Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! Review
‘The baddest man on the planet’. A moniker like that comes with a strong reputation, and boxer Mike Tyson was well on his way to justifying it in 1987. Following his various victories throughout the 80s, he had agreed to venture into a partnership with Nintendo to release a video game for the NES which was later titled Mike Tyson’s Punch out!!
The game put you in the shoes (or boots, in this case) of Little Mac, and seventeen year old underdog on the up-and-up, as he tries to work his way towards the top of the World Video Boxing Association. Mac must bob, weave and punch his way through fourteen bouts, with all of his opponents dwarfing him in both size and stature. Each of these opponents has their own unique personality, some of which include a Spanish Flamenco dancer, a Russian addicted to fizzy drinks and an Indian man sporting a turban and a tiger in his corner of the ring. While mechanically identical, this colourful cast of characters makes each fight feel fresh.
While in the ring. Players can control Little Mac by making him dodge left or right with the same directional buttons respectively, block with a tap of the down button, duck with two taps of the same button and punching with the B button striking with the left hand and the right hand with the A button While punching, the up button will aim Mac’s fist towards his opponent’s face. Either of the two buttons can be rapidly pressed if Mac is knocked off his feet to bring him back to a vertical base. Simplistic, it may be, but this allows the player to partake in furious button mashing moments during the more challenging bouts. The weight and responsiveness to the controls are also thoroughly enjoyable, with almost instant reactions from Little Mac, making the game a pleasure to get your hands on. A page from the game’s manual, showing its controls each fight in Punch Out consists of three round that last three minutes, although the timer follows its own structure and isn’t in real time. If a boxer crashes to the canvas, they have until the count of ten to stand up. If they fail to do so, they lose. If a combatant falls to the floor three times in one round, they also lose by a technical knockout, or T.K.O. As far as Little Mac goes, he earns and uses hearts and stars, which can be visible on the in-game interface. Hearts enable Mac to perform punches on his opponents. He uses up a heart every time one of his blows are blocked or dodged and he gains one every time a foe blocks or dodges one of his blows. Stars are earned by performing effective punches on the other athlete. When this happens, a star will appear above the other competitor’s head and one will be added to the start tally. After this, Mac has the ability to hit a uppercut, a more devastating move that takes a larger chunk out of a boxer’s health bar and is more likely to knock them to the ground. Both fighters in the ring have their own health bar which depletes after a hit and recovers after getting up from a knockdown, which occurs when the bar is empty. Each of Mac’s opponents has their own tell which indicates to the player that they’re about to strike. Their indicative moves are accompanied by a split-second where the opponent’s whole body will change colour. All of these factors are representative of a comprehensive boxing experience for the time, without being overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the sport of boxing or the medium of video games. A view of Punch Out mid-fight, showing the health bars, round timers, heart levels and star levels. The final fight to be had in the game is with the titular character, towering over Little Mac and possessing lightning fast movements and a much briefer window of opportunity to evade his attacks.
As far as the User Interface goes, it is incredibly simplistic. As the game starts, players are greeted with the games title, which has appropriately been punched from behind by a large boxing glove. From then the player only has two choices: play a new game or continue a new one with pass keys that are handed out at various points between fights. In the grand scheme of things, this simplistic style does very little to entice a player to approach the game, since at this time, menus such as this were designed in a similar fashion to arcade machine. The intention of which being to turn heads as people pass it. Compare this to titles such as The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which was released in the same year as Punch Out and instantly introduces a visual representation of the game to the player. This is more likely to turn the head of a player than a plain background and some added text. The game’s sprites are deliberately cartoonish, even going so far as to include a referee who bears a striking resemblance to a certain moustachioed plumber. This throws away the need for any realism and opens up possibilities to get creative with facial expressions and falling animations. This isn’t the case for Mr. Tyson himself, who requires a more realistic representation, since his name appears on the game’s box. The graphics seen when in-ring are lacking in detail, but in the moment, your focus isn’t on the environment your character finds himself in, so it doesn’t massively hinder each encounter.
With everything Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! has to offer, it certainly deserves praise for offering a compelling experience to those well-versed in boxing and those who had to ask what it meant to throw in the towel. Its visual shortfalls, however, do little to dull what impressive qualities it has.