Mike Tyson’s Punch Out was a game destined for greatness. The concepts it was based on—the rampant jingoism of Reagan’s America, man’s love for punching things till they fall down, and the emerging celebrity of super-criminal “Iron” Mike Tyson—guaranteed it a place of honor in the collective unconscious of the day. Lace up your gloves, it’s a long road to the championship bout with Tyson himself!
The controls are simple: B is a left jab, A is a right jab. Pressing UP + A or B will be a shot to the head, instead of the body. DOWN blocks, and RIGHT and LEFT dodge. If you collect any stars, SELECT will deliver a “super punch.” That’s it. You’ll face an increasingly harder array of opponents as you progress through the ranks of the WVBA (World Video Boxing Association, of course). These fighters are all versions of popular ethnic stereotypes, including the wimpy Frenchman (Glass Joe), a German (Von Kaiser), a Russian (Soda Popinski), and so on. The only Americans are top dogs, Mr Sandman, Super Macho Man, and Mike Tyson. Hey, this was the Cold War after all!
Pattern recognition is the name of the game here. Your opponents all fight in very recognizable patterns and memorizing them is key. Watch for the jewel in Great Tiger’s turban to flash to alert you that a punch is coming. Von Kaiser’s head will shake from side to side before a punch; Piston Honda’s eyes will glance quickly left and right. Typically you will dodge their punches and then counterattack. Timing is crucial in later rounds but you’ve got some leeway early on.
For a game with such a limited bag of tricks, Punch Out has surprisingly high replay value. I’ve never heard a single complaint about the game being boring or repetitive; I have friends who, after fifteen years, still remember the code to face Mike Tyson and hound me for a turn. The difficulty level was just enough that you could skate pretty easily through the first half dozen opponents, but guys like Mr Sandman and Super Macho Man don’t leave you any room to breathe—one mistimed jab and you're on your back looking up at the rafters.
A couple notable bits of trivia about the NES version of the game: a new chip was required to allow for the huge (at the time) onscreen characters. It was later used in other games, but its first appearance was in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. It was re-released years later simply as Punch Out after Mike started down the path of rape and assault. The end boss in that game is known as Mr Dream, but he is merely a slightly modified and recolored Tyson, fighting with exactly the same strategy. The two games are otherwise the same.
The passing of the years hasn’t lessened my fondness for this game one iota. I give it a 9 out of 10.