When most people hear the words “Punch Out!!,” they inevitably think of the 1988 Mike Tyson-branded NES game; after all, Nintendo’s 8-bit adaptation of their arcade hit(s) was more popular, more iconic, and a technological marvel, thanks to the added sprite-pushing horsepower of the MMC2 chip. But it’s important not to forget what a show-stopper the original coin-op was, especially considering the arcade landscape at the time. In a world of simple, single-screen games, Nintendo’s double-monitor monster nearly looked like a living, breathing cartoon; and it might have been even more impressive to arcade-wanderers had Dragon’s Lair not hit the scene just a year earlier. Even so, Nintendo’s unique take on the sport of kings infested enough arcades and pizza parlors for a few elements to survive long into the pop culture lexicon; one only needs to nasally repeat the words “BODY BLOW! BODY BLOW! BODY BLOW!” to evoke nostalgia-fried memories of the game’s adorable play-by-play commentary.
Punch-Out!!’s NES installment might have been less visually impressive than the arcade classic, though it’s hard to find anyone who wouldn’t agree that the home version isn’t a better game. But when it came time to release an unexpected Super Nintendo sequel six years later, advances in console technology finally made possible a true adaptation after a decade of waiting for home hardware to catch up. The result: Super Punch-Out!!, a game that combines the best of both the NES and arcade versions for more of a “thinking man’s” approach to Nintendo’s unique view of boxing.
When compared to the fanaticism over Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, the initial response to Super Punch-Out!! can’t be called anything but lukewarm; sure, it was well-reviewed and generally considered a solid follow-up to the NES classic, but after 1994 came and went, the game was forgotten by gamers and Nintendo alike. Even the Wii installment of the franchise borrowed almost entirely -- and some would say a little too much -- from Punch Out!!’s original home port. But 15 years before this exercise in repetition, Super Punch-Out!! tried to advance the limited puzzle-fighting mechanics of the original to their logical conclusion; and while this small dose of added complexity was a little too much for some gamers, those willing to accept Super Punch-Out!! as something entirely different than its NES predecessor discovered a sequel that successfully built on the franchise’s fundamentally responsive gameplay.
Granted, Super Punch-Out!! moves much slower than the lightning-fast pace of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, but with good reason; since the game offers a few more options for pummeling your cartoonish opponents into a bruised heap of flesh, it’s necessary to slow things down just a bit. As with the 8-bit game, each fighter has certain stun-worthy holes in their defense, but the 16-bit sequel complicates things with a little something called the counterpunching system. Most original Punch-Out!! fans are aware of the standard dodge-and-hit gameplay of the original, and while that still works in Super Punch-Out!!, it’s also possible to stun your opponent in the middle of a punch, as long as you throw the proper counterpunch. Counterpunching is by no means required of Super Punch-Out!! players -- in fact, it’s possible to completely ignore this mechanic throughout the entire game -- but it adds an extra level of depth for those who’ve already memorized the boxers’ telltale tics.
Even Punch-Out!!’s game-winning “super punches” have been drastically changed to suit the more complex needs of the sequel; rather than being earned through sneaking in some quick attacks, Super Punch-Out!! requires that you build up a power meter by connecting several successful punches. And when you find yourself with this powerful new move in your arsenal, Super Punch-Out!! allows you to keep using this attack as long as you manage to evade your opponent. And in the tradition of Super Punch-Out!!’s added complexity, the original Punch-Out!!’s standard super punch has been translated into the sequel, though augmented a bit; it’s now possible to attack the opponent’s head and body (rather than the uppercut-only super punch of the past) with this effective attack, and the player also has the option to forego the super punch’s slow windup in exchange for a flurry of ultra-fast (though less powerful) jabs. But those who aren’t comfortable with this many options can always stick to the old style of play without facing punishment.
In the tradition of Super Punch-Out!!’s sense of shaking things up, the game’s robust cast of sixteen fighters features only two returning characters from the NES game: Super Macho Man and Bald Bull. The rest of the fighters may not be as ethnically identifiable as the 8-bit port’s exercise in stereotypes, but these new fighters more than make up for it with their gimmickry. Certain fighters had a magical element to them in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, and Super Punch-Out!! takes this a bit further by often disregarding the sport of boxing altogether. Throughout your unnamed fighter’s career (he’s more of an anime Matt Damon than Little Mac), you’ll take on everything from masked Mexican wrestlers to demented Italian clowns -- and, for some reason, the ref tends to look the other way when your opponents decide to kick, spit, and whack you with props. It’s all a bit more like wrestling than boxing, and the enemy fighters have been exaggerated accordingly; your character may be a little more in proportion to his opponents when compared to Little Mac, but he’s going up against massive mountains of man-meat (often traced directly from the super-sized sprites of the arcade game). More so than the NES title, the sheer size of Super Punch-Out!!’s characters makes the fighting feel just as heavy and brutal as it looks.
It’s easy to write Super Punch-Out!! off as nothing more than a needless deviation from the NES classic, but that would be silly. After all, both games should be taken on their own merits; the NES game simplified the somewhat clunky arcade controls and game play, whereas Super Punch-Out!! sought to perfect the very roots of the franchise. If Nintendo returns to the Punch-Out!! well once again, it’s very unlikely that they’d draw any inspiration from the SNES sequel—but thankfully, Super Punch-Out!!’s availability on the Wii’s Virtual Console means that fans of cartoon boxing always have the option of an upgrade.
Based on: One of the most beloved NES games ever, and tragic ignorance of the Nintendo faithful's maddening habit of completely ignoring the sequels for which they clamor.