Review by Denouement

"If Tyson don't wanna get knocked out, he don't step in the ****ing ring"

“[He] called me a ‘rapist’ and a ‘recluse.’ I’m not a recluse.” Perhaps these were the words that started it all. When you think of all the people you wouldn’t want to be trapped alone in a room with, Mike Tyson is perhaps among the first to come to mind. After all, he’s only on the Zoloft to keep from killing y’all. Iron Mike is a fearsome giant of a man, with the strength of a bull and the brain of a billygoat. Now usually, when an athlete is licensed to appear in a game, he or she is a hero in the game, like Tony Hawk. The beauty of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out is that Iron Mike’s lawyers somehow licensed Nintendo to make their client the lead villain in this game. And what a villain he is! After all, “the average person thinks I'm a ****ing nut and I deserve whatever happens to me. That's what I believe.” We believe it too Mikey. So he’s convinced, and you’re convinced; you’re ready to make a run against the world champ, Iron Mike.

Of course, now your mind is churning: if Tyson is the enemy, then who could our hero be? It will have to be an amazing figure, for as Mike himself says, “My power is discombobulatingly devastating, I could feel his muscle tissues collapse under my force. It's ludicrous these mortals even attempt to enter my realm.” Yes, Mike, it is ludicrous. Nintendo knew it couldn’t get an insignificant mortal boxer to represent the loyal player. For this purpose alone, they created: Little Mac. A diminutive but scrappy fighter, he is destined to face Iron Mike one-on-one, and defeat him.

Visually, Little Mac is nothing inspiring, that is without doubt. He needs to work his way through three levels of prize fighting to reach Tyson and the world championship: the Minor, Major, and World Circuits. The punches at his disposal aren’t that powerful, but he’s quick and agile. Combining the A and B buttons with the directional pad allows you to steer Mac’s fists in a dazzling repertoire of jabs and uppercuts. The perspective is first-person, and when you see a punch coming, you can move left or right to avoid it. Dodging the opponent’s attacks is a vital skill, because it earns you stars. These stars are redeemed later on and allow you to deliver really devastating punches. Against the tougher opponents, these star punches will be the only way for Little Mac to get ahead in a bout.

Your opponents are intended to be humorous, though they certainly can’t match the comic (read: pitiful) antics of real boxers. The runt of the game is Glass Joe, a human punching bag of Frans Botha proportions. Other foes include the huge yet nimble Bald Bull, Soda Popinski (named Vodka Drunkenski until Nintendo’s censors came calling), and Piston Honda. Another familiar character comes calling and cements the euphoria this cast of characters generates: it’s the referee, and it’s Mario!

Each opponent, aside from his hilarious or fearsome facade, also boasts a unique attack pattern and different fighting strengths. The real challenge of Punch Out is to learn the style of each opponent and devise a way to beat him. Against a non-competitor like Glass Joe, you’ll see the route to victory the first time you match up against him, but practice and more practice will be needed to defeat the greatest opponents. Even for the daunting Tyson match, there is a surefire method of getting a KO, but you’ll need all your wily genius (or a helpful friend) to devise a plan. Dealing with the special moves of your enemies, and effectively using your star punches, are essential to a winning strategy. Punch Out shares everything but the kicking with a lot of other NES fighting games that don’t take place in a boxing ring, but the impressive level of complexity and difficulty elevates this above those other titles.

Additional humor is added to the game through ringside discussion with your manager between rounds. The advice Doc gives you is of questionable usefulness in the actual fighting, but the important thing is that this is your big chance to see Little Mac’s outrageous pink jogging suit. The other fighters look equally delightful; they don’t dress with quite the flair Prince Naseem’s pre-fight royal regalia, but their faces and body shapes are extremely distinctive and seemingly ingenuous. For such a bloody and sadistic sport, Punch Out is a joy to watch.

There’s only one music track in the game, but it at least is a good one. During the fights sound effects will dominate; there’s a nice variety of punch sounds for the wide variety of attacks that take place. Over all this you’ll get the trash talking commentary of your opponents, like Bald Bull’s My barber didn’t know when to quit….DO YOU? or Mr. Sandman’s Welcome to Dreamland, baby! You’ll also be treated to such classics as I wish that you guys had children so I could kick them in the ****ing head or stomp on their testicles. Actually, you won’t hear that one, that’s a real Tyson quote. His comments in the game are slightly tamer: They say I can't lose. I say you can't win! Nevertheless, this snappy dialogue is light-years ahead of its time and runs the gamut from the transcendent to the bizarre.

“[He] called me a ‘rapist’ and a ‘recluse.’ I’m not a recluse.” Now this isn’t a confession to being a rapist, no sir. Mike would never confess to being a rapist, ever. He said, “She put me in that state where . . . I really wish I did [rape her] now, I really do want to rape her and her ****ing mama.” See, he’s sticking to his story. He only WANTED to rape her, and come on, that’s only AFTER the fact.

Unfortunately, a jury of his peers convicted Tyson. See, he was right, the whole world IS against him. But anyway, Nintendo decided then to change the name of this game simply to Punch-Out! While the more modern version lacks the ineffable, incomprehensible Tyson, instead introducing the remarkably similar looking Mr. Dream, it’s just as fun a game. It’s tough to say that these titles really have much to do with serious boxing, but they are extremely entertaining fighting games. Either version deserves to grace your Nintendo’s cartridge slot on a frequent basis.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/07/03, Updated 07/07/03


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