Sunday, September 18, 2016

The History of Punch-Out!!

Punch-Out!! is one of Nintendo's smaller video game franchises, but it still has a soft spot in the hearts of many gamers. Most people know the cartoony boxing series for its games on Nintendo's home consoles, but it actually started out in the arcades.

The first game in the series, simply called Punch-Out!! was released in Japanese arcades in 1983 and it came to the western world in 1984.

The single player game was produced by Genyo Takeda, who had been working for Nintendo since 1972. In 1975, he made their first ever arcade title, called EVR Race (assuming you don't count Laser Clay Shooting System).

Takeda would go on to make the StarTropics series in 1990 and was even one of the main developers behind the Nintendo Wii.

Punch-Out!! was the first game to have music composed by Koji Kondo, who eventually made some of gaming's most iconic soundtracks, including Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda  for the NES.

The arcade game has you playing as a green wireframe boxer that fights colorful characters such as Bald Bull, Glass Joe, Mr. Sandman, and Piston Hurricane, all of whom would go on to appear in later installments. There were also two fighters that were never seen from again, Pizza Pasta and Kid Quick.

The characters were actually designed by gaming legend Shigeru Miyamoto, and his creations Mario, Luigi, and Donkey Kong show up as audience members.

The cabinet itself was a bit unusual in that it actually had two 19 inch screens arranged vertically. The game itself was played on the bottom screen while the other one contained pictures of the boxers, how much time was left, and other bits of information.

Some have cited this as a forerunner of the Nintendo DS and 3DS handheld systems.

Successful punches built up your KO meter while ones that were blocked brought it down. Filling the meter up entirely lets the player use a super powerful KO punch.

Just like later games in the series, opposing boxers give away their attacks. However, in this entry this happens when their eyes turn yellow.

Also released in 1984 was an installment in Nintendo's "Game & Watch" line of electronic handhelds called Punch-Out!! in the United States, but Boxing elsewhere. It really just seems like a generic boxing game with the Punch-Out!! name slapped on it.

The original arcade game got a full fledged sequel that hit Japan in 1984 and came out in the US in 1985. It was titled Super Punch-Out!! and again went with the two monitor setup.

Like in the first game, the player character was unnamed, and he was still a green wireframe boxer.

Several new characters that would become series staples were introduced in this game. These include Super Macho Man, who appeared in the NES, SNES, and Wii games, Bear Hugger, Great Tiger, and Dragon Chan.

There was also the new Russian boxer Vodka Drukenski, who after this game was known as Soda Popinski in order to be more family-friendly.

Genyo Takeda returned to produce and direct and of course Nintendo published and developed the title.

There was also a knockoff version called Frank Bruno's Boxing released for the home computers Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, and ZX Spectrum. It was pretty much the same as Nintendo's game, but it starred a real boxer named Frank Bruno instead of the green wireframe.

The next year, in 1985 the team behind Punch-Out!! released an arcade game called Arm Wrestling that's considered to be a spinoff of the series. It doesn't have any of the same characters, but it was developed by Genyo Takeda and featured the two monitor setups of the previous games.

In 1987, the series hit home consoles for the first time. The release history of the NES game is a bit complicated.

On September 18, 1987, it hit Japanese shelves under the title of Punch-Out!! (or the Japanese equivalent at least) for the Famicom console.

Then on October 18, the game came to North America as Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! It was later rereleased in Japan in November with Mike Tyson's name attached and came to Europe that December.

In 1990, Nintendo lost the rights to Mike Tyson's name, so they made yet another version called Punch-Out!! for North American and European gamers. Tyson was replaced by a character named Mr. Dream.

Nintendo also published the NES game on their Virtual Console for the Wii in 2007 and it would eventually appear on the 3DS and Wii U as well.

The console version is similar to the arcade game, with a few key differences. The green wireframe boxer is gone and instead he's just short enough that the player can see their opponent over him. This was the first game where the protagonist had his name, Little Mac. The NES game had cutscenes and a plot as well.

Also Mario was no longer in the audience, but instead served as the referee.

Many new characters were introduced such as the Spaniard Don Flamenco, who skipped the sequel on SNES but would come back for the Wii game.

