For better or worse, Super Punch-Out!! is the black sheep of the Punch-Out!! series.
Punch-Out!! for the NES was a surprisingly popular game. Despite the fact that the actual gameplay was more puzzle than action, it seemed like every kid in my neighborhood was playing “that boxing game”. It also had tie-in comics, King Hippo on Captain N, and a real-life celebrity/maniac endorsement. Punch-Out!! was a phenomenon back when videogames were barely considered more relevant than breakfast cereal.
Less popular but still randomly seen during the 80’s were the two Punch-Out!! arcade games, Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!!. Both arcade cabinets required two screens to contain all the ferocity of the sweet science, and matches against the likes of Glass Joe and Bear Hugger were prevalent any time one could scrounge up a quarter. This was also where Nintendo seemed to start its love affair with big, colorful characters, and the original Punch-Out!! was even the start of the videogame composing career of Koji Kondo, the musician behind Mario and Zelda aka your childhood.
And then, nearly ten years after the release of Super Punch-Out!! in the arcades, we received Super Punch-Out!! for the SNES. And then no more Punch-Out!! for fifteen years. What the hell!?
Super Punch-Out!! did have a few digressions from the usual formula. For one thing, it seemed a lot more loose than the more precise NES game, which may have been a deliberate move to properly compete with the entire Street Fighter 2 thing that was taking over the world at the time. Additionally, a healthy number of the boxers don’t actually… box. I’m no sports doctor, but I’m pretty sure someone got hit in the face with a stick during at least one match, and that can’t be kosher in a more faithful match. Punch-Out!! on the NES was never realistic (very rarely is a boxer punched so hard his shorts drop), but Super Punch-Out!! took it to outrageous levels at a time when gamers more and more wanted “realistic” experiences. Ya know, like Mortal Kombat.
And, oh yeah, there was no Little Mac.
There was a Little Mac-alike creature, but this rando was more intended to be a stand-in for the player (that, hopefully, is a blonde, white male) than the “hero” of the old Punch-Out!! boxing circuit. To a degree, it makes sense, as, right from the beginning, “Little Mac” was meant to simply be a nobody that, depending on the game, didn’t even have a body. And, if we established Little Mac as the man that beat Mike Tyson on the NES, then what’s he doing fighting Gabby Jay a few years later? The SNES was a time when gaming franchises seemed to being trying out this whole continuity thing, and hadn’t just resorted to “here’s level 1-1 again for the 8,000th time again” shenanigans. It makes sense that the next up and comer would be an actual new up and comer… it just was kind of disappointing to deal with this… whoever this is supposed to be.
And then there are the other boxers. Super Punch-Out!! has a number of returning opponents: Bear Hugger, Piston Hurricane, Bald Bull, Dragon Chan, Mr. Sandman, and Super Macho Man all had their start in the arcade (one way or another), and may have appeared on the NES, too. Gabby Jay is your training battle, and he may as well be the similarly named Glass Joe (assuming Glass Joe has an equally amazing voice). And other than that? Well, that’s where it gets a little dicey.
As of this writing, there has only been one other Punch-Out!! game, Punch-Out!! for the Wii. That version of Punch-Out!!, for whatever reason, only featured one new boxer out of its total cast of sixteen (and even that one newbie might be the secret reincarnation of Kid Quick). So, of the fifteen classic opponents, only one single star of Super Punch-Out!! returned: Aran Ryan, the Irish maniac. Every single other Super Punch-Out!! character, including its protagonist, got left on the curb without so much as a reference to their collective existence.
Some Super Punch-Out!! characters make perfect sense to be dropped. Rick and Nick Bruiser are the champs of SPO!!, but they’re more of a gimmick fight than anything. Rick is an impossibly difficult battle, and then, when you finally conquer his flurry of fists, you find the next opponent is exactly the same except even more powerful. It’s the kind of trick that only works once, so it stands to reason that the characters that are pretty much only defined as “tough twins” would be dropped for two potentially unique characters. Similarly, Hoy Quarlow, aka the old man with a stick, is another gimmick fight that relies on the fact that he’s not so much boxing as just being a jerk at all times. He “punches” open handed! That’s not allowed! So I suppose he’s disqualified for being… disqualified.
