Hearts on fire.
It’s Friday night, the bars and beers beckon, the clubs are calling, the women are waiting… but Tyson’s taunting and Mr. Dream’s mocking. So throw away those threads, put away the package, and get your geek in gear to play some Punch-Out!! God, it’s like being hit in the mouth with nostalgia.
Like Bonanza Bros. and many others, the game was adapted to the Nintendo Entertainment System after making it big as an arcade title. Released in 1987 as Mike Tyson’s Punch-out and featuring the ferocious fighter as your final foe, at least, in the original, the player was tasked with battling boxer after boxer as ‘Little Mac’, a lightweight with a lethal left. A handful of circuits consisted of a good handful of fighters, many of them, stock, extravagant, and hilarious but challenging too; well, for the most part. If you’re looking for a plot, there was none to be had here. Faithful to the awesome arcade action of the original, Punch-Out!! was simply about the gameplay.
Timing was everything. Little Mac could deal out the basics: hooks, jabs, and uppercuts. You could block weaker attacks as well as dodge the more powerful swings. If you managed to counter an opponent’s imminent strike, indicated by some sort of wind-up, you’d gain a star to be used towards a monster of a mash, which would consequently take out a quarter of your enemy’s life bar. Land enough attacks and you’d punch-out your adversary, giving him a good taste of the canvas. Then, who else but Mario claimed a cameo appearance as the referee counting to ten. Rarely would you be able to get the KO first time, but victory could also be achieved through a TKO, as well as by decision after three rounds.
Stings Like A Bee
Make no mistake, despite fantastic controls, Punch-Out!! was no picnic. If the game had one drawback, it was the trial-and-error nature of the gameplay. Many of your enemies were ruthlessly quick and demanded close observation to learn their strategies. Yes, Glass Joe was at best a pushover but, aside from your opening bout, the opposition would use a variety of moves in a variety of rhythms, landing haymakers, quick jabs, and sometimes they would even cheat (damn you, Tiger)! Every time you’d work out the timing of each of your opponents’ hits, every time you got that KO, you’d have to discard what you knew and figure out your new opponents’ array of moves. Little Mac could lose a few matches before the bell rang Game Over, but if you got to the game’s final boss, good luck.
Confusion often stems from the fact that there are two different versions of Punch-Out!!, one officially released in ’87, and the other in 1990. The former features the likeness of Mike Tyson and the latter another stock behemoth that would give Ivan Drago a run for his money. The reason behind the multiple publications comes down to licensing rights, but maybe it was for the best considering Tyson’s later situation. Needless to say, Nintendo would hardly have been in the position to endorse convicted felons to little kids. Whoever you were trading shots with, if you were looking for mercy you came to the wrong game. The final boss was able to KO with one uppercut… yes, one single hit, and you’re down. And once you inevitably lost the match, there were no retries. You’d have to work your way back to the top to last long enough against Mr. Dream to actually formulate some counter-tactics.
The former features the likeness of Mike Tyson and the latter another stock behemoth that would give Ivan Drago a run for his money.
Thankfully, a password system existed to ease the pain and let you pick up from most any point in Punch-Out!!’s progression. Other tricks also leaned in the favour of leniency, like mashing on the SELECT button to restore some of your health between rounds. Other than that, you were on your own in the realm of NES challenge.
Though the system’s hardware made emulating the original Punch-Out!!’s graphical greatness impossible, Nintendo did a fine job in producing what was still one of the best looking titles on any 8-bit machine. The characters were all well detailed, every muscle giving weight to their menace. Spectators leered in the background, their heads bobbing, the flash of cameras bombarding the ring. The animated sight of your fighter taking down that fruit Flamenco or that cheap sorcery-dependent Tiger was never satisfying enough.
Twenty-five years since, Punch-Out!! is just as fun as it ever was; great games simply don’t age. Above all else – the sharp graphics, the challenging and simple gameplay, the kick-ass music, the comic attitude – Nintendo’s classic is just that because of its tight controls. Dodging, jabbing, countering, haymaking the heck out of your haughty rival… it’s all responsive and rewarding. Short and sweet, it’s a title you can always revisit, even on that Friday night when your town’s begging to be painted red. Grab your gloves, time your parry, and keep up the jab. Punch-Out!!’s an eternal hit.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video reflection here.