Story

In the game Punch-Out, also known as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, you play as a boxer named Little Mac, trying to climb the World Video Boxing Association ranks. With his trainer Doc Luis, you take on ten fighters across three different circuits throughout the game. All leading to the final bout with Mike Tyson or Mr. Dream.

Full thoughts and Review of Punch-Out NES

Punch-Out initially released as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out in 1987. Three years later, the game became Punch-Out after the license with Mike Tyson expired. Despite that, both games are the same. You play as a boxer named Little Mac and take on many different opponents to become the champion of the WVBA. Punch-Out is one of the greatest Nintendo games ever made, and I won’t disagree with that. It’s one of the first Nintendo games that I remember playing and having a hard time playing and beating. But, as I practiced, I got better at the game and anyone else that plays this game can as well with memorization of the boxer’s different patterns.

I’ve played this again on the Nintendo Switch Online NES collection of games. I don’t know or if I can tell if there is a difference in latency or any lag in the controllers. I’ve heard that there is, but I haven’t been able to see it. The game is responsive, I feel on every system that I’ve played on, and I didn’t have much difficulty reaching either Mike Tyson or Mr. Dream, depending on the version you are playing.

Little Mac is a 4’7 107 lb. Boxer (Later games bill him at 5’7″), this abnormally small stature is a design choice by Genyo Takeda, the producer of the Punch-Out games. The challenger was originally a wireframe that you could see through in the arcade. Since this was graphically impossible to replicate on the NES, the game designers decided to make the challenger smaller and give him the name Little Mac. Why 4’7″ was the high chosen for the character is baffling. I’m pretty sure that if a boxer were the same height and weight in real life, they wouldn’t be allowed to fight or take on a different class of fighters. It would be like a Junior flyweight fighting Heavyweight opponents. I’m pretty sure that this wouldn’t be allowed in any promotion, but the WVBA has some low standards.  

Little Mac’s attacks are limited but standard for a boxing game. You can jab and body blow left and right punches to your opponents by either pressing the A or B Buttons. You can use Little Mac’s most potent attack, an uppercut, once you obtain a Star. You gain them by counter-punching your opponent before or after the attack. You can earn up to three uppercuts and lose a star if an opponent lands a hit on you. Pressing start launches the Star Uppercut attack. You can also dodge by pressing left or right on the control pad block punches by pressing down and duck when you press down twice. These controls feel responsive and somehow replicates an arcade experience without having a joystick on the controller.

You have a heart counter which varies depending on who you are facing and acts as a stamina meter of sorts. I don’t know why this is; it would be okay with the game giving you a set amount with each fighter. You lose hearts when you get hit, block, or throw a punch that your opens blocks or dodges. When your hearts reach zero, you are unable to attack. You can dodge until you successfully avoid a few of your opponents’ attacks and gain some back.

Each round is three minutes but equates to about one minute in real-time. When fighting an opponent, if you successfully knock them down to the count of 10, you get a Knockout or KO; if you knock a fighter out three times in a round, you win by Technical Knockout or TKO. Surprisingly I found this to be the easiest way to win a fight with whoever you’re fighting. The most challenging way to win, I feel, is a decision. If you go three rounds without a KO or TKO, you have a chance to win by decision. I’m not too fond of this because the way to win by decision is to get a certain amount of points against your opponent. Points are earned by landing punches and knocking your opponent down for the count. The total needed varies from boxer to boxer, and in some fights and fighters, you can’t win with a decision. It will always result in an automatic loss for Mac. I can’t get why that total for each fighter is left out. Unless the game designers thought this would be a way for a player to cop-out once they reach a specific score and run the clock out, it’s not hard to win by KO or TKO once you get your opponent’s patterns down.

Each round is three minutes but equates to about one minute in real-time. When fighting an opponent, if you successfully knock them down to the count of 10, you get a Knockout or KO; if you knock a fighter out three times in a round, you win by Technical Knockout or TKO. Surprisingly I found this to be the easiest way to win a fight with whoever you’re fighting. The most challenging way to win, I feel, is a decision. If you go three rounds without a KO or TKO, you have a chance to win by decision. I’m not too fond of this because the way to win by decision is to get a certain amount of points against your opponent. Points are earned by landing punches and knocking your opponent down for the count. The total needed varies from boxer to boxer, and in some fights and fighters, you can’t win with a decision. It will always result in an automatic loss for Mac. I can’t get why that total for each fighter is left out. Unless the game designers thought this would be a way for a player to cop-out once they reach a specific score and run the clock out, it’s not hard to win by KO or TKO once you get your opponent’s patterns down.

Your opponents in the game are characters that borderline stereotypes and caricatures of the countries they represent. Some examples of opponents are Glass Joe, a weak Frenchman from Paris, France, who sports an infamous 1-99 record and the first fighter that you face. Bald Bull from Istanbul, Turkey, and uses a bull punch to one-hit KO Little Mac. King Hippo from Hippo Island, an obese boxer that only has one weakness when you fight him. These fighters and more are memorable for their appearance and how they fight, and you have to defeat them. Even with some nongamer friends of mine, if I mention Glass Joe, Bald Bull, King Hippo, they jog at least a familiarity from them who the characters are.

Mike Tyson is one of the most infamous final bosses in video game history. He has a one-hit KO punch that made many people who entered the code and fought him directly regret putting in the code at the title screen. He is considered one of the most challenging final bosses of all time. I can agree, to a certain extent. He is tough, don’t get me wrong, but once you get the pattern down and past the 1:30 mark of round one, he gets easier to beat. That goes with a lot of fighters in the game. Everyone has a particular pattern they follow in the punches that they throw. All the boxers have a tell, either in their eyes, mannerism, or how they set themselves up. It’s gameplay that’s hard at first, but once you know the patterns of the fighters, it gets easy fast.

The music is quite memorable and impressive. The Punch-Out fight theme is one of the most recognizable songs in video game history. At least for me, I can tell if it’s playing when I hear the song. It’s also the only song that you hear whenever you fight. I don’t find this repetitive at all. It should get old fast, but it keeps me pumped and motivated enough to keep going. A fun fact I never knew, the opening song in Punch-Out was from a sports program from a sports show called the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. Originally a sports variety show, it focused more on sports’ boxing aspect in its later years. The theme for the show, called the “Look Sharp March,” used to open the show. This fact was intriguing and most likely why Punch-Out’s opening didn’t feature it later because of copyright issues.

I don’t have anything else to add to this article. Punch-Out is an excellent game with memorable characters, music, and gameplay. If there is one negative I have is getting a game over is way too simple. Once Mac loses three times in all of the circuits, it’s game over. There is a password system that allows you to continue, but you’ll be entering the password many times over until you get better. Why it isn’t three losses per division instead, that would be better. It’s the only problem that I have in the game but isn’t the deal-breaker.  

Summarized thoughts and review of Punch-Out

I don’t think that there’s anything else I can add or takeaway to an already great game. The idea is simple but challenging. The graphics are impressive and still hold up for me. The few music tracks are incredible, and the central theme somehow does not get repetitive and overused the more you play the game. Even with or without the name Mike Tyson attached to the game, all of the characters are memorable. They are challenging but get more manageable when you learn their patterns. Whether you play the game on the NES or an updated console, this is a game and gameplay that is easy to pick up and learn. It is one of the best NES games ever made, and I enjoy it whenever I play it again.

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