Classic Gaming Wednesday
Back when "Animal Crossing" came out on the Gamecube in 2002, everyone and their mother was obsessed with trying to obtain all the old NES games that you could collect as gifts from the various animal townies you encountered throughout the course of the game. While there were plenty of classics that were up for grabs, the one game that everyone salivated for was "Punch-Out!!". Some of the game's younger players, however, never quite understood what was the obsession with trying to obtain the "Punch-Out!!" emulator. Sure, they understood the desire to collect all of the NES games that AC offered, but, to actually want to play them? It just didn't make sense to them. Why would you want to play an old 8-bit boxing game for any extended amount of time?
Because this ain't just some ol' 8-bit boxing game, youngbucks. This is friggin' "Punch Out!!". And regardless of how old it is, you can still pop this game in (after blowing on the cartridge about 20 times, of course) and have the time of your life with it. It's a "timeless classic" in every sense of the term and because of that, "Punch-Out!!" is our Classic Game of the Week.
Back in 1987, Nintendo's "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" graced NES systems around the world and introduced players to the underdog, everyman protagonist dubbed, "Little Mac," who is determined to climb up the ladder of the WVBA (World Virtual Boxing Association) and become World Champion (with your help, of course). After facing a variety of oddball opponents spread throughout three boxing circuits, you eventually earn the right to participate in the "Dream Fight," in which you finally get to face the game's title character, Mike Tyson. Three years later, when Nintendo's licensing agreement with Tyson ended, Nintendo changed the name of the game to "Punch-Out!!" and replaced Tyson's image in the game with a character named Mr. Dream.
What makes "Punch-Out!!" so fun is its combination of incredibly quirky characters and great "easy to learn, hard to master" gameplay that keeps players coming back for more. Whether you're facing a loser Frenchman, a drunken Russian, or a dancing Spaniard, you can be assured that each match will be fun, challenging (especially in the later levels), and full of silly stereotypes. The key to succeeding in the game is to learn your opponent's attack patterns so you could dodge their hits at the right time, ring up "Stars" (which enable you to unleash a furious jumping uppercut when used), and to watch your stamina.
Growing up, there were three gaming achievements that were guaranteed to impress your friends around the schoolyard; beating "Contra" without the Konami Code, getting past the fifth level in "Ghosts 'n Goblins" (never mind actually beating it!), and coming out with a win against Mike Tyson in the "Dream Match" in "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!". Tyson's videogame representation is arguably one of the cheesiest friggin' bosses in the history of gaming, and anyone who could beat him has definitely got skillz. While Mr. Dream, the character that replaced Iron Mike after 1990, has the same moves, there was that key something that made a difference when you stepped into the ring with the sprite representation of the "Baddest Man on the Planet." Call me superficial, but I will always consider the Mike Tyson version of "Punch-Out!!" to be the real version of the game. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I find it easier to swallow losses in match after match against the former heavyweight champion of the world than some random fictional character. Either way, that last match is a doozy, and remains an incredible test of skill for even the most experienced of gamers. To this day, there are still people who proudly proclaim that they were able to "beat Tyson/Mr. Dream" in "Punch-Out!!" (myself included), simply because it remains to this day one of the most celebrated gaming achievements around.
So, whether you're facing Glass Joe, Great Tiger, Soda Popinski, or Mike Tyson himself, "Punch-Out!!" was, and still is, an incredible game that will bring a smile to anyone's face from the moment it boots up. "Punch-Out!!" is NES gaming at its absolute finest, and is certainly worthy of a spin this week in honor of Classic Gaming Wednesday. If you don't have the game in a closet somewhere, you can find copies of "Punch-Out!!" just about anywhere they sell classic NES games, and if you're lucky, you might even find the licensed Mike Tyson version. If that doesn't sound appetizing to you, there's the very real possibility that Nintendo will re-release the game as part of the Wii's "Virtual Console" feature. And that, my friends, would be a very, very good thing.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Modern Day Sequels?
Nintendo released the sequel, "Super Punch-Out!!" for the SNES in 1994. (a gaming classic in its own right) There haven't been any other installments in the series since then. Out of all the classic games that Nintendo has in its back catalog, "Punch-Out!!" remains one of the few that have yet to see life as a standalone game on one of its current systems. Outside of the "Animal Crossing" emulator, the game has yet to see life outside of the NES.
Fun Fact: The character, Soda Popinski, was actually originally named "Vodka Drunkenski" in the Japanese version, but thanks to NIntendo of America's self-censorship, the name was changed in order to avoid referencing alcohol to minors. However, Drunkenski's mid-match quotes remained from the Japanese version, such as "I can't drive, so I'm going to walk all over you," or "I drink to prepare for a fight. Tonight, I am very prepared!"