The Confusing History of Punch-Out!

A Comprehensive Punch-Out History Lesson

If I have a favorite game for the Nintendo Wii, it’s Punch-Out. And even though I’ve never been a huge fan of the Super Smash Brothers franchise, it’s nice to see Punch-Out protagonist Little Mac getting the recognition and respect he deserves. Older gamers who remember the 8-bit era probably remember Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out quite fondly and were glad to see the remake of the game on the Wii. But did you know that there were more Punch-Out games than that, as well as a few spinoffs? So let’s take a few minutes to talk about the slightly confusing history of Punch-Out.

For the uninitiated, Punch-Out is a franchise where you box your way through cartoonish racial caricature opponents to become the World Video Boxing Association Champion. But you will never win by throwing punch after punch. No, instead you must watch your opponent’s mannerisms to see what attack he will throw next. A wink of the eye could signal a jab while a sneer could telegraph a powerful uppercut. Only by learning your opponents’ increasingly complex patterns will you be able to defeat them.
So on to the many iterations of Punch-Out!

 

history of punch-out

Soda Popinski will dominate you in each one. Credit: Punch-Out Wiki

 

The Arcade Games

Are you sick, because you’re looking a bit green……………

Punch-Out actually began as an arcade game, and believe it or not, it actually predates Super Mario Brothers. First released in 1983 in Japan before being ported to Europe and North America in 1984, Punch-Out introduced us to an unnamed boxer (who appeared as a green wireframe during gameplay so you could see the opponent) who must fight through six opponents in order to become World Video Boxing Association Champion. The game was unusual as it was one of the very first arcade games to make use of dual screens (back before the Nintendo DS made it cool).

There was a sequel released a year later called Super Punch-Out. The two games were nearly identical, with the only major differences being a new roster of opponents, a slight graphical update, and the ability to duck.

The traditional Punch-Out gameplay is a bit different than most players are used to today. You only get one round to fight your opponent (who, unlike Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, is about your size). There are no Star Punches, fatigue meters, or anything like that. Building combos allows your punches to be supercharged, but the truest way to succeed was to watch your opponent and learn their attack patterns. That was always the core principle of the franchise and it remains intact today.

The arcade had a number of characters that were never seen again, but Glass Joe, Great Tiger, Soda Popinski (known in the arcade as Vodka Drunkensi), Bald Bull, Super Macho Man, and Mr. Sandman were featured in the NES game, and Bear Hugger (known in the arcade as Canadian Bear Hugger), Dragon Chan, and Piston Hurricane were in the SNES title alongside Bald Bull, Super Macho Man, and Mr. Sandman. Ironically, a couple characters who were in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out but were absent from the SNES Super Punch-Out were actually debuted in the arcade Super Punch-Out. The console version of Great Tiger apparently wasn’t super enough for the SNES Super Punch-Out, but the arcade Great Tiger debuted in the arcade Super Punch-Out, for example. I kinda like that.

I actually got to play the original Punch-Out at an arcade/bar earlier this year. The arcade difficulty is definitely far greater than that of its console counterparts because I lost to Glass Joe three times! Glass Friggin’ Joe! This is like Mario being killed repeatedly by Goombas! Or Power Rangers being defeated by Putty Patrollers!

punch-out bald bull

Or like this guy losing to Disco Kid.

Oh, and there was also a home port of Super Punch-Out called Frank Bruno’s Boxing released in Europe on Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC starring Frank Bruno. Nothing to say here, so we’ll pretend it never happened. Move along.

The Console Games

Tyson is hungry, and your ears are on the menu

Ah, the version of Punch-Out that everybody knows and loves. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, starring Iron Mike Tyson himself. Released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, this game revamped the gameplay from the arcade quite a bit. While the core mechanics and enemy sprites were familiar, the camera angle was now from much farther back and higher up, and the characters were resized so that the protagonist was about a quarter of the size of the opponents. This was due to the limited hardware of the NES and its inability to faithfully recreate the arcade experience. This was the first game to introduce the set up of having three rounds, each with three minutes. The Star Punch and TKO made their debuts in this game, as did the characters of Little Mac and Doc Louis.

The roster of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out is the quintessential roster containing all the iconic opponents, from Glass Joe to King Hippo to Piston Honda, all the way to Tyson himself. And the fight against Tyson is beyond difficult. A legitimate victory over Tyson earns you the respect of fellow gamers, as his one-hit knockout punches come without warning and are tough to dodge and even tougher to counter.

How did real life boxer Mike Tyson even make it into a game filled with enough racist stereotypes to offend a 1940’s DC Comics artist? Minoru Arakawa, the founder of Nintendo of America, had been watching a Tyson fight after the limited Gold Version of Punch-Out was shipped (you had to win the Nintendo Famicom Golf US Competition). Amazed by Tyson’s boxing ability, Arakawa immediately worked to get Tyson into the game.

Eventually, Punch-Out: Featuring Mr. Dream was released. The “new character” of Mr. Dream was simply a reskinned Mike Tyson, as the game was released after Nintendo lost the rights to license his name. Contrary to popular belief, the controversy surrounding Tyson’s rape charge played no role in his name being dropped (the Mr. Dream version shipped in 1990, one year before the rape charge). Rather, Tyson lost his title to James “Buster” Douglas and Nintendo decided not to renew the license).

