Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Release Date: October 1987
Developer: Nintendo R&D3
‘He’s Hurt Me Doc!’….. ‘Join the Nintendo Fun Club Today Mac.’
Doc really didn’t seem to know what he was doing when it came to coaching and training beyond late night jogs in lower Manhattan, and providing sometimes useful advice between rounds. He probably also should have been reprimanded for putting a tiny 17 year old boxer up against grown men twice his age and weight. Then again, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! is just a home port of a popular arcade game of the same title (minus the Mike Tyson endorsement) so realism aside, it is still one of the undeniable classics for the NES.
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! was an instant hit when it was released in what I consider the Nintendo’s banner year of gaming, 1987 (Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus, Pro Wrestling, et. al.), as an addition to the “Sports Series” of games. In Punch Out, you play as Little Mac, a 17 year old boxer from the Bronx fighting his way up the ranks in an effort to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
Along the way you must battle an array of ethnic stereotypes (e.g. Piston Honda, Soda Popinksi, Von Kaiser, Great Tiger) until you fight the final 3 gauntlet of Mr. Sandman, Super Macho Man and Kid Dynamite himself, Mike Tyson.
You get three save passcodes to track your progress after defeating Piston Honda the first time in the minor circuit, Bald Bull in the major circuit and Super Macho Man in the world circuit. The best feeling as an experienced Punch Out player is battling through all of the fighters one after the next until you make it to Tyson himself.
My first recollection of playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! was at a friend’s house in the fall of 1987. I hadn’t read much about it, but a boxing game seemed interesting to me so I inserted the cart and gave it a shot without reading the manual. The first fight against Glass Joe is intended to give new players a warm-up and practice the control scheme of right-left uppercuts, right-left body blows, blocking and dodging. You also learn that if you throw too many blocked punches you will get tired and, leaving you no choice but to dodge your opponent’s punches without the ability to counter until you recover.
I do recall losing to Glass Joe on my first attempt, and that’s not a fact I would volunteer if I didn’t have a Heavyweight Title belt to my name. Every Heavyweight Title bout against Tyson was a sweaty palm and intensely focused battle. You need extremely calm nerves and precision reflexes to get through the first 1:30 of his lightning punches that will knock you on your ass in a second if you flinch and miss the timing to dodge.
You can defeat Tyson by decision with 5000 or more points scored, and I believe this was the method I employed when I first took him down. Since then I have been able to TKO him a few times, but there is no guarantee when I fight him today that I will win.
In 1990, Mike Tyson’s contract with Nintendo ran out, so instead of renewing it, Nintendo chose to re-issue Punch Out!! with a new final bout against Mr. Dream. Mr. Dream is basically a white version of Mike Tyson as they fight exactly the same. All other aspects of the game are identical.
So many memorable characters with memorable between-rounds phrases and interesting fighting techniques. Having to choose the best character in a game full of best characters makes this decision extremely difficult. The easy answer is Mike Tyson himself. He’s the only character based on a real fighter and the most intimidating boxer on the planet at the time.
However, I am choosing the overly tanned and prematurely gray Super Macho Man as the best character. Super Macho Man is modeled after a stereotypical Hollywood musclehead/bodybuilder. The World Circuit Champ physically takes up a significant portion of the screen, so he intimidates before he even throws his first punch. Macho Man throws powerful uppercuts that you’ll have to deal with, but the punch that absolutely must be dodged is his Macho Spin Punch. Macho Man will initially take a step back, then move forward and spin around in circles, attempting to land a knockout punch to Little Mac.
Besides the magnitude of these punches, Super Macho Man will not consistently throw the same number of spin punches, so you have to be on your toes and not let up too early thinking that he’s done when he’s actually not. There have been times I’ve sworn he spun around 10 times before giving up. You have to love the ability to knock a guy this conceited on his muscled butt.
“I work on my tan harder than I’ll have to work on you!”
“I don’t smoke… But tonight I’m gonna smoke you!”
“My Super Spin Punch is totally tough!”
“My body is just so totally cool!”
Some would argue that Mr. Sandman is a tougher opponent than Mike Tyson. I disagree, but the third to last character you fight in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! is a very difficult battle nonetheless, and battle is exactly what you have to do with Mr. Sandman in order to defeat him. Mr. Sandman is not an opponent that you will likely defeat in one round, no matter how good you get at the reading his tells and memorizing the patterns of his punches. Body blows, head blows, duck, dodge and watch the flash before his Dreamland Express series of uppercuts. To defeat Mr. Sandman in the first round, if you defeat him at all, is a major accomplishment, and you’ll definitely feel like you earned a good night’s rest .
Most Satisfying Punch to Land
The body blow that you must land on Bald Bull during his Bull Charge is the most satisfying punch to land on any of the boxers in the game outside of a TKO blow to Tyson. You fight Bald Bull twice in the course of the game, and in both fights, Bull will head towards the back of the ring and then bounce his way up towards you, culminating in a devastating uppercut that will knock Mac down. You can dodge his punch, but Bull will continue to repeat the Bull Charge until either he knocks you down with it or the round ends. In order to counter this attack, you must time a stomach punch perfectly during his charge. Too early or too late and it’s lights out. When you do land the punch, Bull makes an odd face like someone stuffed ice cubes down his shorts and falls backwards onto the mat.
So, so satisfying.
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! was and still is one of my favorite games of all time thanks to its fun and colorful characters, the way you have to learn their tells before you’re able to defeat them and the playability of it all. As a result, I rank it as my third favorite game for the NES behind Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda.
Jason Breininger: Author and Chief Games Writer
Retro gaming enthusiast and blogger that grew up on the classics from the 80’s and 90’s. Enjoying the process of documenting my extensive video game collection & providing personal retro gaming experiences on my Cartridge Corner blog.
My wife and two daughters, classic video games, Alien franchise, the music of Prince, the films of Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, and Jack Nicholson, indie rock, classic hip-hop from the golden era of ’87-’94, musician related biographies.