Bob Charlie, the dreadlocked Rastafarian from Jamaica is an angel hair thin stereotype in a game full of them. In a way, there’s no reason Bob Charlie couldn’t replace Disco Kid in the Wii title, but you certainly don’t need two guys based entirely on a music/rhythm gimmick. Leave that behind, and, what, is Nintendo going to go whole hog on the 4:20 thing when they can’t even make a reference to Vodka? I don’t think so. Heike Kagero is a Japanese kabuki dude that falls into the similar trap of having his mirage ability claimed by the more popular Great Tiger. All you have left is a bishounen that whips his silver hair around, and this ain’t Final Fantasy, buddy. Speaking of pretty boys, Narcis Prince is basically a younger Super Macho Man, and, oh man, we are not losing Super Macho Man for anything.
Mad Clown must never be seen again. You know why.
Masked Muscle, though, I want to say there’s some meat on that bone. Masked Muscle is a heel luchador, which, as we all learned from Lucha Libre, means that he’s a dirty rotten cheater. There’s a boxing match going on here, but don’t be surprised if he head-butts the contender right in the face. And if that doesn’t work, he’ll just spit right in his opponent’s face. That’s not good sportsmanship! I’ll admit that it’s probably not a good thing to have one Mexican boxer in all of Punch-Out!! history, and he’s the worst, most despicable character in the game. But he’s supposed to be a deliberate heel, so… is that okay? It’s a big part of the luchador culture, so it’s not that different from Super Macho Man being a giant dick in a banana hammock, right?
Though what’s most disappointing about a lack of Masked Muscle’s return is that Aran Ryan stole his shtick. Aran, in his Super Punch-Out!! incarnation, is no crazier than your average Irishman. His man gimmick seems to be a hurricane of punches nicknamed “the Irish jig”. Once Aran resurfaces for the Wii, though, his defining trait seems to be cheating. Maybe this is just his way of representing his Super Punch-Out!! pride (there are a few cheaters in the game…), but it seems a little sad that Aran had to take a heel turn and leave the real heels by the curb. Then again, that is a very heel thing to do…
But Aran Ryan does prove one thing, and that’s that everything in Super Punch-Out!! could easily be imported into the next generation. Any of the bruisers of Super Punch-Out!! could return for the next circuit (except Mad Clown), and make the next Punch-Out!! game a winner. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another fifteen years to see the next one (it’s already been seven…), but I hope it remembers to bring in some Super Punch-Out!! people when it finally arrives.
Hey, even a black sheep could make some neat looking sweaters.
FGC #183 Super Punch-Out!!
- System: Super Nintendo, though I can confirm it’s on the Wii & WiiU Virtual Consoles, because I am all over that.
- Number of players: Nobody could figure out how to make a two player Punch-Out!! until the Wii, so just one player here.
- Port-o-Problems: Ya know, we’ve had the dual screen portables for years, and still no port of the arcade Punch-Out!! titles. That seems wrong.
- So, did you beat it? Not until save states were invented! My brain deals poorly with any game where my character is suffering concussion after concussion. Some sort of 16-bit empathy?
- What’s Up, Doc: No Little Mac, no Doc Louis. There’s still more cultural representation in this game than any other Nintendo game, but it’d be nice to hold on to Nintendo’s only significant African American biker.
- Favorite Boxer: Dragon Chan will not hesitate to jump kick you to the mat. That takes some cojones.
- Did you know? Glass Joe has a record for beating Nick Bruiser in time trials. I’m assuming ol’ Joe is better with a controller than boxing gloves.
- Would I play again: Like most Punch-Out!! games, I enjoy replaying this game until I hit my first brick wall, usually sometime around the second circuit. I haven’t seen the Bruiser Bros. in years.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Milon’s Secret Castle for the NES! Okay, how do you keep an entire castle secret? Maybe we’ll find out! Please look forward to it!
Another disappointing Bob in gaming…