My favorite part of any video game is the boss fights - the trickier and more epic they are, the better. Boss fights are often the most interesting part of any game - in beat ‘em ups such as Final Fight, you endured endless waves of low-level thugs, level after level. The boss fights - against Thrasher, Rolento, Sodom, and others - broke the monotony.
Bosses have their own sprites, weapons, and eccentricities - they force a player to turn off the autopilot and think on thier toes. Most recently, the God of War franchise has embraced the boss fight as the focal point of its gameplay. The Hades boss fight in God of War III was a modern classic - I only wish there was more of them.
It is for this reason that the Punch-Out!! franchise has always appealed to me. There’s no filler material - instead, it’s just one boss fight after the other, each with its own tricks and difficulties. The Punch-Out!! franchise is popularly classified under the sports genre, but anyone who’s spent time with these ‘boxing’ games knows they defy simple categorization. Just as no one plays NBA Jam to get a realistic basketball experience, no one plays Punch-Out!! to get a realistic boxing experience.
The original Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was infamously difficult - once you got to the Major Circuit, every opponent had the potential to turn out your lights in the first round. Thus, there was immense satisfaction when you found your opponent’s Achilles heel, and exploited it to its fullest extent. The most famous of these was Bald Bull’s Bull Charge - if you punched him on his second hop, he would lose all his energy and hit the canvas. If you missed, however, Bald Bull would destroy you with one hit - a clever, ‘winner takes all’ situation that mirrored an actual bull fight.
In 1994, a week before my birthday, Nintendo released Super Punch-Out!! for the SNES. I played it for hours on the first day that I got it, and I was still playing it the following summer. To me, the game was the ‘entire package’ - it had the graphics, the humor, the creativity, and the god-level difficulty. The original is a classic, of course, but Super Punch-Out!! found several ways to improve upon and perfect the formula.
First off, the game replaced the KO Star System with a Knockout Meter - you were no longer limited to throwing three knockout punches at a time. So long you didn’t get hit, you could throw Knockout Punches indefinitely for the entire round. You also were given two different types of Knockout Punches - the classic, heavy blow, or a flurry of smaller blows that could overwhelm an opponent.
The original Punch-Out had one type of block - Super Punch-Out!! distinguished between protecting your body and protecting your face. You had to read visual cues to see when your opponent was going to hit you, but you also had to read where he was going to hit you.
The game was anything but easy - the later boxers barely telegraphed their moves, and you had to act quickly. Super Macho Man had a fatal, spinning punch move that he could use indefinitely - you just had to keep ducking until he decided to stop. Hoy Quarlow, a martial arts guru, would poke you with his walking stick, forcing you out of position for a follow-up combo. Nick Bruiser, the final boxer in the game, could take off a quarter of your energy in a single hit. Bruiser could also break your left and right arms, forcing you to fight with handicap.
No discussion of Super Punch-Out!! would be complete without discussing its gleeful cultural insensitivity. For me, Super Punch-Out!!’s offensiveness is defined by a single memory. It was my freshman year of college - I was replaying the game with my Jamaican suitemate, and we were taking turns with the story mode - we both had it memorized from our childhoods. We were laughing, reminiscing, and trouncing our opponents when we ran into Bob Charlie - the Jive King of Kingston.
It didn’t help that his special move was called the ‘Shuck and Jive,’ or that Bob Charlie hooted, “Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!” when he danced across the screen. My friend’s laughter died like Duke in the first round. His brow furrowed, and he proceeded to straight up murder Bob Charlie in under 30 seconds. There was nothing my suitemate wanted more than to KO his fellow ’Jamaican’ as quickly as possible.
The next opponent was Dragon Chan. What karma.
As a Chinese guy, it was my turn to feel awkward. The kung fu HI-YA’s. The fortune cookie English. The buck teeth. The flying kicks. But we trounced him as well, and we proceeded onwards. To the Lucha Libre Mexican. To the hot-tempered Irishman. To the homoerotic, L.A. bodybuilder. To the snooty, metrosexual Brit.
Super Punch-Out!! had tasteless humor down to a science - if you were going to offend, you didn’t half-ass it or make excuses - you doubled down, and you went after everyone equally - take no prisoners. Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians - every group took it on the chin. Thus, paradoxically, no group was singled out.
By hyperbolizing such a diverse range of stereotypes, the game did not encourage them. Instead, Super Punch-Out!! displayed its boxers as ironic, outmoded caricatures. Could a game like this, however, be made today? It’s doubtful. Even Punch-Out!! for the Wii tried to tone it down a little.
Since its debut in 1994, Super Punch-Out!! has gained a cult following. On Fight Night: Round 2 for the GameCube, Super Punch-Out!! was included as a free bonus game. You could even unlock a terrifying, 3-D Little Mac to use in the main game.
Super Punch-Out!! is currently available on the Wii U eShop, and anyone looking for a quality gaming experience should check it out. There’s a steep learning curve, but every boxer has a predictable pattern - once you figure it out, you’ll be scoring TKOs in no time. Prepare yourself - you’re going to be laughing. And losing. A lot.