Retro-Gaming Review #5 - Even More Punch-Out!
by Scrooge McSuck
Special Note: Unlike previous versions where I do a more traditional review of a few games, tying them in with each other through some manner, I will skip the former and just chatter about the topic at hand, and just reflect on the series, the pros and cons, while trying to be informative about the subjects, too. I recently purchased a new copy of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, something I traded away years ago for TMNT II: The Arcade Game, so there's the inspiration behind doing this review.
- I know it's become a Scrooge standard, but boy, do I love the Punch-Out franchise. Granted, all of my knowledge and gaming experience stems from the NES, SNES, and most recently released Wii versions, but I do have minimal recollection of the original arcade game. Scrooge Tidbit: I've only played it once, probably when I was in the 4-6 years old range, and up until then, I only knew of the Mike Tyson's Punch-Out version on the NES (I didn't even know they re-released it with "Mr. Dream" until well into the 90's). After defeating Glass Joe, I was very surprised to see that the next opponent wasn't Von Kaiser, but Piston Hurricane (of course, I didn't remember who it was back then without researching the game), then suddenly fighting Bald Bull, who I remember appearing much later in the NES Title. My game ended here, since I didn't know the strategy of playing and probably found something cooler to play, but I do remember my brother playing, and got as far as a guy I thought was Don Flamenco, but it turned out to be a horrible Italian stereotype known as Pizza Pasta. That might be the second most offensive name, second only to VODKA DRUNKINSKI.
The original Punch-Out followed the standard pattern of the series, as well as that of the arcade engine of infinite fights until you finally lose. You fight all the ranked contenders in hopes of being crowned the WVBA Champion, fighting through all of your favorite characters, like Glass Joe, Bald Bull, Mr. Sandman, Piston Hurricane... uh... Kid Quick... Pizza Pasta? Okay, so a few of these guys were so generic and mediocre, they couldn't find themselves to be recycled for another of the later versions, although some might argue that Kid Quick might be a rough version of Disco Kid, who was a new character introduced in the Wii Punch-Out, contrary to my original statement that there were no original characters introduced in that game. Two years later, and I finally corrected my mistake. Gameplay wise, it's like any Punch-Out game you'll ever play... it all comes down to timing. Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge your way to victory, counter-punching attacks and KO'ing all those who dare challenge your awesomeness.
It was only about a year later when Super Punch-Out was released, with the introductions of not only new characters, but new fighting techniques as well, the most important being the ability to duck. This is notable because most, if not all, of the fights include ducking high-impact attacks, such as Super Macho Man's spinning punch, Dragon Chan's karate kick, and Bear Hugger's overhead double fist attack. Joining them along for the ride are Great Tiger, champion of India, and the previously mentioned Vodka Drunkinski. Words cannot sum up how horribly offensive that name has to be, but at least they had enough good taste not to give him a pink skin tone. While I do remember the original arcade game, the sequel was a complete mystery to me, and so when the SNES Super-Punch Out came out, I had no friggin' clue that Hugger, Chan, or even Piston Huricane, were pulled from previous games, and not just original characters designed for that game.
The Punch-Out franchise hit it big, though, in 1987, when a "port" was in production for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I say port loosely, because the graphical and music limitations of the NES couldn't come close to replicating the arcade versions to it's fullest, but that's never stopped the NES before. The NES Punch-Out introduced some new elements and even more characters to fill out the roster. First, your fighter has an official name (Little Mac), and a coach (Doc Louis... what's his story?). Instead of one tier of fights, you're broken down into three seperate title rankings, Minor, Major, and World, increasing in difficulty as you go along, before you get to the big one... the dream fight. With Kid Dynamite, Mike Tyson. Yes, someone behind the game thought it would be a smart idea to slap Mike Tyson on the game to help sales, and even created a Punch-Out likeness of him as the final fight in the game. To this day, I will say my overall record against Mike Tyson has to be something like 11-145.