If there is a game that defined the franchise, that everyone thinks of when someone mentions the franchise, that is the franchise, it’s this one. Let’s face it; when someone mentions Punch-Out, this is the game you think of. It was a huge success, and deservedly so. So naturally, a sequel was put in the works. Unfortunately…………………

Punch-Out IN SPAAAAAAAAAACE!!!!!

Developed by Beam Software and American Softworks, a sequel to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out was put in development called Mike Tyson’s Intergalactic Power Punch. Well, that’s originally what it was called, until Mike Tyson got himself into a whole host of legal issues (like the aforementioned rape charges).

The game was released under the name Power Punch II, which confused the heck out of players because there was no original Power Punch. Mike Tyson was changed to “Mark Tyler”, through Tyson’s face and character model were unchanged. Tyson—I mean Tyler—was the protagonist this time around, competing against aliens and monsters in an intergalactic boxing federation (called the Intergalactic Boxing Federation, or IGBF). It plays nothing like Punch-Out and is an all around horrible game.

I would like to see a sequel to Punch-Out on the Wii where Little Mac fights aliens using the gameplay style of the newest game, but that’s just me. Power Punch II’s financial and critical failure—and the reputation it justifably has—would likely ensure that such a concept would never happen.

I’m super. Thanks for asking

So the franchise eventually made it’s way to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System with the release of Super Punch-Out in 1994. This time around, the game was more true to the original arcade games. While your character (who may or may not have been Little Mac) isn’t a green wireframe, the game still utilizes the behind-the-back camera view of the arcade games, as well as a one round fight. There are no Star Punches, but rather the power meter of old makes a return. Super Punch-Out almost perfectly replicates the arcade experience, though honestly I prefer the more popular style that was first experienced in the NES version and later in the Wii version.

What made this game truly shine was its huge cast of original characters. While most people think of Glass Joe, King Hippo, and Soda Popinski when they think of Punch-Out, the cast of characters this game had was just as diverse and colorful (and racist) and its a damn shame that many of them will likely never be seen in a future Punch-Out game. While the NES game is a classic, I feel that this is a truly under-appreciated gem in the franchise that shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone.

Come on, Mac baby, you got this! Now where’s my chocolate bar?

Fifteen years and three generations of Nintendo consoles passed before Punch-Out made its triumphant return to the Nintendo Wii under the name of………….Punch-Out. So to clarify, we have Punch-Out on the arcade, followed by Super Punch-Out on the arcade, followed by Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on the NES, followed by Super Punch-Out on the SNES, followed by Punch-Out on the Wii. Alright then.

The game ditches the traditional arcade gameplay for the classic and popular experience delivered by Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. The game plays almost exactly like it and is better of for it. Once again, fans take on the role of Little Mac as he battles his way through hilariously racist stereotypes to become the World Video Boxing Association Champion. Upon winning the title, you fight through the boxers again with each one having either gotten stronger or covered his weakness (for example, King Hippo has duct taped a manhole cover to protect his stomach). The difficulty spike for Title Defense is huge; when Glass Joe poses a credible challenge, you know you’re going to have a tough time ahead.

The game also featured a multiplayer mode, a first for the Punch-Out franchise. The controls for it were a little weird, but it was ultimately a fun addition to the game, though certainly nothing that fans would be clamoring for in the future. Two players take control of opposing, different colored Little Macs, dodging each other’s attacks and timing their counterattacks (it’s almost like both players are playing as the bad guys). Gaining enough power turns your Mac into Giga Mac.

If there was any complaint I had with this game, it’s the lack of new characters. It’s pretty much the roster from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, which was a great roster but I was hoping for something a little more original. Only two characters from Super Punch-Out are in the game as well as only one original character. One! I would have loved to have seen more characters from the SNES game and more brand new characters as well. Well, I guess Donkey Kong was in the game too, but I don’t count that as an original opponent.

Regardless, I felt like this was the best game in the series. In it, developer Next Level Games perfected the gameplay of the NES classic and added more personality to the beloved opponents of the franchise (even if “more personality” just ended up being more racism). The opponents’ complicated taunts and telegraphs turned this boxing game into an exploration game of sorts, tempting to try your luck with different strategies as you find new, hidden ways to gain stars or stop an opponent’s attack. The difficulty is punishing for those that take its cartoony style as a sign of a dumbed down kids’ game, and the thrill of victory is more rewarding than any Xbox Achievement or PS3/PS4 Trophy (and I say that as an Xbox gamer). If you have a Nintendo Wii, I implore you to buy this game. You won’t regret it.

punch-out history

Let’s Keep It Clean! Now Come Out Boxing!

Punch-Out was truly one of the great Nintendo franchises and certainly one of the oldest. Predating the iconic Super Mario Brothers franchise, Punch-Out has a much longer and more storied history than most fans realize. From the day the green wireframed boxer first fought Glass Joe in the arcades to Little Mac and Mr. Sandman’s final heated exchange of blows in the Wii version, this rythmic boxing game has provided countless hours of frustration and entertainment from those who played it. I can only hope the history of the Punch-Out franchise continues well into the next generation of Nintendo consoles.


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    • Joey Batz

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