Nov 26, 2010

First Thoughts On: Wii Punch Out

So I didn't do much Black Friday shopping, but I did manage to pick up Wii Punch Out for the Wii (of course) for half-price on a clearance shelf at Target. How I managed to pull this off, I don't know, but I did. I went, expecting to buy nothing but I ended up getting a Nintendo game for a discount, which almost never happens. Nintendo games manage to hold value better than Apple products, and that's saying something. Now, to the actual experience of playing the game.

Some of my fondest memories from childhood come from the Punch Out series, and for good reason. Mike Tyson's Punch Out (for the NES) and Super Punch Out (for the SNES) gave me literally hundreds of hours of enjoyment.

When I say enjoyment, though, I have to undercut that statement by saying that I used to be a complete and total gaming douche bag. I'm not a violent person, but I gave my NES games hell way back when. I remember getting so pissed during a game of Tecmo Bowl that I threw the game against my bedroom door.

I'd done it at least a dozen times, but this time there was something wholly different about the experience. The way the game sounded bouncing off the doorknob made me cringe. I thought I saw a quarter-sized piece of plastic go flying into the living room, but I hoped and prayed that wasn't the case.

It was. I'd ostensibly broken the cartridge for my absolute favorite game (right behind Mike Tyson's Punch Out, of course). I picked it up and started repeated no, no, no, no, no. I didn't know what it was like to be an abusive husband/boyfriend (and still don't), but this was as close to it as I could imagine. I had reacted violently to something I couldn't really control (Punch Out could be totally cheap) and felt immediate and overwhelming remorse for it.

Luckily, I put the cartridge into my NES and the damned thing worked (for a few months). It lasted me long enough for me to get tired of it. I think that the second Zelda game completely replaced it in my imagination. Sorry, Tecmo. You will be missed.

ANYWAY, back to Punch Out. I like it. I've always liked it.

The truth is that I don't even really care for fighting or boxing games all that much. Punch Out provides the necessary nostalgia to keep me busy for a time, but it's also a pretty great game, as well.

I'm pretty good at this series, which is to say that I'm less worse at it that I am other Nintendo franchises. I somehow managed to master the game's basic mechanics in the late 80s, and, since the game hasn't changed very much, I've remained pretty good at it since then.

In fact, when Super Punch Out was released for the SNES in the mid 90s - 95, I believe - I went through a strangely obsessive period, wherein I fought the same boxers hundreds upon hundreds - and perhaps thousands upon thousands - of times. I'm not normally a numbers guy, but because I had a subscription to Nintendo Power, I became obsessed with the times people posted for defeating various fighters.

This was well before I had the internet, so the sense of competition I felt was palpable. I'm sure, internet notwithstanding, I'd feel the same sort of competition today over Rock Band or Guitar Hero. I was always better than my friends at the games that truly captured my imagination, and back then that was all that mattered.

These days, all you have to do is go to YouTube and find video of somebody beating "Dyer's Eve" (Metallica) on Expert without missing a note. It's heartbreaking for those people who fantasize about being good at anything. Go ahead. If you want to kill a dream of yours, just type it into YouTube. You will lose your motivation by the end of the hour.

That's why I was lucky to have Super Punch Out during the period of time that I did. I was good at Mike Tyson's Punch Out, but I couldn't, for the life of me, beat Mike Tyson. I could get to him, and I could hit him once or twice, but he normally beat me senseless in a matter of seconds. I won't hold that against myself, given the fact that nobody else I knew could beat him either (this is also a situation in which the internet would be a ego deflater).

Moving on...

Wii Punch Out (or Punch Out Wii) continues the tradition of excellence that started well before Mike Tyson's legal troubles. The characters are fun, the tone is just right, and the gameplay works very well, so it's more or less a success. I'll have to adjust to the timing - I hated that I lost to Great Tiger the first time I fought him, but I'll get it down pat - but otherwise, Wii Punch Out is a fine game. The whole game just seems to have an attractive atmosphere, because I, for example, played for well over half an hour longer than I had first intended when putting the disc in the drive.

One thing I like is seeing the parade of returning characters. I know that it's a bit lazy on Nintendo's part to release YET ANOTHER GAME full of characters we've seen on multiple occasions - Glass Joe was in both the NES and SNES versions of Punch Out - but it works here. I would like to have seen more new characters early on, but the experience of working with these old characters in a new way was enough to pique my interest.

Additionally, the learning curve isn't all that high. I played using the Wii-mote like an old NES controller, so it was like going back to my childhood. The main difference is that I was drinking beer instead of Mountain Dew.

That's part of what makes Nintendo games so successful. Yes, they go to the well way, way, way too often, but they also make fun, nostalgic games for Reagan babies, so it's entirely forgivable. The games, if a bit derivative, make for an interesting experience. New isn't always best. Games can be derived from the same pool of characters, plots, and story devices and still be original and fun (think Super Mario Galaxy. Well, not the sequel).

Wii Punch Out is the same way. I liked stepping into the ring against the horrible stereotypes which have been a staple of the series for over twenty years.

I have always been somewhat unsettled by the stereotypes on parade here, but how are they different from any other video game (or professional wrestling, for that matter)? The fact that the series wasn't developed by Americans doesn't shield it whatsoever from the criticism that it's just plain racist as hell, yo.

Glass Joe (a Frenchman) is literally surrounded by baguettes if you knock him out. Von Kaiser is stereotypically German. Don Flamenco fights bulls (I thought he was Italian in the original. I'm also an idiot). Bear Hugger (a Canadian) chugs syrup and fights bears. He even calls you a hoser during the fight.

Now, the way that the game is set up can lead you to believe that the characters are mere cultural touchstones rather than blatant stereotypes, but in my leftist cultural guilt, I refuse to jump onboard completely and say, "Yeah! There's nothing wrong with having an Asian character named Piston Honda!"

Still, so far Wii Punch Out has exceeded every one of my expectations, and I cannot wait to play it in the coming days.

By the way: I hope Georgia destroys Georgia Tech tomorrow. Go Dawgs!