Review by Snow Dragon

"Ear-bitingly good!"

Mike Tyson may not be quite as bright as a halogen bulb, and his English might not be on par with, say, the Queen Mother's, but he is a definite lock for the position of pioneer when it comes to licensing products he'll never even look at again. Well, here it is more than a decade after this title was released, and it turns out it's still a classic as far as the Public Gaming Domain is concerned. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! was, yes, a bit of a farce to be sure. The characters were so diversified that their personalities were almost as hard-hitting as their furious punches. To be sure, the only boxing game that's ever come close to the magic of Punch-Out! is Ready 2 Rumble, and that's still a distant second. Still, in light of the recent release of a Mike Tyson title for Game Boy Advance that isn't nearly as good as this NES ring rocker, we are here to look back and indulge in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!

In this, the greatest boxing game ever devised for any system despite its many comical overtones, you play as the diminutive Little Mac, a smalltime amateur who's out to prove something and is on a mission to slowly work his way up to the top. His first adversary is Glass Joe, an ugly Frenchman with moves so standard Paula Jones could have beaten him in Celebrity Boxing. From there it only gets more intense. You'll face the Japanese powerhouse Piston Honda, tall muscleman Soda Popinski, and of course King Hippo, the morbidly obese tub of lard who later found fame as one of the Mother Brain's dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks henchmen on the Captain N series. Each boxer, all the way up to the man Tyson himself (whose portrayal in 8-bit pixel mode is disturbingly accurate), has a system that has to be studied and studied and studied again to master and overcome. Between-round banter and training sessions with your enthusiastic trainer are interspersed among the rough brawls, and a password is used to monitor your progress through the ranks. I'm not sure if there's ever been a better boxing game made. I really doubt another one will ever be made. It takes a toughened spirit to beat this game and know everybody and their moves inside and out, sideways and backwards. Plus, enough is incorporated into it that it's just pure, unadulterated fun.

The graphics in this game are very well done. I'm surprised by the amount of detail put into demeanor and facial expression, both in making sure they make Little Mac feel like dirt with nothing more than a look and in their grimaces and winces when they've been sufficiently floored. I am totally astounded by the isometric view this game employs. It's good for the action and a landmark for the time that it came out. If someone was going to do a boxing game first, it's good that they got it right, since one of my beliefs is that the first game of a genre should be good so that it can be a primer for the others like it. Boxers in this game run the gamut from skinny and weak to the buffest buff guy in the world. From Glass Joe to Tyson, this whole game is a knockout in the looks department. But why does Little Mac wear a pink jogging suit? Another unsolved mystery is upon us. One cool thing, though: Mario cameos as the referee! Happy happy joy joy.

I like the sound in the game about as much as I like the graphics, but it doesn't quite match up somehow. Usually, a theme song related to the boxer will play when the two of you get ready to exchange fists. For example, when you face Glass Joe, you get a little ditty of the French national anthem, among others. Sounds like the biff of a boxing glove seem a bit muffled, but it is of little concern to most people who are avid fans of this game. Heck, a lot of the sounds in this game don't make sense. Wait until your opponents are sent reeling by your gloves of fury! Oh man, good times, good times. This is classic NES action at its best, let me tell you. I really don't care how unrealistic the sound is - this game provides a rush and a thrill that few other fighters, or even games period, can rival.

As for controls, you couldn't ask for them to be any more responsive than they already are. The bulk of your time will be spent evading the many types of punches flying at you courtesy of your myriad antagonists. Little Mac will obediently hop left or right to dodge a wallop in the jaw at the hand of someone three times taller and stronger than him. You can also punch rapidly or strategically as your method allows. Build up enough stars to deliver a smack that your opponent will be feeling next Wednesday - all with only eight buttons (counting the D-pad directions individually) at your disposal. You couldn't ask for a better companion than your NES controller to put Little Mac on top and make him the toast of the town. It's no walk in the park though: as you go along, you'll have to tap that D-pad faster and faster and make more use of the super punches and the El Cheapo A button to rise through the ranks. Little Mac can be one heck of a boxer if you're a master of the controls. Are you?

In retrospect, I wonder how much Mike Tyson actually had to do with this project. Does he play it today even? Did he know what was going on and did he oversee the entire testing and play control process or what? Or is this just some product he voluntarily slapped his name on in a heartless attempt to come by some more cold, hard cash? It doesn't matter. Mike Tyson's contractual obligations don't stop this from being a great game at all. It's so full of characters so farcical they could have hopped straight from the pages of a comic book (or, considering some of the other things he's come up with, the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto). Their qualities give them personalities not often reflected upon, but clearly seen in both their break time banter and the way they fight. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! is a rampant success - nay, a masterpiece, I dare say.

Considering this, it's no wonder this is a cartridge heralded and hoarded to this day. I'm lucky to have a friend who owns this game still. Surprisingly old-school in his tastes for his tender age, he knows what he has and has clung to it wisely. Few games have the vim and vigor of this early NES release, and few probably ever will again. Even if you're not a boxing fan, you shouldn't look on this as strictly a boxing game. It's so much more. Play it and play it and play it and play it again. It has everlasting appeal with influences still seen today. Sure, Ready 2 Rumble was a boxing game - or was it? It makes you think. Not in a Matrixy way, but you know. You know what I'm talking about. Play this and soak it up. Love it. Hold it. Cherish it. Praise it. Play it again.

POW! Right in the Kisser
--Vibrant graphics and personalities to match
--Controls actually keep Little Mac from getting battered to a mushy pulp
--It's maintained an appeal that is still in full force to this day

Down For the Count
--Funky sounds are a bit off occasionally
--Hmm ... is there anything else? I guess not

Score: 10

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 06/22/02, Updated 06/22/02

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