There is just something about the Punchout!! games that are just addictive and fun. I just can’t stop playing them whether I am trying to beat the best time for Bear Hugger, or trying to go undefeated in the Special Circuit (which I STILL have not done!). Regretfully, I never owned this during the SNES’s glory years and never even played a Punchout!! game until late last year. Thus I must be making up for lost time since this game always seems to end up in my Super Nintendo. Let’s find out why!
The Punchout series originated as an arcade game in 1984, taking the popularity of boxing and embellishing it Rocky-style with an underdog hero and over the top personalities. Its success spawned both another arcade game and two console sequels, one of which being the aforementioned Super Punchout!! Regardless of which game you are playing, a pattern based system is used in which you must identify your opponent’s weaknesses in order to survive. That means that despite the boxing game appearance, it’s really more of a test of your reflexes and timing than your fighting acumen. And that is what makes it so compulsive as it is both easy to pick up and play, yet deviously difficult to master.
The story follows Little Mac, who appears to have been working out since we last saw him at the end of Mike Tyson’s Punchout. Once again he is attempting to climb the ladder to the top of the World Video Game Boxing Association. True to form he is not the only one who is vying for this position. Super Punchout!! once again introduces us to a colorful cast of larger than life characters, all of which are responsible for making this game such a well designed blast! The power of the SNES allows for much more cast diversity this time around, offering each fighter a unique personality and fighting style. No two fights feel the same.
Gameplay is surprisingly simple. Little Mac can dodge left and right, as well as duck out of the way for attacks that cannot be dodged or blocked. Blocking is as easy as doing nothing to block body shots, while holding up on the D-pad blocks punches to the head. Little Mac can also throw power punches as well as speed jabs once he fills his power meter up, a slight difference from the star system in earlier games. The traditional career mode is separated into four separate tiers, each holding more difficult opponents than the last. You must complete all four fights in a tier to move on to the next, and this time you cannot win by decision. You must knock your opponent out in three minutes or lose. This keeps gameplay moving and I never had an issue meeting this deadline. Another notable improvement is the battery save feature, allowing you to start right where you left off.
But what if you only want to fight one specific opponent instead of playing a tier? Rest easy, as Super Punchout has you covered with an all new Time Attack mode. Once you have beaten a tier, all of its boxers become available for an individual match, allowing you to try and best your old scores. This option not only corrects one of its predecessor’s flaws, but also sends the game’s replay value through the roof! Now instead of being forced to fight Gabby Jay over and over again, you can just skip the more boring fights and go right to Bear Hugger or Super Macho Man.
All of these improvements would be moot if the boxers themselves failed to satisfy. Luckily, they happen to be some of the most memorable in the series! Sprites are well animated and large, sporting an anime-esque style that looks like it is right out of Dragon Ball! This detail allows you to see their hints and react much more effectively than the earlier games. You’ll need keep on your toes every fight because each has its own intricacies. Some of my favorites include:
- Masked Muscle: A luchadore who will win at all costs. Signature moves include spitting in your eye to obscure your vision, and then headbutting you! What a cheater!
- Aran Ryan: An Irishman who is barely phased by normal punches, but when you finally connect with a special, watch out for the clinch!
- Super Macho Man: His “Buffness” returns once again to take on our hero! This time he brings a set of exercise based attacks, along with his signature Hurricane Punch!
- Bald Bull: The “Turkish Terror” returns with his one-hit KO Bull Charge. Don’t let him connect!
- Mr. Sandman: Another fan favorite returns, this time with the power to counter-punch your specials. Don’t get put to sleep!
On a final note, while the music may seem repetitive and weak, it does its job well enough. Would I have liked to see each fighter get his own ring track as opposed to just in the menu? Sure. Yet the tracks that are there do flesh out each tier, offering a playful melody in the first tier and graduating to a tightly noted song in the third tier that lets us know we’ve reached the big time! The real sound design in this game lies in the punches and the mannerism of the fighters. You even get to hear Little Mac say PIECE OF CAKE!!!!
With this mix of old and new, everyone is ensured a favorite fight. And that is the way it should be! Super Punchout may lack Mike Tyson and King Hippo, but it makes up for that by giving us a whole new crop of memorable personalities, tight gameplay, and polished extras that will keep us playing long after the frustration of losing to Macho Man for the fifteenth time sets in. These are opponents that you simply MUST beat, if only to remove that cocky grin from their faces. And with persistence, you will. This is a game that anyone can learn, and once you get a particular fight down, you will want to come back for more and then beat it faster. My only complaint is that there is no Doc, and at that point, I am truly reaching. A knockout of an experience!
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