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Punch-Out!! – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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To say that the Punch Out!! series has a compelling historical foundation would be a considerable understatement. With the 1987 home console version working as a semi-port of the Punch Out!! (1984)and Super Punch Out!! (1985) arcade games, the NES version of the game was initially titled Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! to help boost sales, which Mike Tyson being paid for three years to have his likeliness appear within the game. Once his contract expired though, Nintendo had to return to titling the game simply Punch Out!!, which has gone on to become the famous title that most individuals are familiar with. Both Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! and Punch Out!! are roughly the same game though, with Mike Tyson’s appearance in the latter title being changed to that of a caucasian boxer named “Mr. Dream”, a name that hinges upon the often times ridiculous boxer names that surround the sport but also strangely fits within the confinement of the overall game’s rather goofy naming of other boxers within the game as well.

You star as an up and coming boxer named “Little Mac’, a man, who rather unsurprisingly, desires to become the world boxing champion. We never really learn much more than that about him – as is the case with other titles stemming from this particular era of gaming – but it does provide a solid foundation in which the player can envision themselves as Little Mac himself, translating their own dreams of overcoming hardships through him. Little Mac’s coach, the ex-heavyweight champ Doc Louis, helps you along the way in the fashion of a Rocky Balboa and Micky Goldmill partnership, with Doc Louis aggressively training and encouraging Little Mac throughout the game’s cutscene segments and in-between match round interactions. The humorous inclusion of Mario makes his way into the game as well, playing the hefty referee as Little Mac combats his opponents in the ring.

The boxers you face in the game showcase a creative variety as well, whether it is the humungous King Hippo to the rather wimpish and amply named Glass Joe, each of them looks quite distinctive not only in appearance but in the fashion they fight you. This is one element of the game that truly stands out – while Little Mac may be the looked upon as the everyday typical fighter looking to make his mark, his opponents each offer a uniqueness that makes them as memorable as they are challenging to defeat. Surprisingly, weight classes strangely do not apply within the universe of the game, but again, one should adhere to the rather exaggerated reality of its characters to begin with.

Like most games that came out during this era, the gameplay mechanics of Punch Out!! are surprisingly simple to pick up. The A and B buttons reflect Little Mac’s punches, with each button being ascribed to the user inputting a left or right punch. By simply pressing up and A or B on the control pad, one can perform a head punch, while just pressing A or B without pressing up will allow you perform a body punch. One also use the left or right buttons on the control pad to have Little Mac bob and weave his way around the punches thrown about by his opponents, while holding down will have him block, all of which are extremely useful mechanics of the game and offer a sense of strategy and opportunity for the player to utilize to their ability. While the controls are rather simplified, they effectively add a unique dimension to fights that produce some overall very exciting and tense filled boxing matches. Simply put, Punch Out!! is a game that requires strategic movements regarding striking your opponent at the right time, and not only that, but where you place those shots are vastly important as well.

Mastering these shots a utterly crucial to you surviving the game to the end. Opponents will throw hooks, uppercuts, jabs, and even devastating combinations that will leave you and Little Mac respectively flustered. With each opponent in the game exhibiting a different fighting style and stance, the game essentially requires you to adapt to your situation rather quickly in order to defeat your opponents. This can include such decisions as waiting patiently to expose their weakness, or working extensively on countering their powerful knockout abilities, the game presents an overall diverse range of playing styles that will keep you constantly up on your toes as a player.

As you progress through the game though, the difficulty of your opponents will significantly increase. While this is a rather formulaic approach, the difficulty of some of the later opponents may surprise – and ultimately frustrate – many players who expect a gradual increase in difficulty, instead they will be facing opponents that are vastly superior to the prior opponent they had just faced during their last match. It is fortunate to see a password system has been implemented within the game, as each subsequent opponent will seriously hand it to you time and time again as cheap tactics on their part make their way at the most inopportune times for you as a player. Logically, the higher your go up the boxing ladder, the more challenging your opponents should be, but many of them are just downright relentless and brutal in how they fight you. Punch Out!! is definitely one of those games where getting beat down countless times before ultimately succeeding is integral to the strength, longevity, and charm of the game itself. It is a game that forgoes simply button mashing, requiring a keen awareness on part of the player to defeat your opponents, which adds to the appeal factor as well as keeps you on the edge of your seat despite you are winning or losing a match.

When one considers such a sport as boxing having not been popularized as of yet within the realm of video games before this title, Punch Out!! is perhaps one of the most innovating sporting games to have ever been released. It is a game that boxing fans, as well as those who are unfamiliar with the dynamics of the sport, will find some satisfaction in, which is definitely one of the rare exceptions within the gigantic sphere of sports-centered video games. It is one of those titles that is very addictive despite its difficulty – and yes, at times cheapness – in turn offering a minuscule narrative that has you wanting to see Little Mac simply succeed in reaching the top of the boxing world, cheering him along the way as he comes back from a knockdown or lands a devastating blow to his opponent. There is a sense of rooting for the underdog here, a sensation that ultimately makes Punch Out!! a memorable title and one of the best sporting game to have ever been released on the NES.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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