The latest entry in this series is a game you’ll probably be surprised I never beat before. To clarify, I know I’ve made it up to Mike Tyson in the past, but I can’t be sure I ever beat him. And if I did, it was with the use of the “Tyson Code”, meaning I definitely never beat the game “legit” (The game never actually gives you the Tyson Code in normal game play–the furthest password you get takes you to Super Macho Man).
Released for the first time in 1987, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (Yes, the exclamation points are part of the title), henceforth MTPO, revolves around Little Mac and his trainer Doc Louis. Mac has dreams of being a WVBA (World Video Boxing Association, an association with no use for silly things like “Weight Classes”) World Champion and earning a “Dream Fight” with Mike Tyson (Or, in later re-releases of the game, Mr. Dream, who fights exactly the same way). Standing in the way of his dream is the fact that Little Mac is, well, little–he’s under 5 feet tall (Punch-Out!! Wii retconned him to stand 5’7″) and weighs 107 lbs, which would put him in the Light/Junior Flyweight class in reality. There is a development reason for this–the arcade Punch-Out!! games used a transparent main character; when the developers of the console version discovered the NES couldn’t replicate the effect, they intentionally made Little Mac short to allow the player to see over his head. Still, besides being small, Little Mac is also nuts–my cousin is fond of saying “[Boxing] causes brain damage? I think you have to be brain damaged to begin with to go into it!”, and that seems true in Mac’s case.
Joking aside, Mac takes on a variety of opponents, working his way through the ranks of the WVBA to get to the Dream Fight. Win and you get ranked up, lose and you’ll either rematch your opponent or get sent down a rank or two. Lose 3 times and it’s Game Over (Except in the Dream Fight, where a single loss is all it takes). In terms of the gameplay, I feel like part of the reason this game has lasting appeal is that it simultaneously manages to be arcadey and, well, not. At its core, MTPO is less a boxing game than a fast-paced puzzle game. To win, you’ll have to watch the opponents’ patterns, dodge, and counter them, sometimes preemptively. The good news is that, for the most part, this lends the game a riding-a-bike property to it, in that once you beat a foe once, you’ll probably be able to do so repeatedly, if not quickly. It’s even possible to get through most of the game blindfolded!
That all changes in The Dream Fight. Tyson’s delays are variable, and even knowing the possibilities is oftentimes not enough to save you from getting knocked down (You could probably make a montage of all the times I dodged into a 2-second-delay uppercut). It’s mostly reflex to actually defeat Tyson, but after about 15 times, I managed to last to the end and score a decision victory.
Making this more amazing was the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, I was determined to do this “legit”, meaning re-fighting Super Macho Man after every Tyson loss. Suffice to say I got really good at that fight. Also, every Macho Man fight gives you an additional win, hence how I wound up 28-2 (My two losses were to Bald Bull 2 and Mr. Sandman; I won both rematches) in my ending picture despite there only being 14 fights in the game. Still, I did it, and I’m proud.
If you’d like this try this game yourself, you can get the Mr. Dream version on Wii Virtual Console.