Review by King Broccoli

""What do I do coach?" "Salami.""

Most gaming protagonists do not need our help, for they have been blessed with the skills, weapons, physique and mentality to win at all costs. They strut about the screen, preening and flexing and sneering dismissively at all who dare inhabit their personal space. Look at these heroes! Solid Snake's only true obstacles are the hundreds of girls who flock after him, Cloud Strife fears nothing but a bad hair day, and Mario can barely sneeze without knocking a dozen Bowser's into a pool of molten lava. Who are we – the pasty-faced, flabby-armed gamers of the world – to dictate how these champions go about their business? For the most part, it's best that we just leave these muscle-bound Adonis's to their own devices, and focus on the mighty quest of finishing the Doritos. They don't need us.

It is lucky for us, and good for our shriveled egos, that the likes of Little Mac exist. This up-and-coming boxer, and the protagonist of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, needs all the help he can get. He's taking on the world; armed with nothing more than his two scrawny arms and a doddering old warhorse of a coach who is good for only three golden nuggets of wisdom during Little Mac's entire career. He may be a featherweight in a heavyweight's world, but young Mac is never one to back away from a fight. Helping this diminutive young thing claim his titles and become champion of the world is, in every sense, a true challenge.

Little Mac will have to overcome much more than a lack of muscles and an overweight, braindead coach to win some titles. As a boxer, his skills leave much to be desired. He refuses to move about the ring, preferring to transfix himself (possibly in fear) at the bottom of the screen. The best he can do to escape from harm, as his foes rain down blow after merciless blow, is to weave madly backwards and forwards and hope that his scrawny frame remains intact. One realises why the only coach who would take up such a job is an embarrassing incontinent, as Little Mac vainly tries to fend off the ham-fisted thrusts of the flabby King Hippo's and burly Bald Bull's that line up opposite him. Their attacks are powerful and relentless, and it will be achievement enough if you can keep Little Mac conscious.

So with Mac's defensive and maneuvering abilities being severely underwhelming, perhaps the best chance of victory is to launch a stirring offensive, to send Little Mac's battered body forwards in an all-out assault! Having just witnessed his opponents bounce excitedly about the screen, hurl their fists about with careless abandon and unleash powerful techniques, one can only assume that Little Mac too is a potent killing machine!

Oh, darn.

Coach cheers unintelligibly from the sidelines, and Little Mac lets loose a pitiful volley of punches. Most thud safely against his opponent's raised arms, and those that make a tangible connection shave the slightest amount off the vitality bar. Little Mac punches as weakly as his coach solves complex differential equations. Those on the receiving end shrug it off, and return dutifully to their task of making Mac bleed out of his ears. Occasionally the little scamp might get lucky and receive a special star, allowing him to throw a more destructive punch, such a punch may prove more taxing for the enemy and occasionally floor him, but compared to the awesome onslaughts of the other title contenders it's a pittance of power.

With such insurmountable odds seemingly stacked against us, how could we possibly envisage ourselves playing, winning and actually enjoying this one-sided slugfest? What madness could drive us to take up the plight of this faceless, gormless boxer and take on the stereotypical yet charismatic fighters from around the world? The hilariously tipsy Russian, Soda Popinski and sumo-esque Piston Honda from Japan may front up time and again to cast an impenetrable shadow over Little Mac with their bulk, and knock him flying with their brute strength, but we with the controls will take them on…and somehow win…time and again.

Why submit ourselves to such madness? It's because of the guts and determination involved in claiming the titles and dethroning Tyson. It's because of the intoxicating burst of adrenaline that rockets through you as Little Mac dodges deftly and unleashes a flurry of counter-attacking jabs. It's because of the instantaneous reflexes that are demanded from you, as that split-second knockout opportunity comes and goes in an agonising burst. Punch-Out will captivate you with the intrinsic simplicity and overwhelming addictiveness of its mechanics. The array of Little Mac's attacks is severely limited, yet there is enormous scope for frenetic and dramatic action. Each hostile boxer (excluding the indomitable Mike Tyson) sports a weakness of sorts, and as Mac slowly exploits them and moves gradually closer to a knockout, the heart rises into the throat. How long can he flirt with death? How long can he afford to tussle with these behemoths, without succumbing to the ferocity of their punches? Each progressive match provides an increasingly powerful impact, as the stakes rise and the danger grows. And that fabulous coach will be there by your side, from dawn till dusk.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! works, for is it a classic underdog's tale. We don't have the beefcake commando in our control, at the ready to jump into the ring and fill an unsuspecting boxer or two with lead and testosterone. We've got the scrapper, the poor young kid with a dream. And no matter what it takes, we're going to make that dream come true. It won't be the minute-long jogging sessions that coach sagely dumps upon his protege after every few matches that will propel Little Mac to the top, it will be us. We'll be there for every gut-busting, fist-clenching, jaw-snapping moment that this game throws up. Finally we have found a challenge worth undertaking, a cause worth championing, and a champion worth causing. I'm not going to rest until Iron Mike's bulbous head hits the canvas and he hands over his prized belt.

And then I'll do it all again!


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/13/04


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