Monday, July 20, 2009

GOING RETRO RIGHT BACK TO PUNCH-OUT


This has been a rough week or so on the "up and coming" pop culture tip. So I have been digging through the crates to keep myself entertained. For reasons that require too much explanation, the other day I had to sit down and watch MEN IN BLACK. It had been ages since I first saw it, and my recollection of the movie was that it was completely cornball. This time through it wasn't so bad. Does it hold up over time? Sort of. The effects are pretty good. Vincent D'Onofrio is at the top of his game as a meat-puppet possessed by a giant cockroach-alien. I don't find the movie so cornball anymore, but perhaps I am being nostalgic.

I was still feeling retro, so I took a run at Tony Scott's remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123. Now I knew it wasn't going to be half as cool or groovy as the original. What I didn't know is that this film, when standing as tall as it can, only rises to the level of original's kneecaps. I had all of this hope that Scott had come up with a soundtrack to rival the original. But when Jay Z's 99 PROBLEMS played and continued to play throughout, my dissapointment was immeasurable. John Travolta is a hack. Sure, he is believable as a prison-sex-crazed, subway jacking loonie, but his performance is boring. Denzel does the "nice guys finish last" routine well, but he was better when he really squeezed the trigger in TRAINING DAY. In fact, all of the people in this film, right down to Gbenga Akinnagbe (of Chris and Snoop on the WIRE) have done better work elsewhere. This movie played like a bunch of actors trapped in
summerschool. They were all capable of better.

Next, I had to deal with some people who were all aglow about Tim Burton's CORALINE so I took them into some retro EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Scissorhands is so 80s it hurts. Dianne Wiest is in there, basically transposed from her mom-job in THE LOST BOYS. Johnny Depp really does steal the show...still after all of these years. Winona Ryder whistles through her teeth when she is doing the old woman role at the beginning and the end of the film. Everyone in this movie is worth it. Alan Arkin is constantly drunk, and my understanding was that this was Vincent Price's last role. Of course, the most twisted player in this whole film is the normally benign Anthony Michael Hall who gives a convincing performance as the villain.

Having exhausted my retro movie-blitz for the time being, I got my mitts on PUNCH-OUT for the Wii. It was time to go back and put in some serious retro gaming work.

When the original PUNCH-OUT came out in the arcade back in the 80s, I pumped many a quarter into it and couldn't get very far. I felt that the game was the hardest thing that Nintendo had dropped on arcade-going gamers at the time. I recall reading the instructions on the PUNCH-OUT cabinet time and time again but not being able to completely "get it." Perhaps I just wasn't ready for it. Years later I played PUNCH-OUT on the SNES and got a little further, but I still didn't glean absolute enjoyment.

Enter a new millenium and the Wii. I am here to tell you that PUNCH-OUT is some of the most fun I have had with that system outside of ANIMAL CROSSING. Yes, the patterns of the your opponents are telegraphed and learnable. Yes, they are also the same patterns that you have known for years. But there is something else. This game mixes it up more. The patterns might work for half of the game, but when you are defending your title, things change. Glass Joe
might have been a basic punk when you were working to get your belt, but in title defense, he is now a major punk. King Hippo might have taken mad sucker punches to the belly on your way to the top, but when you get your championship belt, Hippo has a manhole cover taped to his stomach and defies you to get a decent hit in.

The quotes that these characters pop off with are a lot of fun too. Glass Joe speaks french. Von Kaiser is a German. The Disco Kid is happy go-lucky who tells you when he is about to plug your face with a "here it comes!" Soda Popinski is a Russian brute who can whip out a soda bottle at any minute and chug it, bringing his strength bar back. But by far, the most fun character is (still) Bear Hugger from Salmon Arm British Columbia. When he connects, he yells
"Salmon Arm!" He sits in his corner between rounds drinking maple syrup and bragging about eating raw fish.

Gameplay is simple enough. The dodging/ducking is something that might take some getting used to. You dodge or duck for just a second, then you are back in harm's way. This makes timing a big part of this game. Timing can only come with the comprehension of patterns. The comprehension of patterns will come if you put in practice rounds. All of this wrapped up and under the tutelage of the chocolate bar loving Doc Louis and makes the game worthwhile and a serious sweat-breaker every time you fire it up. Be sure to strap your Wiimote on, because you WILL be throwing fists. I managed to punch my coffee cup out in the middle of a serious bout with the Sandman, and it was hard to explain to the owners of all of the papers and magazines that I soaked.

If you want some well-animated gaming retro, PUNCH-OUT for the Wii is it. In a lot of ways, it stands up on its own today without its almost 30 year history.

Nintendo...wow. I have been thinking a lot about what they represent and how they do it. In a lot of ways they are the Disney of video games. Their whole universe is a lot of fun, and the adult themes are hard to find underneath it all. It is a safe world that you can plug into and not have to worry about the evil lurking around the corner. Well, maybe there will be a beast in your next round, but that beast will be kind of cute.

I am not going to spoil the unlockable character at the end of the game. However, if you want to see him in action, you should click this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVWnwPml7aY

Yeah, it has been a rough week in regards to what is coming out in the theaters. I am not big on HARRY POTTER, and the first 10 minutes of BRUNO made me so angry that I just bailed. What I needed this week was a bit of the retro, and I got it. PUNCH-OUT was the retro fix I needed. Plus, I am going to continue looking for that retro fix from this game for quite some time.