a simple game can be if it is as meticulously crafted as Punch Out.

Like I said... everything in Punch Out exceeds expectations. The gameplay is right in line with the earlier games, but with more hidden depth and secrets. The challenge is both more approachable than previous games, and thanks to the new Title Defense Mode, the later part of this game is just about as difficult as any Punch Out veteran could want.

There is also an brilliant achievement system that doubles as a teaching tool for finding opponent's weaknesses. For example, you get an achievement for knocking Von Kaiser out in only 5 punches. You probably wouldn't guess that was possible on your own, but the achievement challenges you to attempt new strategies. Everybody will be able to jump in and enjoy the first third of this game, and nearly everybody will be challenged by the second third. The final third will have Punch Out veterans studying every single frame of animation... just to survive.

The Wii isn't a powerful console, but this entire game is built around rendering just two characters, and they look great... even on a HD TV. Punch Out isn't filled with a bunch of motion-capture or procedural animations, everything is beautifully timed and executed 3-D hand animation. Punch Out is a Wii game, but some of the characterizations and animations are nearly Pixar quality. Beyond the Animation, the voice acting and character designs are top notch, particularly for a Wii game. Most of the fighters are returning from old games, but they are hilariously re-imagined, and have even more personality this time around.

The other day I logged on to the "Nintendo Channel" on my Wii and checked how many hours I'd put into Punch Out. I was surprised to find out that I'd played the game for almost 50 hours this year! 50 hours, and I haven't even beaten the final boxer in Title Defense, although I'm only one boxer away.

Punch Out is a simple game, but it has shit-loads of hidden depth, and if you really dive into the game, it has almost unlimited replay value. Punch Out is always challenging, and because of it's meticulous game design and balance, you'll improve with every win, and particularly with every loss.

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