Punch-Out!! (NES) Review

Punch-Out

We reach another game I was always going to feature on this blog eventually, as it’s a personal favourite of mine. Punch-Out!! (yes, I missed out on the Mike Tyson version) was one of the few NES games I was actually good at, being so young at the time, and it remains incredibly fun and playable today. So let’s take a look!

Background:

Punch-Out 1

What could be a better picture to start with?

Punch-Out!! was original a series of two arcade games, with the playable boxer being a wire frame model, allowing the player to clearly see his opponent. The NES version, greatly changed due to the hardware, was first released in late 1987 (September, October, December for Japan, the US and Europe, respectively) as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, featuring the man himself on the boxart and as the final boss in the game. Nintendo signed him to a three-year usage deal, and so in 1990 when the deal expired, they re-released the game as simply “Punch-Out!!” and had a new end boss called “Mr. Dream”.

The non-Tyson version of Punch-Out!! has seen several re-releases over the years, including various Nintendo Virtual Consoles and even being playable in Animal Crossing (coming soon in this marathon!).

Most of your opponents are intentionally over-exaggerated stereotypes of various countries, from the cowardly Frenchman to the Japanese fighter with the shifty eyebrows, it’s all done so blatantly (and so universally across the world) that it’s genuinely funny, rather than hurtful.

Gameplay:

Punch-Out 3

It’s a good thing Little Mac is positioned the way he is in this picture…

Punch-Out!! isn’t a straight forward boxer, it’s all about learning timing, the right timing to punch, to counter, or to block. Little Mac, the playable character (made small so you can see you opponent more clearly, their way of covering for the lack of wire frames!) can left hook, right hook, dodge left, dodge right, duck and block. It you counter an in-coming punch at just the right time to gain a star, leading to the use of a special uppercut known simply as the “Star Punch”.

You and your opponent have health bars, and you also have a stamina gauge signified by a number of hearts. Run out of hearts and you become gassed and only able to dodge rather than fight back. If you get knocked down you have to tap the two buttons furiously to get yourself back to your feet, though get knocked down more than three times total and there is no way to tap fast enough…

You can win by knock-out (normally only achieved if you’ve countered a major attack) or by TKO via knocking your opponent down three times in one round. You start on the Minor Circuit before rising up to the Major, and finally the World Circuit. Lose a bout? You get a rematch, unless you lost against a champ, then you have to fight the #1 contender again (or face the previous two contenders in the case of the World Circuit). Lose a second match? You drop a place in the ranking (unless you’re at the bottom, obviously!), and lose three matches and its game over. There is a password system, though, at least.

As I said at the start, all in all it’s about getting the timing down to block or counter your opponents moves, the timing of which gets harder and harder as you climb the rankings.

Graphics and Sound:

Punch-Out 2

I’d mention the early-days meme associated with this sequence, but I’m sure I’d get in trouble for it…

The graphics are nice for a NES game. Each of the sprites are nice and chunky, well detailed for an 8-bit system and full of personality. The little cut scenes in between rounds are good for laugh as well, as is the now infamous bike training sequence…

The soundtrack may be limited to just a couple of tunes, but they’re really good and catchy ones at least! The one that plays as you fight is a classic, and the music that plays in the above-mentioned bike training scene in possibly even more iconic. Most of the opponents have a small tune play as they’re introduced, including Ride of the Valkyries for German Von Kaiser, and a bit of Carmen for Spanish Don Flamenco.

The sound effects are good fun too, a nice thud here and there, the odd weird warping sound when some foes try an uppercut… Whatever the hell sound King Hippo makes when he taunts…

Thoughts Then:

Punch-Out 5

This is still the furthest I’ve ever gotten…

Although I was lucky to win the Minor Circuit, I still “got it”, I knew how to play it and really enjoyed beating Glass Joe and Von Kaiser if nothing else. Still, playing this game properly as a teen was also a great experience, getting further and further each time, until reaching my limit of Super Macho Man. It’s like two entirely different nostalgic memories for the same game!

5 Star Game Old

Thoughts Now:

Punch-Out 4

Swing and a miss! Wait, wrong sport…

Nothings changed. It’s still great fun to play, to look at and to listen to. It’s rewarding the more you play, the more you get patterns down, the more you advance. Although I like the two proper console sequels (Super Punch-Out!! and Punch-Out!! Wii) this still stands out as the most fun. A timeless classic, in my eyes…

5 Star Game New

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