If you are a frequent visitor of arcades, you’ve probably played or seen the popular boxing game, Punch-Out!! from Nintendo, which released three years ago. Nintendo has released a heavily revamped and improved version for the NES this month, called Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, featuring the 21-year old boxing phenom, Tyson. Last month, we saw the release of Ring King, a solid 2-player boxing game from Data East; however, this new Game Pak bears very little resemblance to that or any other previous title in the genre. This is truly unlike any other gaming experience on the Nintendo and one that I think many will find enjoyment with.
You play as Little Mac, a 17-year old fighter from The Bronx. Your objective is win matches and advance in the 3 circuits, eventually reaching the World Champion, Mike Tyson. Your opponents are from all over the globe. You start off fighting very poor and weak fighters, such as Glass Joe from Paris, with an abysmal 1-99 record. Knock him down and more difficult boxers will block your path, including: Bald Bull, an aging Turkish boxer with his signature move the Bull Charge, and Super Macho Man, the Hollywood fighter you meet right before you advance to Tyson. The boxers all have amusing styles, catch phrases, special moves, and taunts. This attention to details makes each one extremely memorable and distinct. That being said there are several eyebrow-raising cultural stereotypes that are present, but they are toned down from the arcade version.
As I stated earlier, this game plays very differently from standard fighting games. Little Mac and your opponent do no move around the ring. Instead, your position is fixed in the lower part of the screen below your challenger. If you’ve played the arcade game, you’ll be prepared here. You can punch with your left or right targeting either their head or body. When defending yourself, you can block punches by hitting the down button, or dodge to the left or right. Landing a punch at an unexpected time earns you a Star. Pressing the Start button will use the Star, which unleashes a powerful and potentially damaging uppercut.
Mac also has a set number of hearts and every time your punch is blocked, you lose a heart. When you run out, your stamina is drained and you can no longer attack and your movement is slowed for a short time. There are three rounds to each fight and each round is three minutes long. A knockout occurs when a fighter goes down three times in a round, or if they are too weak to stand after going down. If this doesn’t occur at the end of the match the referee (who just so happens to be Mario!) will make a decision, which is based on your point total. Losing a fight will result in either a rematch or you’ll drop one ranking and have to fight a previous challenger. Losing again will result in a forced retirement and Game Over.
While the game style doesn’t change from match to match, your strategy will. Each boxer is unique and it takes a little time to figure out each opponent’s patterns. They all have different fighting techniques and at least one special move. The basic strategy is to punch where they are not defending (the easier fighters often leave their head or body wide open for attack frequently), and block or dodge when they are attacking you. Learning how to avoid special attacks, recognizing their tells, and exposing their obvious weak points are all crucial to success. Timing is everything. In fact, in some ways the game isn’t so much about boxing as it is memorizing your opponent’s moves and predicting how to dodge and attack. At some point I became so glued to the action on the screen that I fell into a rhythm – almost a dance if you will.
The game offers quite a bit of humor to it as well. In between each round your opponents will taunt and ridicule you, or even sometimes belittle themselves. Your trainer Doc will encourage you to keep up the good fight and even give you hints on how to get through the match. If you win a title and advance to the next circuit there is a long training cut-scene that shows you jogging with Doc in New York. This is where you obtain your Special Password to continue your progress so you don’t have to start over from scratch every single time you play.
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! really delivers in the graphics department. All of the characters are drawn beautifully and their style and features are very memorable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen bigger sprites on the NES, and each character is wonderfully detailed and there’s very little, if any, annoying blinking or flickering in the graphics like we see in so many of the games on the system. The backgrounds are pretty simple: a boxing ring with a sea of spectators. The song that plays in each match is identical, so there is not a lot of variety, but it is very catchy and is a perfect match for the tone of the game. The game’s intro and the music during the jogging scenes are also right on the money. The sound effects are top notch and really impact the feel of the game, most notably the sound when your opponent gets knocked down.
Writing about this game cannot do it the justice it deserves. I can’t emphasize how much fun I had going through the ranks and after countless hours finally making it to Mike Tyson. Every single match was a terrific experience and I was on the edge of my seat when I fought the tougher boxers. Tyson is tough as nails and it should take even great gamers dozens of times to even have a chance of beating him. Practice makes perfect in this game and each time you lose, you learn from experience and improve the next time. The only real downfall is the lack of opponents, especially when you learn the game and the earlier fights become way too easy. Also, the scenario is pretty ludicrous, considering Little Mac is only 110 pounds, 17 years old, and about one-third the size of all the other boxers – but hey, this is only a video game. The mixture of fun-factor, terrific control and gameplay mechanics, and iconic and quirky characters makes this THE game to play this autumn.
Mike Tyson's Punch Out
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.