Mike Tysonís Punch Out is heralded as one of the best boxing games ever despite the fact that it only featured one big name fighter, Mario as a referee, and lack of an overly complicated fighting system. So what made it so great? The game was surprisingly deep for the time. Instead of opting for a straight button masher (like Urban Champion, though thatís stretching it) Mike Tysonís Punch Out required a lot of strategy, timing, and most of all, patience. Beyond the deep gameplay, the visuals were the best seen on the NES at the time or for its entire lifespan for that matter. If you thought 8-bit gaming was shallow and lacked any kind of detail, you havenít played Punch Out!
Punch Out puts you into the pint-sized shoes of the pint-sized Little Mac and by pint-sized, I really mean it since youíre only one-third the size of most of your opponents.
For no reason at all, I have drawn a diagram to show the scale weíre talking here.
Mac really doesnít have things like revenge for the death of his mother or dedicating his career to a dead mentor driving him, heís just a newcomer to the World Video Boxing Circuit (herein referred to as the WVBA for the sake of my carpal tunnels) who wants to fight his way to the top. Of course, you canít just start at the top. Youíll have to pay your dues first.
You start out in the dregs of the WVBA minor circuit where youíll face the likes of the jabroni Glass Joe, with an impressive record of 1-99, mind you, the schnitzel munching Von Kaiser, and the minor circuit champion Piston Honda who will unleash a flurry of fists if you let your guard down.
The major circuit ups the ante in terms of difficulty and overall outlandishness with the overly cocky Don Flamenco, the overly obese King Hippo, and the overly hairless Bald Bull as reigning champ just to name a few.
The World Circuit featured a lot of difficult, and strangely a lot older, opponents. You had Soda Popinski who I am sure was guzzling more than soda at the fight, Mr. Sandman, and Super Macho Man who had what seemed to be an unhealthy addiction to Just for Men since his hair color changed from scene to scene.
After defeating all comers in the world circuit, you finally get your dream fight against Tyson himself. Not just the Mike Tyson you and I know nowadays, weíre talking the unbeatable Mike Tyson from 1987 who would rather settle for trying to take your head off with an uppercut without breaking a sweat than attempting to bite your ear off. This is the Mike Tyson who hadnít had his spirit broken by Robin Givens yet and still had a future ahead of him. Iíd go on, but I feel Iíve made my point. In essence, Mike was regarded, and has gone down in history as one of the hardest endgame bosses ever. In a fight pitting every game boss against each other, it will easily come down Mike Tyson and Dracula. At that point itís a matter of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object (thank you Gorilla Monsoon!).
So how does the game play you ask? Once you enter the ring and the fight is started, your goal is to wear down your opponentís life bar. Once you drain the life bar, theyíre knocked down and the ten count starts. You can dole out rights and lefts with the A and B buttons. Pressing up with deliver a shot to the head, or just press one of the buttons to deliver a body shot. Hitting your opponent at an opportune moment will get you a start which can give you a super uppercut which you can deliver with a press of the start button. This means that you have no way to pause the action, which really sucked when your mom wanted you to take out the trash. Knocking your opponent down three times within a round will get you a TKO. If you manage to go a couple of rounds or use the right combination of attacks, you can get your opponent down for the ten count for a KO and youíre whisked off to the next opponent. Youíll have to defeat a set number of opponents to reach the champ of the circuit. Once you win the championship, youíll get the infamous jogging scene with Mac and his trainer Doc where you start to really question Macís fashion sense. Sure it was the 80ís and all, but a pink hoodie? Please!
Mac personifies the underdog since he can be taken out in just a couple hits from some of the bigger guys heís up against. In addition to keeping an eye on your life bar, thereís also a stamina meter (designated by a heart) that you have to gauge. When an opponent blocks one of your punches, or you block one yourself, your stamina meter will go down by one point. Your stamina will also drastically decrease if youíre hit. When your stamina is drained, Mac will turn pink and wonít be able to attack. Opponents will take advantage of this by unleashing a string of attacks against you. You gain stamina back by dodging them; usually a couple of dodges will do just fine. If youíre not able to regain your stamina, itís only a matter of 2-3 knock downs before you rack up a loss. Some opponents are kind enough to request a rematch, other times youíll have to fight the previous opponent all over again which can bring down your motivation a littleÖespecially when it comes to Mr. Tyson.
Every fighter has their own fighting style and you usually have to wait for them to attack first, since theyíre open if you successfully dodge. You can tell when characters are about to attack since theyíll either flash, raise their eyebrows, or give a little hop. This is where the timing comes in since later opponents like Super Macho Man will perform a series of punches in rapid succession that youíll have to dodge. Others like Piston Honda will force you to block or duck their attacks. Itís all about learning their patterns.
The use of the MMC 2 chip allowed the NES to give out visuals people didnít think were possible. Characters are the biggest seen on the console, even little Mac who easily has a couple of inches on super Mario. While the visuals were impressive, there was a bit of body recycling and palette swapping being done. The similarities between Bald Bull and Mr. Sandman were more than just coincidence since Mr. Sandman used the same fighting style as Bald Bull, only he was a little darker. Luckily, the similarities werenít in the face. Thereís only room for one guy as ugly as Bald Bull on this planet. The additions of a moving crowd during fights are also a nice touch.
Punch Out also does well in the sound department. While there was no speech, the game did a great job with bleeps and bloops to make it sound like the characters were talking. From Mario giving the count to the between round chatter, each senseless noise gave the characters life and you could almost imagine what they sounded like. It was all about the imagination then. The gameís soundtrack also does a decent job and I dare anyone not to hum Punch Outís fight music right now.
Not only is Punch Out one of the best boxing games ever, itís also one of the greatest games that the NES had to offer. Youíd be hard pressed not to see Punch Out show up on the top ten list of any kid who grew up in front of a Nintendo, or else they just werenít a gamer. There was nothing like showing off your skill by taking Glass Joe down in the first couple of minutes of round 1. Though the real life drama of Mike Tyson caused him to get cut out of future versions of the game, it still remained the same albeit with lamer box art and a guy named Mr. Dream at the end. Punch Out was the first game to take video boxing to the next level and every game that comes out today or in the future owes something to it.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media