In case the series is new to you, you are the plucky Little Mac, a 17-year-old boxer from the Bronx who wants nothing more than to become the boxing champion of the world. You take on a variety of OTT characters who live up to the stereotypes of the countries from which they originate, such as Von Kaiser, a harsh and efficient German, or the wimpy Glass Joe. He's from France. Rather than being a straight boxing game, though, Punch Out takes on a more accessible approach, no doubt because of its arcade roots. You're fixed in one position on screen, directly in the centre, as is your rival in front of you. It's more like a rhythm game in many ways; you can never outright punch a foe and hope to be effective - instead, you must study their patterns, blocking and dodging as you go, until you spy chinks to exploit in their armour.
There's really very little more to it. You have four normal punches - right and left equivalents of jab and body punch - and special star punches that are put into reserve to be used whenever you feel is best, gained when you hit your foe at just the right time. Biding your time is key, as if you strike when your enemy is guarded you will do nothing more than wear down your own stamina, leaving you unable to attack until you've successfully dodged a substantial amount to catch them off balance. The first fighter to have their energy bar worn to the end is knocked down and given the chance to recover; if taken down thrice in one round, it's an instant loss for them. If both survive all three rounds, it comes down to the referee's decision as to who the victor is.
While the gameplay comes right from the 8-bit era, the visuals certainly do not. Taking on a gorgeous cel-shaded style, on a standard definition set you would be hard pushed to see a cataclysmic difference between Punch Out and a similarly stylised 360 or PS3 game, thus proving once more that realism is not the way to go with Wii. The game revels in the distinct style, in the way it affords hysterical expressions and reactions in its characters (Disco Kid is a highlight, channeling Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air at one point, insane aerobics instructor another) and in the way bruises are lavished over the boxers, becoming more severe as they are punched multiple times in a single area. Whenever a fighter takes a critical hit or falls down it is an event that is celebrated or lamented, dramatically and often comically. With the simple gameplay and the fixed, tiny area in which it is carried out, much of the Wii's capabilities have been put to use wholeheartedly into the presentation. Brilliantly retro-tinged tunes tinkle around as you beat the living daylights out of each other, the pain punctuated by an array of hilarious squeals and grunts.
It seems only right that Punch Out is controllable as if it was a NES game, with the remote held sideways to emulate the retro pad. This is the way in which I preferred to play, using the d-pad's left, right and down to dodge, 'up' to modify punches, activated with 1 and 2, while a special attack is quick tap of A. However, to accommodate a wider audience there are also motion controls, with the expected movements activating attacks and the analogue stick taking on the role and functions of the d-pad, and the triggers used as modifiers. For those who want an even more involved experience, you can hop on your balance board and physically dodge and duck around yourself while punching away. It works well after the expected time necessary to adjust to how it wants you to move, but for me the traditional controller approach was the only way to go.
Initially Punch Out seems like a very short-lived experience - it takes just two or three hours to get through all the championships and down everybody that stands in your way of the belts. It's after this, though, that title defence mode rears its head. Here, Little Mac is champion and everybody's out for revenge, as well as the gold around his waist. The opposition is far trickier this time around, having added new moves to their repertoires and covered up their previous weak points. This is the meat of the game, and the challenge is upped so much that it offers a workout even for hardened gamers.