Hey, remember when Mike Tyson was seen as something other than a screwup? This game is a monument to that time. It is a boxing game and probably the most successful of its sub-genre. Based on an arcade game (that, like several NES games, was too advanced for a direct port), Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! used Tyson’s name to sell copies. When the contract ran out, all further copies of this game were given a shorter name: Punch-Out!!, which is no different from the original except Tyson’s character is replaced with a red-haired white guy named Mr. Dream. That version got the Virtual Console treatment, and the SNES and Wii sequels accepted it as canon. But corporate worship ain’t how I roll, so I’m reviewing the game Nintendo doesn’t want you to know exists.
I remember the issue of Nintendo Power that announced the title change. It claimed that their contract with Tyson had merely run out, but we all know the truth. Nintendo didn’t want to be associated with a rape convict. Aside from that, though, this is probably one of the NES’ best sports games.
Plot: 8 out of 10
Sports game are ordinarily not gradable in this category, but Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! makes an attempt at a plot. You are Little Mac, who looks to be a hobbit from the Lord Of the Rings. Seriously, play the game and you’ll find that Mac’s no bigger than Frodo and Sam. He’s got a hip trainer named Doc Louis who’s only a little taller but a lot bigger around than Mac. Together, Mac and Doc are taking on the biggest and baddest boxers on the planet.
Hyperbole aside, this is actually a good, if done-to-death, concept. Who doesn’t want to root for the little guy, however literal that concept is in this case? Additionally, Mac’s opponents are quite funny. There’s the aptly named Glass Joe, the charging Bald Bull, a drunken and dancing Russian named Soda Popinski, a guy who seems more interested in working on his tan than fighting Mac and calls himself Super Macho Man.
Between rounds, Doc offers Mac some advice. If you’ve been getting your ass handed to you, Mac may appear to despair first. Meanwhile, Mac’s opponent will take the opportunity to trash talk him.
Graphics: 10 out of 10
Some of the best graphics on the NES, especially given the release date (1987). The characters are very well-animated. The pain animations when the various boxers get punched, for example, are very good. There’s even a nice scene of Doc leading Mac on a jog through New York City at the conclusion of the Minor and Major Circuits.
Sound: 7 out of 10
I get that this is a sports game and sports games generally don’t have that many songs so as not to distract from the recreation of the chosen athletic contest. But there’s only a few songs, some of which only last several seconds. I gotta say, that’s too little.
Quality does mean more than quantity. And the quality of the songs makes up for quantity. That brings up the score.
Gameplay: 7 out of 10
You can punch, dodge, block, and duck. Sometimes landing a punch on the other guy gets you a star. Uppercuts use up stars. You also have hearts, which are decreased when you block a punch and, especially, when you are hit.
As far as the action goes, there are three rounds per fight. Between rounds, Doc will give you pointers or that plug of the now-defunct Nintendo Fun Club and your opponents mocks you. Once per fight, pressing select while Doc is talking will restore some health. A fight can end in three ways:
1.) Someone getting knocked down and not getting up by the 10-count.
2.) Someone getting knocked down three times in the same round.
3,) Split decision after the third round. In some fights, this automatically works against Mac.
You’ll spend most of the time waiting for a punch, dodging, and countering. This is the key. This game is really a test of reflexes. This also goes along with the “underdog” story this game follows. You see, Mac can’t really match these guys strength, so he needs strategy.
There are two crucial criticisms I have of this game: no two player mode. How great would it have been if you could play against a friend? Alas, you can’t.
The other problem is that you’re limited to a single position. That takes a lot from the boxing feel.
Overall, this game plays well but has certain problems.
Challenge: 10 out of 10
Perhaps the most well-balanced difficulty I have ever seen in a game. It goes from easy in the Minor Circuit, moderate in the Major Circuit, hard in the World Circuit, and the “dream fight” with Mike Tyson is incredibly difficult. This trajectory is gradual, not sudden. This is exactly as it should be. Very few games pull off difficulty that is all over the place, but Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! does it very nicely.
Overall: 8 out of 10
Although being limited to one spot doesn’t seem quite right, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is still a solid boxing game. One of the NES’ best games. And one of the all-time greats in a very small sub-genre.