Underrated Retro – Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!

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The next episode of our Underrated Retro Series is the *not-so-underrated*, Mike Tyson’s Punchout.  This is the spiritual prequel to the last game we featured, Power Punch II.

Punch Out was released in 1987 in North America for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and served as a console port from the original Punch Out!! arcade game.  It was directed by the original Arcade producer, Genyo Takeda.   Because the NES was not as powerful as the arcade hardware, Takeda and his crew realized that it would be impossible for the NES port to faithfully emulate the arcade graphics. Instead of making the playable boxer wire-framed or transparent to see an opponent, they decided to shrink the playable boxer, so that players could easily see opponents over his head. Other things added to the NES version that the arcade versions lacked were a rough plot, a background music track played during fights, animated cutscenes and a password system for saving progress.

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The cover boy and final boss was a young, “Iron” Mike Tyson.  Nintendo decided to pay Mike Tyson a rumored $50,000 for his likeness in Punch Out, a period that would last 3 years.  It was a huge chance for Nintendo, since Tyson wasn’t an established champion yet.  However, it just so happens that Tyson would go on to win the WBC World Title, but later be defeated by James “Buster” Douglas.  After this defeat, Nintendo decided not to renew the licensing deal with Tyson.  They went on to create a fictional final boss, “Mr. Dream”, in lieu of Mike, and insert him into the game.

The game is centered around a fictional boxer that is trying to work his way up the ranks, Little Mac.  Mac has an extremely limited repertoire of moves compared to his many colorful opponents.

The main attacks the player has at their disposal are jabs, uppercuts, and body punches.  Uppercuts can only be acquired by countering the opponent right before or after they launch an attack.  The player can store up to 3 uppercuts for use.

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Along with attacks, the player also has a small range of defensive maneuvers.  Blocks by putting up guard, ducking, and dodging are all available.  Blocking affects the player’s heart meter, which decreases by three upon being struck by an opponent and one upon blocking an attack or an opponent blocking/dodging the player’s attack. When the heart meter decreases to zero, Little Mac temporarily turns pink and appears exhausted, leaving the player unable to attack but still able to dodge or block. At this point, Mac can regain some hearts (and his normal color palette) only by avoiding the opponent’s punches. He immediately loses all of his hearts upon being knocked down, but can regain some by getting up.

As Little Mac, your goal is to move up the rankings in three different divisions, and defeat the champions in each decision.  You are given rematches if you lose to the ranked opponents, but fall a few rungs down if you lose in a title match.  Losing to Mike Tyson results in an automatic Game Over.

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Punchout is a stellar game with very few flaws as an early boxing game.  The controls are easy and fun.  Since Little Mac has limited mobility around the ring, he can only dodge left and right, things are snappy.  Having START be the uppercut works out well and adds a third-button option to the usual two-button NES control schemes.

The graphics are superb for an NES title.  The sprites, even though repeated (with the exception of King Hippo), are cartoonish and bright.  They even kept Mario AS Mario for this game, which is a nice touch.

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The sound is pretty good and really keeps the atmosphere of pro-boxing alive. But the “barks” by some of the characters can be weird and out of place.  The music is memorable and sets the tone for every scene it’s used for.  I think the most memorable song is the Rocky-inspired jogging theme.  Also, who can forget that pink jumpsuit?

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The game is extremely challenging in the later stages.  The first half of the game can easily be beaten in under 20 mins, however once you beat the 2nd Championship, the pace really picks up.  Most of the game is pattern memorization, depending on the opponent and their special moves.  Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream is a fight that one must practice and be prepared for.  Mike can knock you out in 1 punch!  Once you lose, it’s Game Over.  This is extremely unforgiving.

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Punch Out for the NES is one of the best titles to ever come out for the system.  Whether you’re questing for Mike Tyson or Mr. Dream, your experience will be memorable.  Just don’t forget to have Doc rub you in between rounds!

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