Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Review
1987 was a strange year. America was 7 years into a binge of prosperity as President Ronald Reagan had successfully protected us from Communism. However, doubt was beginning to creep in as Reagan’s reign as America’s Savior was soon to end and the American people had no way of knowing his challenge to Gorbachev to “tear down that wall” would succeed as the 1980s came to an end. 1987’s climate was both marked by brilliance in government and politics but featured deviancy in the arts as Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ album and ‘The Garbage Pail Kids Movie’ were both released in that fateful year.
It was in this climate that Nintendo decided the world needed a boxing game; but not just any old run-of-the-mill boxing game. They wanted something special for their popular NES console. Nintendo had previously released an arcade game called ‘Punch-Out!!’ a few years earlier. It was a pretty realistic game as you competed against true-to-life boxers such as the weak Frenchman, Glass Joe and dead on accurate Italian, Pizza Pasta. They had followed that game up with an arcade sequel, ‘Super Punch-Out!!’ that took things a step further in realism with more ethnically accurate and worldly characters like Dragon Chan (China), The Great Tiger (India) and Vodka Drunkenski (Russia).
Nintendo decided since they had two completely accurate boxing simulations already in existence, they’d just port those, with a few changes, to the NES. Even after toning things down a bit, Vodka Drunkenski became Soda Popinski after President Reagan asked for a softer portrayal of Russians to help the peace process, the game designers still felt something was missing. Mike Tyson, professional boxer at the time, was red-hot so Nintendo decided to sign him to a licensing deal and include him as the “final boss” in the game. Tyson was unstoppable in the ring and had never been defeated. Tyson would likely be the champion for years, no, decades to come. What could go wrong? Tyson’s management signed the deal and ‘Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!’ became reality.
Much like what would happen a few years later when conservatives let their guard down and paid little attention to some hillbilly from Arkansas, Tyson was shockingly decimated by an adversary he had dismissed as beneath him. His fame, much like America’s greatness under Reagan/Bush, ended in an abrupt and shocking manner. Only a few years into the game’s life, Nintendo decided to cut their losses and rebrand the game as ‘Punch-Out!!’ and end their licensing deal with the now “damaged goods” Tyson camp. America learned its lesson after suffering through eight years of Clinton’s America in the 1990s before finally wrestling back some sanity in the form of George W. Bush. One would hope the video game industry learned a similar lesson in the 1990s and tempered their response to signing flash in the pan athletes to game licensing deals. They unfortunately did not.
I’ve decided that despite the troubled licensing issues, ‘Punch-Out!!’ retains the majority of the accuracy found in the arcade versions. It’s not often you see other nationalities represented so faithfully in video games; it’s a lost art in the current generation of games. Nintendo also loses a few more points for shilling their brand too hard and making drug icon “Mario” the referee. I can bet you “Mario” hasn’t refereed anything in his life, much less a professional boxing match featuring the likes of Mike Tyson. My only other complaint is that Nintendo published a ‘cheat code’ that allowed the player to immediately surpass all of the other matches and immediately fight Mike Tyson for the title. It would be akin to throwing an untested rookie into the WWE Royal Rumble match and scripting them to win and face an unstoppable monster who is far more skilled. Considering that would never happen, the game lost a bit of the realism I otherwise enjoyed.