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Game Review

If, like me, you were an enthusiast of arcade gaming in the '80s—the kind of person the less knowledgeable might have called an arcade bum—you probably manned the controls of a Punch-Out!! game at one point or another. It was certainly the most popular of the arcade boxers and translated very nicely to Nintendo NES home play a little later on, as Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

All these years later, Punch-Out!! has made its way to the Wii. And the motion-sensing controllers make the ducking, jabbing and uppercutting all the more interactive. (For those who long for NES-style play, the Wii remote can also be held sideways for old-school button-punching.)

Little Mac Against the World
The gaming formula here is pretty much the same as the original, only with a bit more color and splash in the graphics. Gamers play as Little Mac, a 17-year-old boxing wunderkind who, with the help of his corpulent, chocolate-obsessed coach, Doc Louis, takes on the animated boxing world. Mac is only a little over five-and-a-half feet tall and looks like a mere wisp compared to his mega-muscled foes. But the steely-eyed youth is tough, quick and wily enough that if he stays clear of opponents' powerful pokes and thunderous blows, he might just make it to the championship rounds.

The game is made up of three modes: Exhibition, which helps players learn the game mechanics and controls; Head-to-Head, which allows two players to battle it out; and Career, the main area of play in which Mac works his way from the minors to the majors and finally to the boxing glory of the world circuit.

Along that pugilistic pathway, you encounter a wide variety of comically drawn opponents from around the globe. Among them are King Hippo, a tropical island-born man-mountain with fists the size of a side of beef; and Soda Popinski, a Russian strongman who tosses back a bottle of soda pop at crucial moments to gain a burst of caffeinated oomph.

Cartoon Contusions
This is far from real boxing. There is no opportunity to maneuver or dance around an opponent as you might in the real sport. Instead, the two boxers simply face each other down and focus on dodging punches while delivering well-timed counters. Each flamboyant character has his own set of moves that players must analyze and remember.

Mac's foes are always accommodating in that they proffer a physical twitch, a catchy phrase or a full-body color flash before they deliver their showy power blows. A good memory and fast reflexes will send them to the canvas every time. Beware, though, it's not as easy as it sounds. But once you get the knack, it can be very engaging and open the game up to lots of solo or party fun.

Those naturally concerned with the messy side of prizefighting don't have a lot to worry about with this fisticuff fantasy. After repeated thumps, the boxers end up with red bruises, black eyes, an occasional missing tooth, bumps on the brow or strategically placed facial bandages. No bloodletting makes it into the ring.

The only other (minor) offenses include some unexplained magical floating and dematerializing by Indian battler Great Tiger, an illegal headbutt by the Dublin lad Aran Ryan and a little taunting (in various languages) by several other self-absorbed macho men. Want to know how horribly foul those one-liners get? Well, here's one of the worst, out of the mouth of Doc Louis: "That sucka never laid a glove on you!"

Punch-Out!! is all about, well, punching people out. You know that from the moment you read the title. But if Saturday night's alright for fighting in your family room, at least this E10+ game avoids all the T- or M-rated nastiness that usually goes along with it. And that makes it quite a bit easier to dust off your memories of yesteryear's arcade play—without having to scrounge for quarters every time you feel a tickle.

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Bob Hoose

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