To be fair, I only fight Tyson playing through the entire game, even though there is a password system, typically given to you so you can continue at the beginning of the Major and World circuits, as well as the Dream Fight, so you don't have to play through the entire game if you don't want to. Hell, there's even an "Alternate World" password, where it's basically a no-loss gauntlet, where one loss is an automatic game over, compared to the ability to drop a fight or two before getting the game over screen. Of course, losing to Mike Tyson means automatic Game Over, as well. There's nothing more disappointing seeing Little Mac, hunched over in his chair, defeated, contemplating retirement. While I applaud a password system for games, this is one where you willingly want to play from beginning to end, fighting all of the horrible stereotypes of the world, according to the 1980's. Returning from previous Punch-Out titles include Glass Joe, the introductory fight where you have to try to lose, Great Tiger, Bald Bull and his infamous Bull Charge attack, Mr. Sandman, the #1 Contender, Super Macho Man, the World Champion, and last and definitely NOT least... Soda Popinski.
Wait... what? Soda Popinski? Yes, the PC friendly folks at the NES HQ thought "Vodka Drunkinski" was just too offensive of a name, especially on a system directed primarily at children... but that didn't stop them from keeping with the stereotype, and cranking it up. Popinski's mid-round comments are all horrible drinking puns, and for some reason, he looks like he's been exposed to pink radiation, keeping with the tradition of "them red commies" I guess. Nintendo: Now You're Playing With Racial Insensitivity. With the returning characters we also have some newbies: Von Kaiser, a german fighter with no distinctive personality, Piston Honda, who speaks in Japanese company names, Don Flamenco, a guy who looks like your middle aged father, and King Hippo, possibly the most recognizable character from the entire series. He was the fighter you couldn't beat, then felt like a complete asshole for not knowing the secret to beating him. Fat and bald, with a laughable grunt, King Hippo and his over-sized trousers (and tighty whiteys) were so enchanting, he was animated as a regular villain in the Captain N animated series (although for some reason, he was illustrated BLUE). Lastly, one of the iconic moments from Punch-Out... Little Mac, wearing a pink hoodie and track suit, racing behind Doc Louis riding a bicycle, passing the Statue of Liberty. I mentioned this in my Wii Punch Out review, but damn, did I mark out for that when I saw it on a modern console.
Punch-Out would see a second release sometime around 1990, shortly after Mike Tyson lost his Unified World Title to James "Buster" Douglas (who slapped his name on an Arcade Port for the Genesis, to far less successful results, much like his career). I don't know the true reason, most likely not wanting to waste money signing Tyson to a licensing agreement to use his name and image, but the game was released with a new character in his place... Mr. Dream, from Dreamland (HUH?!), with a 99-0 record with 99 KO's. So he fought Glass Joe every night, I guess. I can forgive this, if not for the fact it's Mike Tyson, turned white. He's even got a green outline from the original mat color, because they decided to change that to the generic blue, too. For some reason, Mr. Dream seems much more beatable than Tyson, even though it's the same character. Maybe it's the intimidation factor or something. Tyson = WOAH! Mr. Dream = WHA?. Punch-Out featuring Mr. Dream would become, and remains, the official release, making it's way to the Wii Virtual Console several years ago.
Punch-Out for the NES ruled, but what if they could've given us what the Arcade did? Could we get those large, colorful sprites? Digitized voices? Fresh new characters, along with some classics? Well, the Super NES answered those questions and delivered. Mostly. Gameplay wise, it follows the arcade very faithfully. Instead of the 3 rounds like in the NES version, it's back to one round, and there's no Decision. You either win by KO/TKO or you lose. Also, instead of earning stars for uppercuts, you build up a punch meter that allows you to unleash an infinite amount of uppercuts and body blows. The layout of each fight is an exact replica, with sprite presentations and pre-fight introductions. Super Punch-Out keeps the circuit breakdown intact, with a Minor, Major, and World Circuit. You must go undefeated in all three if you're to unlock the "Special Circuit", and no, it's not the circuit of brain damaged fighters. It's the highest difficulty of opponents you could ever imagine... I guess.