One of my favorite characters from the series, King Hippo, first showed up in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! As his name suggests, he's a very large boxer and his appearance is quite comical. Like Flamenco, King Hippo did not appear in this game's sequel but was featured in Punch-Out!! on the Wii.

There was also Piston Hondo, from Japan, and Von Kaiser, from Germany. Plus, returning characters were included such as Bald Bull, Glass Joe, and Soda Popinski.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! even introduced Doc Louis, Little Mac's trainer.

Takeda directed again and the producer was Minoru Arakawa, who was the founder and president of Nintendo of America, as well the one who gave Mario his name.

In 1992, a game was published called Power Punch II, despite there being no "Power Punch I". It was originally going to be called "Mike Tyson's Intergalactic Power Punch" and was intended as a sequel to Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

However, Tyson was charged with rape during the development, so they understandably went in another direction.

The next official game in the series was made in 1994 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and was called Super Punch-Out!! just like the second arcade game.

It came out in September 1994 for North Americans and January of 1995 in Europe, but wasn't available in Japan until 1998. You can also buy the game on the Virtual Console for both the Wii and Wii U.

Super Punch Out!! got decent reviews as Game Informer scored it a 4 out of 5 and IGN gave it an 8.

Several characters returned including (presumably) the protagonist Little Mac, although in this one he has blonde hair. Opponents from the NES game that came back include Mr. Sandman, Super Macho Man, and Bald Bull. A couple characters from the Super Punch-Out!! arcade game appear like Bear Hugger and Dragon Chan.

Gamers could also fight Piston Hurricane, who hadn't shown up since the original arcade game in 1983. Bob Charlie, Nick Bruiser, Gabby Jay and others were introduced in the SNES version.

Sadly, the series laid dormant for 15 years until the release of Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Wii in 2009.

It was developed by Next Level Games, who had worked with Nintendo previously to make Super Mario Strikers for the Gamecube and Mario Strikers Charged for the Wii. They later made two titles for the Nintendo 3DS, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon and the maligned Metroid Prime: Federation Force.

The gameplay is very similar to the previous games as you are still Little Mac dodging and ducking punches while trying to figure out your opponent's pattern. The biggest difference is the updated cel shaded graphics which are cartoony, but still look great.

Many fan favorites returned such as King Hippo, Bald Bull, and Glass Joe. The only new character created for this game was Disco Kid. However, if you got far enough you could fight the Nintendo icon Donkey Kong. This role was originally filled by Princess Peach, but supposedly Nintendo did not want to encourage violence towards women.

The reviews were generally quite good. It earned a score of 86 on Metacritic and Game Informer gave it a 9 out of 10.

Next Level Games even made a WiiWare spinoff called Doc Louis' Punch-Out!! that was only available as a downloadable title.

In my opinion, the Wii version did a great job of staying true to the originals while still modernizing the franchise. The characters are full of personality and well animated. Like its predecessor it's challenging, but in a fair way that makes you feel very satisfied when you finally KO your opponent.

The revival of the series got many fans' hopes up for another game on Nintendo's next home console, the Wii U.

However, this never happened, as Punch-Out!! was one of Nintendo's many smaller franchises that didn't get an entry on the Wii U, such as Metroid and F-Zero. This may have been because the console drastically underperformed compared to expectations.

Nonetheless, the series was represented in a big way on the Wii U. Little Mac became a playable character for the 2014 game Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS.

He had previously been in the Wii version as an "assist trophy", which is an item players can use to summon a character to fight for them.

There was even a Punch-Out!! stage in the Wii U and 3DS version called "Boxing Ring".

Little Mac is considered to be very good on the ground, but not so much in the air, and isn't great at getting back onto the stage. He can also do a Star Punch just like in his games.

As a callback to the earliest Punch-Out!! titles, Little Mac has an alternate costume where he appears as a green wireframe.

He is unique in the Smash Bros. series as he shows damage by having bruises on his face.

Nintendo released interactive figurines for many of their characters called Amiibos and Little Mac was lucky enough to get one.

Hopefully the inclusion of Little Mac in Smash Bros. shows that Nintendo considers Punch-Out!! to be an important series and is planning a game for their next console, currently codenamed the NX.

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