The NES gave us some of Nintendo’s most well-known franchises, and the petite boxer in green is no exception. Punch-Out!! (shouting the title is optional) was the first of the series to appear on a home console, remaking the two already popular arcade games, with protagonist Little Mac facing off against a host of country caricatures.
Thankfully, you won’t need a NES to get your boxing mitts on the game, as you can buy a digital copy for your 3DS or Wii U via the Nintendo Virtual Store. The best part is it’s a direct port, meaning the gameplay stays true to its original format, alongside upgraded 8-bit graphics.
Gameplay is fairly simple, having you conquer three circuits in order to become a boxing champ. There’s not much in terms of controls either, with hits, ducks, dodges, and blocks all executed via the D-pad and A and B buttons. You have a minute per round to reduce your opponent’s health to zero; do this three times and you move onto the next match. Sounds easy, right?
Here’s the thing – it’s notoriously difficult. As in, you’ll-probably-get-beaten-by-Glass-Joe-on-your-first-playthrough difficult. You’ll throw random punches, constantly be blocked, and before you know it, you’re out of hearts and frantically tapping buttons to recover from getting your ass kicked by a pseudo-Nazi stereotype. Though speed runs make the game seem a breeze, Punch-Out!! requires PRACTICE.
“Logic is thrown out the window as you, a 4′ 8” lightweight, attempt to take down a 237 lb Russian alcoholic, all whilst Mario referees.”
The reason for this is the game’s AI, which was groundbreaking at the time of release – each character has a rhythmic pattern of attacks and taunts that must be learnt from start to finish. There’s no point in advancing through sheer luck, as the game punishes you for it once you pass the Minor Circuit. From Mr. Sandman’s ‘Dreamland Express’ to Great Tiger’s, erm, ‘Tiger Punch’, you’ll need to strategically observe when and how often specific moves are used, and most importantly, when you can get those coveted Star Punches. So don’t think you can skip ahead to the final fight; those access codes are worth your time and effort, and you WILL need to humbly reset your game again and again if you want to actually be a decent player. Although it can initially seem daunting, once you don your pink tracksuit, you’ll have mastered the quick dodge (pressing down and left/right simultaneously, by the way), took notes from Doc Louis during each match interval, and know the exact frame to perform an instant KO.
That’s not to say it’s entirely a dull stretch of learning patterns – it’s this world’s characters that’ll bring you back for rematches. Logic is thrown out the window as you, a 4′ 8” lightweight, attempt to take down a 237 lb Russian alcoholic, all whilst Mario referees. You have to wonder how the heck some of these contestants legally made it into the ring – King Hippo’s so huge, his stats are question marks. Some may argue it mocks other cultures, but many praise the game’s gleeful parodies of stereotypes across the globe, exemplified via their unique animations and gameplay style (personal favourite goes to narcissistic Spaniard, Don Flamenco).
Though the UK never got the Mike Tyson edition, Punch-Out!! is still entertainingly infuriating to play even on modern consoles. Forget the World Boxing Federation – Punch-Out!! is the true king of the ring.