The cast of fighters is a mixed bag, consisting of 16 fighters, old and new to the series. Coming back for another round includes Mr. Sandman, Super Macho Man, and Bald Bull, who are all represented on the cartridge packaging, as well as arcade returns such as Bear Hugger, Dragon Chan, and Piston Hurricane (who I originally called a Piston Honda knock-off, before learning about his characters existance). I would like to point out my extreme disappointment that Glass Joe, a staple of the series to this point, did not return, only being name dropped as a trainer for one of the new fighters, replacing him as the weakest, suckiest fighter on the planet. The list of original fighters is long, ranging from quite awesome to quite pathetic: Gabby Jay (Glass Joe's replacement), Bob Charlie, Masked Muscle, Aaron Ryan, Heikie Kagero, Mad Clown, Narciss Prince, Hoy Quarlow, Rick and Nick Bruiser, the latter two I labeled as this game's "Mike Tyson" (I originally linked their appearance to a real fighter, but for the life of me can't remember anymore... Michael Moorer? Roy Jones Jr.?)
Be prepared for the lone negative rant against the whole Punch-Out series... these new characters sucked. They REALLY sucked. Okay, maybe Aran Ryan was cool, and the Bruiser Brothers were tolerable, but everyone else is just bland, uncreative, or just horribly out of place. Bob Charlie's thing is being a play on Bob Marley (har har...), Masked Muscle is a Mexican wrestler turned boxer who cheats like crazy, Heike Kagero is a lamer version of Don Flamenco, Narciss Prince looks like he belongs in Hot Shots Golf, and Hoy Quarlow is a 90 year old man who fights with a stick. Then, there's Mad Clown. I don't know the deal here with him... is he just a demented circus clown? Is he the opera character that goes insane and kills everyone during the production? Is he John Wayne Gacy? I know all these have "being mentally disturbed" in common, but it just seems so out there yet so unexplained for a character that has such potential, but in the end is just a clown. Oh, and Gabby Jay is no Glass Joe. There will never be another Glass Joe. Ever. If Punch-Out comes out on the Wii U, Glass Joe better be in the game, rocking head gear with a record of 1-156, looking like Evander Holyfield anytime since 2006, with his tongue hanging out and a vacant expression in his eyes.
As much as I've complained about the overall lack of originality and quality put behind the new cast of characters, it's still a pretty good game that falls short of the high expectations brought on by the NES version of Punch-Out. It's close to being an excellent replication of the arcade versions, with smooth controls, bright, detailed graphics, and the usual addictive gameplay of trying to KO everyone as fast as possible, and trying to get the perfect ending with an undefeated record. A nice added feature is being able to fight any previously defeated opponent in a completed circuit, either for practice or to go for an official new, lower score. I still have the Nintendo Power issue that covers this game in detail, giving tips on how to get some of the lowest times possible against each fighter. I think Gabby Jay was beatable in 6-seconds, but I never could quite time it right with him, and thus didn't care to go for speed runs with anyone else. I just wanted to win.
After that, the Punch-Out franchise pretty much vanished, popping up here and there with cameos and unlockable features to other games, but otherwise dead. Between 1995 and 2007, I've played countless boxing games, and by countless, I mean a lot. Here's a short list of games under the boxing genre that I've put my fingers to the test with... Buster Douglas Knockout Boxing on the Genesis, George Foreman Boxing, Knockout Kings (several of them), Ready 2 Rumble (the most cartoony), one of the Ready 2 Rumble games on the Gameboy Color, Mike Tyson Boxing on the original PlayStation, then another version on X-Box, Rocky for the PlayStation 2, and a couple more forgetable ones not worth remembering. Some were good, most were bad, but none compared to the enjoyment I got out of the NES Punch-Out, and to a lesser extent, the SNES Super Punch-Out. In 2009, I finally got the long-awaited return of the Punch-Out franchise, on the Wii. But that's a tale that's already been told.
I know it might seem a little tiring to read my wet dream fantasies and memories gushing over Punch-Out, but outside of the traditional game franchises like Mario, Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, and so on, I honestly hold Punch-Out up there with some of the best of them, and as a child, this game was my Nintendo World Championships Gold Cartridge. It's not worth much, but it's something I would label as priceless, and would never part with again for any amount of money. I'm sure it'll only be a matter of time before Little Mac laces up his boots, tapes those tiny little fists, and puts on the gloves for one more chance at challenging the World in his quest to become the greatest fighter in the WVBA. And just like all of the times before it, it's going to be a great experience that will never lose it's charm.