I will include Punch-Out!! in this review as it is literally the same game, minus Mike Tyson and unbeknown to me Mike Tyson’s wasn’t the spin off!
So… Punch-Out!! yeah those exclimation marks are officially part of the title and yes it annoys me that they used two of them.
Punch-Out!! is officially a boxing game, but probably the best way to describe it would be a boss run, maybe even a tournament fighter. Each fight is a maximum of three rounds, knock an opponent down 3 times in a round and you’ll win by TKO (Technical Knockout), put them down for the count and you’ll win, or you can potentially win on points. However, the few times my games went the distance I lost on points. So I don’t know if this was just me or something that is programmed in as a FUCK YOU from the arcades.
The reason I see Punch-Out!! as more than a boxing game is all characters are totally different and while they aren’t “quirky” like Ready-to-Rumble, the all have a gimmick. You take the role of Little Mac a fucking punk ass bitch who will Rocky his way from the minors all the way to the World’s except, to be honest, Little Mac at least earns it, whereas Rocky was given a shot for no good reason.
Anyway, each character you fight will have a gimmick, learn that gimmick and you’ll possibly win. It feels a lot like certain other games with hard bosses, as to win you’ll either need a guide, or learn to dodge, then learn the pattern and learn the counter. Problem is, some of these gimmicks are not fun or even fair. Take Fatty FatFat (King Hippo) as he will punch you harder than Mike Tyson and you can’t hit him as he blocks everything. The only way to beat him is to learn the frame perfect timing to punch King Hippo in the face during his wind-up before you retreat back to dodging like a dodge-rolling genius. If you’re emulating this might be impossible to do if you’re FPS is too fast but on original hardware it is pretty hard as the timing is 2-3 frames.
Further to this, you have a stamina meter in the form of hearts. Some levels you’ll start with 45 which means you can air punch to your *hearts* content, others you’ll start with 10. Get punched hard once you’ll lose at least 3, throw a punch that is blocked lose 1. It means some levels are 100% about stamina management such as the Don Flamenco fight. Here you have to jab him and quickly dodge his follow up, if you get this wrong, which you will the first 17 times, then you’ll lose miserably. Get it right, and you can combo left-right-left-right the Spanish stereotype back to his Carmen loving country (his intro music is literally music from Carmen).
A good game with “hard” bosses will have a fair learning curve, you’ll die a lot, but when you figure it out there is actually a large window for you to do things and will be pretty forgiving when you know what it is you’re supposed to do (or not do). Here, a 2 frame reaction time isn’t enough for me. I simply can’t do it without cheating. Mike Tyson himself is obviously a fucking beast who can kill you in 3 hits, and with his speed that 3 hits is never too far away. But he isn’t bullshit like King Hippo as mentioned, or Bald Bull who’ll one shot you endlessly. There is even a Dancer of the Boreal Valley-esque move on show, against Super Macho Man he will do a spinning attack that of you get a tiny bit wrong will result in a face full of death. The Japanese bloke in the Minors has a precursor to this move, so again it feels like a steadily increasing challenge that you’re being prepared for.
Mike is a combination of all of the characters (minus that teleporting ASS-HAT [Great Tiger]), but he actually feels fair. Hard, but fair. He is a combination of everything you have played so far dialled up to 15.
I actually really like Punch-Out!! it is stupidly hard until you learn the gimmick for each fight, and figuring out that gimmick is sometimes a right fucking chore. Hell, even learning that gimmick isn’t neccasarily going to let you win as you need the frame perfect timing to pull things off, and this is where Punch-Out!! will start to fall down for some. I am genuinely considering high 80s scores here, but I feel the frame perfect reactions aren’t fair so am going to take some points off.
All in all though, it looks good, it lacks great music, but the gameplay is solid to the core. It does what it does and it does it all right. Each character is different meaning each fight is different, you can’t learn one combination and win like a traditional Tournament Fighter and for that reason it elevates Punch-Out!! more than I thought it would.
Before playing Punch-Out!! I honestly thought this would be a game I’d say play once, it’s ok. But it isn’t one of those games, it is actually a good game and I highly recommend playing it if you can. Just remember, it is tough as fucking nails and you’ll have you’re arse kicked.
Don’t expect to beat it.
Pros: Mario is the referee, looks good, awesome sprites for the characters
Cons: Pretty sure this is the 8th circle of Hell
Back in the Day:
Punch-Out!! regularly features in top 10 NES games lists, and scored high 80 to low 90s percentile.
Also Available on: Virtual Consoles for Nintendo