Boxing is a universally recognised event that has dominated combat sports for what feels like an eternity. Titans like Mike Tyson, George Foreman and Mohammad Ali continue to be household names years, even after their competitive spark petered out. When the sport was eventually adapted to NES/SNES, no name was bigger than Little Mac and Punch-Out by Nintendo. But how does the Super sequel hold up to today’s standards?
Astonishingly well, much to my surprise. The core of the gameplay is Mac ducking, weaving, blocking and bapping various opponents in the jaw. Controls are super simple, tutorials be damned. You can clock a slugger in the ribs, pop him in the schnoz, dodge left and right with ease and when things get serious, you can whip out the big guns and krump your opponent with a Super Punch.
It would be easy to assume Super Punch-Out is nothing more than a simple “button masher”, but it is so much more than that. Throwing out punches constantly will get you knocked on your little ass, nursing a not-so-little black eye. Super Punch-Out is instead about quick reactions, recognising enemy attack patterns, finding openings and figuring out what “tells” each boxer has. This actually makes Super Punch-Out feel like an incredibly accurate arcade representation of boxing.
Whilst this combination of easy to execute fisticuffs and cerebral gymnastics continues to a satisfying experience, it is far from being an easy string of matches. Whether you are making a name for yourself in the Minor Circuit beating down Gabby Jay, or swinging for the title in the Special Circuit against Nick Bruiser, Super Punch-Out will beat you into oblivion in fast, merciless fashion. Thankfully this is all alleviated by a generous retry system, allowing Mac to get back on his feet sharpish. It doesn’t fully wash the “trial and error” taste out of your mouth, but it goes a long way.
What makes Super Punch-Out standout the most, especially compared to its NES predecessor, is its larger than life sprite work and gorgeous artstyle. Whilst one might find some of the depictions of certain ethnic fighters to be somewhat touchy in today’s climate, if you go into the game with an open mind and a light heart, it is very easy to fall in love with the game’s graphics. Super Punch-Out could be released today, and would put most sprite-based games to shame. Animations themselves can be a tad bit choppy at times, but for the most part, the game looks and moves the part.
Musically Super Punch-Out lands a solid one-two punch. There are four fight tracks based on what circuit you are currently fighting through, which gives a nice amount of variety considering how short these circuits can be. What’s more, the game even plays a jingle unique to each character you touch gloves with. Many of these tracks fail to be particularly memorable however, which is a bit of a shame honestly.
Super Punch-Out, like the sport it has drawn inspiration from, is a timeless classic. There is a reason people still talk about Little Mac and his boxing exploits, and why there hasn’t been a boxing game able to garner as much love as the Bronx Brawler’s. There are a lot of fantastic games on Nintendo’s SNES Online Service, but you cannot afford to sleep on this one…especially with Mr. Sandman still standing.
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