Few games have helped to mold and shape my love of gaming more than Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!. Mr. Dream can suck it for all I care, Iron Mike and his wacky rapist ways will always hold a place in my heart. I would have done a RetRose Tinted on that game long ago if I didn't feel as though my near-monthly replaying of it wasn't exactly in the spirit of this column.
Super Punch-Out!! is a different story altogether. Despite many attempts over the years to actually own a copy of the cartridge, I've never really managed to do it. This means that I haven't played it more than a few times since I was fourteen years of age, had purchased a disk backup device and totally did not download a copy off a cartridge from the video rental shop down the street. My mother (who has always taken a very dim view of piracy) forced me to return the backup system when she somehow caught wind of it and that was the end of my brief stewardship of the game.
Its appearance on Virtual Console this week reminded me of it, however, and I suddenly became overwhelmed with the same need to play it as I did in my awkward teenage years. Now I have and that means you'll be blessed with my assessment of the game. Lucky you!
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is in a lot of ways, actually just a dumbed-down version of the arcade Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!! is less a follow-up to its NES cousin than an expanded remake of the arcade sequel of same name. Take the above screenshot as an example. On the left, we have the original arcade game and the right is Super Punch-Out!! in nearly identical scenarios fighting against Piston Hurricane.
Fans who are accustomed to the 8-bit home console Punch-Out!! may have some difficulty adjusting to this more arcade-faithful SNES title. Seasoned players should have little difficulty handling the first third or so of the game, as you can get away with a "dodge, punch, repeat" pattern for the most part. But to be successful against later opponents, you really have to dive into the much more complex strategies that this game has to offer.
Your boxer in Super Punch-Out!! has a few more options at his disposal than Little Mac did, as well as more weaknesses. He automatically blocks his midsection to guard against body blows and must be told to cover his head. There's no penalty for blocking a punch other than missing a potential opportunity to strike back at your opponent however, and it's a viable method of defense. Alternately, you can dodge left and right as well as duck down to avoid getting glove (and sometimes foot) in your face.
Throwing punches is a bit more complicated also. You can perform body-blows and jabs with either fist but your right actually packs a bit more punch (so to speak). As you land punches, the meter across the bottom of the screen will fill while getting hit takes a big chunk out. If you max out the meter, you can perform some special techniques, including heavy hooks, uppercuts and rapid-fire punches that can land multiple hits but run the risk of leaving you open for a shot or two when blocked.
What's really cool is the counterattack system. When your opponent is in the midst of taking a swing at you, you can counter by using the same punch with the opposing hand. Time it right and you'll do a good bit of damage and stun them in the process, giving ample opportunity to land still more hits. It's tricky to do until you've managed to really get the patterns of the boxers down pat and later fighters act much more randomly. Still, learning to counter successfully is a huge part of the game and essential to continued success.
If you're a big fan of the characters in the Punch-Out!! games, it's hard to say whether or not you'll like the ones appearing in Super Punch-Out!!. Only three of the characters from the NES game return: Mr. Sandman Super Macho Man and Bald Bull. You'll probably be happy to hear that the latter is still an insufferable prick when he wins, but no longer performs that haunting and cruel chicken clucking.
Why the iconic King Hippo was not chosen to return in this game is beyond me. Worse, he's been replaced on the fat guy fighting circuit by a couple of far more annoying boxers in the lumberjacking Bear Hugger and a stereotype named Mad Clown. In fact, lots of the characters in this are less humorous and more frustrating than those which appear in the NES title.
They do come packed with some really clever and challenging abilities, however. Dragon Chan (and his later clone, Hoy Quarlow) bounces around the ropes before planting a difficult to dodge attack on your face. The luchadore, Masked Muscle has a clever technique where he spits in your eye, disorienting you for a considerable amount of time if you fail to dodge while he wails away on your battered body. Strangest of all is probably Heike Kagero, a transvestite in makeup who whips you with his hair.
I don't think I can stress enough how much more difficult Super Punch-Out!! really is. The game does try to help you out a bit by giving you a number of lives to work with rather than ranking you down and making you fight an opponent you may have only squeaked past before. Still, it's very easy to wind up frittering them all away on a particularly difficult fight.
There are also no breaks in the action in this game. Fights last three minutes and go non-stop until you or your opponent are down for the count or the time expires, at which point you'll probably lose by decision. You do have an opportunity to restore some lost stamina after knocking down your opponent by hammering on the punch buttons as quickly as possible. This really only works in the first two of the game's four circuits, though. After that, most boxers are back on their feet by the count of two and you'll be lucky to have healed up at all.
It's still a really good game and one I can recommend picking up if you enjoy Punch-Out!! for the NES. I can't say I like it as much, but that may simply be due to the simplicity that the 8-bit game has. It just feels much easier to pick up and play without the extra moves and the counter system and I don't feel that the characters have nearly the same amount of charm without the chatter from them and Doc Brown between rounds. Worth playing? Sure. Just don't expect it to be on the same plane as its more popular predecessor.