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Review of Punch-Out for Wii: can it be used as a workout game?

I decided to try out Punch Out for the Wii. Reviews of this game have been overwhelmingly positive. Reviewers love the nostalgia of the game–the characters and personalities are the same as the original Punch Out for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) from 1987 and Super Punch Out that was so popular in arcades. It still has the same kitschy quality of its prececessors, but has been updated with slicker looking characters (still cartoony, but with a 3-D feel).

And of course, you have the option to use Wii motion control. The game developers basically allow for the game to be played using three different controller configurations:

  1. Holding the Wii-mote sideways (mimicking the buttons of the old NES controller)
  2. Boxing with the Wii-mote and Nunchuk and using the Nunchuk control for ducking and weaving.
  3. Boxing with the Wii-mote and Nunchuk and using the Wii Balance Board for ducking and weaving.

The consensus of most reviews is that the game is best played using just the Wii-mote–this yields the quickest response needed to play the game properly. Of course, this’ll give your thumbs a nice workout, but not much else. In this review, I’ll focus in on #2 and #3, and let you know how well this works as a fitness game.

The game concept itself is great for both those who remember the original series and those who don’t. You play the part of a little boxer named Little Mac and work your way through a boxing circuit, facing a series of 13 colorful characters with increasing degrees of difficulty. Each boxer is bigger than you and has his own personality and very, very annoying traits and mannerisms, so annoying that you can’t rest until you’ve beaten the snot out of them. I should probably also mention that this game has never quite been politically correct: each character is a walking stereotype of the country they’re from, from the Frenchman who bleeds croissants to the Japanese guy who bleeds sushi, to the guy from India who rides on a magic carpet. I suppose what makes it all okay is that they offend everyone equally, and with tongue firmly in cheek.

Once you beat all 13 it doesn’t end there: the game actually goes into a “Title Defense” mode where the vanquished boxers come back, angry and harder to beat.

The controls take a little getting used to. Like in Wii Sports Boxing, you mainly thrust with your hands to throw punches. I found Wii Boxing to be more responsive, and I preferred the way that Wii Sports Boxing allows you to block punches by putting your hands together in front of your face and weaving back and forth (with Punch Out, you use Nunchuk joystick to block, dodge, and duck).

But then again with Punch Out, the boxing is much more involved. Each boxer has a different pattern (which can in fact change through the course of playing the game), and as you go through each one you need to identify the pattern and have quick enough reflexes to strike or duck out of the way when a boxer tips off which way he’ll go (conveniently, the boxer will glow red right before he strikes, but in some cases you have a fraction of a second to respond).

Here’s a video of me boxing Super Muscle Man (who was the final fighter in earlier versions of the video game)

The characters and the storyline make the boxing more immersive–there’s something about being taunted by a giant Frenchman or a giant blonde muscleman from LA that just makes you want to pound the stuffing out of them. And of course the graphics and animation, while still cartoony, made it a more complete experience than Wii Sports Boxing. Unlike the repetitiveness of Wii Sports Boxing (which you can eventually beat easily by looking for patterns), Punch Out provides a good variety of fighters that use a variety of techniques and require you, as in real boxing, to look for their weaknesses to beat them. Listen to your coach between rounds to learn what the weaknesses are (or, if the coach is telling you how much he likes chocolate, chances are you’ve figured it out already).

It takes some time, but the game is nice enough to give you a practice mode where you can box against a “holographic” version of each opponent to learn their strenghs and weaknesses without affecting your won-loss record. It’s a classic Wii workout game in that it’s so fun and so addictive that you can work up a real sweat without even realizing you’re working out. Case in point: by the time I won this fight against “Mr. Sandman”, the final fighter between you and the title, I had lost over 100 times (but in the losses got great exercise)!

While the balance board addition was a good thought, the responsiveness was just too poor to use seriously. The Wii didn’t quite respond accurately when I bobbed and weaved on the board–either the timing would be off or the screen would display something completely different than I was doing. At the end of the day I stuck with the nunchuk controls.

So the question is, was it a good workout? Yes it was. It wasn’t an exhausing, full-body workout, but I most certainly did sweat and get some good aerobic exercise. Unlike the boxing games in Gold’s Gym Cardio and EA Sports Active, this one immerses you in the storyline which provides plenty of motivation for you to continue.

Ultimately, I’d give this * * * for workout intensity, and * * * * for fun. If you like Wii Sports Boxing, this is a nice little step up.

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