If you’re looking for an arcade style boxing game for the Super NES, Super Punch Out!! is really the only game in town. Or so I thought. Another title in a somewhat similar vein exists, but was only available in Japan. Ashita no Joe, or Tomorrow’s Joe when translated into English, tries to capture the charm of the manga, but even more important; can it succeed as a competent arcade boxing game?
Punch Drunk Love
Ashita no Joe started as a manga in the late 60s and since that time has become a very popular property with fans all over the world. Joe Yabuki, the protagonist of this story, is an everyday man who was orphaned at a young age. With no hope for the future, Joe becomes a delinquent with no direction in life. While walking around the slums of Tokyo, Joe helps a kid who is being bullied by a gangster. By fate, a down and out boxing trainer named Danpei Tange sees the fight between Joe and the gangster. Danpei believes Joe has what it takes to be a professional boxer. With the help of Danpei and others, Joe will achieve growth not only as a boxer, but as a human being as well.
Controls and Gameplay
There isn’t much to the controls. The B button will make Joe block and the A button will make him punch. Pressing the control pad in different directions in conjunction with the punch or block button will allow Joe diversity in his punches and blocks. The Start button pauses the game and that’s all there really is as far as controls are concerned.
The game consists of 8 opponents which Joe must defeat in succession to move on. Each one must be knocked out in the first round or Joe must begin the fight again if any continues are left (You get 3 continues regardless of difficulty setting). The characters Joe fights all come from the manga so they should be familiar to Tomorrow’s Joe fans. Most involve using a certain strategy to defeat them and herein lies the challenge and fun. The exceptions are the first two fighters who are a relative breeze to beat. There isn’t any specific strategy in defeating them, just throw punches at them and eventually they’ll go down. When you face the third opponent, however, difficulty ramps up dramatically!
I think the difficulty increases too much too soon. One mark of a good game is when the developers gradually step up the degree of difficulty, not take it from the minimum to near the top in one swoop. The quality of fighter between the second and third opponents is shocking.
Joe and his opponent can move left and right in a horizontal line across the ring. They’ll punch, block, and dodge each other until one knocks the other down three times. That’s the gist of the entire game in a nutshell.
As far as comparisons with Super Punch Out!!, there aren’t any. Whereas in Punch Out!! the controls are smooth as butter and responsive as a trigger on a gun, in Tomorrow’s Joe, the controls don’t feel as instantaneous as it should be. For instance, I did notice a delay sometimes when leaning back to avoid a punch. This becomes aggravating in a close match. I never experienced such delayed reactions in dodging while playing Super Punch Out!!
Punch Out!! has a sort of magic to it that can’t be put easily into words. Tomorrow’s Joe has no magic. Even if you are a fan of the comic or anime, you will probably still feel something is missing. It’s only so-so. It almost feels wooden. It has the barebones of a playable game, but nothing more.
And what of the iconic characters that people know the world over? Where’s their charm? Why no cut scenes between fights to at least give some fan service to the people who love these characters? The developers chose to create a game that only reaches the minimum standard of a playable game with an Ashita no Joe license slapped onto it. Not only that, the license provides no personality to the game. If you took the familiar characters away and replaced them with generic ones, the result would be exactly the same. You just can’t put a famous license on a game and expect it to cover up deficiencies in development.
Surprisingly enough there is a two-player option. The two players can choose any character in the game and duke it out for a round. It’s a nice novelty and extends the replayability by a little bit.
There are a few options before the actual gameplay. You can select the difficulty level from easy , normal, and hard, assign the punch and guard functions to another button and sample the music in the game.
Graphics and Sound
One thing that sticks out about the graphics are the sprites; they are nice and big. If you know about the Tomorrow’s Joe characters, you can instantly identify who is who. The crowd looks solid and and you’ll see the back of the referee’s head when somebody hits the mat. I liked the big “World Stars” logo on the floor of the ring. I also thought the animation stills present when you turn the game on and let it sit for awhile were cool. Too bad there wasn’t something like this in between fights.
It’s really the fighters who stick out and have the most detail. I think that’s the way it should be for any boxing game. One thing that did irk me is the fact all the fighter have the same two knocked down animations. With only 9 fighters in total, I can’t understand why more knock down animations couldn’t of been made.
Even with a wonderful license to work with, Tomorrow’s Joe fails to live up to the charm that made manga and anime so beloved. It’s a barebones affair. It’s decent, but there’s nothing for even fans of the license to keep coming back to. I have a sneaking suspicion this game was just a cash grab.
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