(Review archived from March 11, 2023)
The first order of business has to do with Will Smith (née The Fresh Prince). Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! will forever be inextricably linked in my mind to the DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince single, I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson ft. Mike Tyson & Don King. Despite the fact that this song came out in 1989, two years after the NES game, I can assure you that it was my unofficial soundtrack to the game through numerous (albeit unsuccessful) attempts to take down Iron Mike during my youth. Unfortunately, much like The Fresh Prince discovers through hip hop verse, knocking out Mike Tyson is something that is much easier to sing about than it is to actually do, both IRL and in 8-bit gaming as it turns out. Many years later, and presumably having learned a thing or two about setting more achievable goals, The Fresh Prince decided, “I think I can beat Chris Rock” which turned out to be a much more successful endeavor, all things considered. But for my part, I never forgot about Mike Tyson and my dream of capturing the WVBA heavy weight title from him. Perhaps if “Chris Rock’s Punch Out!!” had been an option I might have instead just gone that route too.
My Punch-Out!! boxing career has not been illustrious by any means, but there is something to be said for perseverance over the long haul. It was on February 11, 1990 that Buster Douglas pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history. He knocked out Mike Tyson in the tenth round of their world heavyweight championship boxing match, claiming the heavyweight championship, and breaking Tyson’s 37-0 undefeated streak. So! It was on February 11, of this year that I set out to defeat 8-bit Tyson, breaking a decades long losing streak that was presumably much higher than 0-37. There’s also a lot to be said for a bit of luck and a dash of historical mojo on your side. And so it was that I finally notched a win vs. Tyson in Mike Tyson’s Punchout!!
But enough waffling!! It needs to be said that it takes a pretty compelling game to keep one coming back for more, over the course of decades, and despite an overwhelming losing record. And Punch-Out!! has that in spades. This is a game that just feels good to play, and after all those years it’s almost a matter of muscle memory. On the surface of course it’s billed as a sports game, but in reality it plays much more like a rhythm game once you’ve built up sufficient pattern recognition for the various (often outlandish) opponents in the game. For the most part each fighter has various tells that you learn to exploit via timing and move sets, and once you’ve done that you can generally defeat them and move on to the next fighter. Wash, rinse, repeat. Again, it’s the kind of simple compelling gameplay that hooks you in and keeps you coming back for ‘one more round’ even years later.
However!! Therein lies that great trick of this game. Punch-Out!! hoodwinks the player into thinking that the strategy used through out the rest of the game is the same one to be employed against Mike Tyson, which is not the case. 8-bit Tyson is the ‘rhythm breaker’ in this boxing rhythm game. Whereas all the other fighters in the game fall largely into certain patterns, Tyson always seems like there’s an element of randomness to his move sets. The Tyson bout becomes much more a matter of reflex than of rhythm and pattern. It’s not an easy bout, IMO but you can’t really knock the game too much for suddenly upping the challenge level in unpredictable ways. It doesn’t take away from the game which in the end remains as one of my favorite sports games on the NES.
So what else is there to say? Punch-Out!! remains one of the many highlights of the NES library and interestingly it’s a game that remains fairly unique in terms of tone and play style. Recommended for fans of boxing, rhythm games, and all around gluttons for punishment.