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History Lesson: Punch-Out!!

By Chris Scullion on Sunday 15th Sep 2013 at 10:00 AM UTC

Released in between Rocky III and IV, it's hard not to see Nintendo's original Punch-Out!! arcade machine as a result of the Italian Stallion's box office appeal.

He was eating lightnin' and crapping thunder and audiences were envious. We'll never know exactly why, under the guidance of Genyo Takeda, Nintendo's Integrated Research and Development (IRD) team donned the sparring gloves, but Sly is a sound bet.

Released in 1984, the arcade cabinet was as boisterous as the knuckleheads programmed inside. It lorded over arcades with not one, but two screens (the upper screen displayed the stats of the match below) - a nifty visual one-two jab.

Digitised speech gave the cartoon caricatures a bit of life, while the announcer heckled up the bloodlust by screaming "put him away!" when the time came for an uppercut.


With its bloated mug given some much needed vasoconstriction, the game returned to arcades a year later as Super Punch-Out!! complete with new moves - yank up the stick on the new machine and the hero ducked his opponent's fists.

Not happy with its monopoly on cartoon boxing, IRD created Arm Wrestling in the same year - this time looking for chinks in your opponent's steady arm defences. Whatever next? Thumb wars?

Er, no. IRD went back to the beginning and started work on Punch-Out!! for the NES - a port of the arcade versions. There was some comical censorship during the process, however: Russian boxer Vodka Drunkenski became Soda Popinski on the NES.

Punch-Outs!!'s simple attack/defence gameplay had always revolved around your ability to see your opponent's body language - achieved in the arcade game with a seethrough wire-frame boxer model. Trouble is, the NES didn't have the power to pull it off.

The solution was ludicrously silly, but without it the franchise would be mascot-free: IRD made the player's on-screen boxer really small.

Visibility was restored and Little Mac was born. The pint-sized pugilist returned as an assist trophy in Super Smash Bros Brawl and headed up Punch-Out!! Wii in 2009. But while his future is assured, his opponents have fallen by the wayside.

Japanese Punch-Out!! was created as a golden Famicom cart to be given as a prize in the Famicom Golf: US Course tournament. In it, Little Mac punched his way up to face Hollywood hardman Super Macho Man. But in the US version? The last boss was Mike Tyson.

The ear-gnawing, once heavyweight champion of the world in a Nintendo game? And you thought he was the baddest man in the world.

The anecdote has it going down like this: while Japanese Punch-Out!! was doing the rounds, Nintendo Of America's then president Minoru Arakawa attended a Tyson bout (pre-lobe-dining days). Inspired by the ferocious skill of the man in the ring, he decided that Tyson would be the perfect representative for his game.


And so Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! hit shelves in 1987. It even came with a letter from the champ, including the wise words: "Never become angry - it will inhibit your ability. Anger affects performance. It causes a lack in concentration which inevitably leads to defeat. Anger is never positive and, therefore, never results in positive outcome." Wise words to live by, eh, Mike?

So Little Mac beats five shades of bad out of Tyson for evermore? Nope. In 1990 the game was re-released as Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr Dream with, you guessed it, Mr Dream in Tyson's place.

What happened to Iron Mike? Too many digital jabs to the brain? Anecdotes abound - Tyson's 'legal' troubles and a 1990 loss in the ring being the favourites - but the truth is dull: the Tyson licence expired.

Tyson's legal woes are probably to blame for the abandonment of Beam Software's semi-sequel Mike Tyson's Intergalactic Power Punch, in which Tyson travels into space with manager Don King to fight alien boxers. It eventually appeared as the Tyson-free Power Punch II.

The proper Punch-Out!! sequel would appear on SNES in 1994, using that extra SNES oomph to port the arcade visuals Takeda had envisioned. Brighter characters, clearer speech (Charles 'Mario' Martinet voiced the boxers and announcer), a larger fighter roster... the leap was massive.

As was the jump to the Wii version of Punch-Out!!, bringing Little Mac out of retirement after 15 years. With brilliant animation, enormous fighters and the same classic gameplay, Punch-Out!! on Wii was an apt love letter to the arcade and NES originals. We demand an HD version, Nintendo.

You only win when you're swinging

It's easy these days to think of Punch-Out!! as a Nintendo franchise that hasn't really been given a lot of attention, but in the past three decades it's seen a number of sequels, spin-offs and related titles released.

Here's a full history of Punch-Out!! games, including any related titles that we reckon are worth mentioning too.