I was never very good at Punch-Out.
I suppose that makes sense when you consider I wasn’t much of a Nintendo kid growing up. My boxing game of choice was Greatest Heavyweights for the Genesis, which was a fine title in its own right, but primarily appealed to me because I was allowed to create 7 foot tall blue skinned fighters with outrageous stats. I never really cared for the finer details of the sweet science, so anything beyond that surface interaction wasn’t likely to draw me, let alone lead me in the direction of other boxing games.
But Punch-Out isn’t really a boxing game. I always looked at it as more of a boss rush, a puzzle game of sorts that never strayed too much from its coin-munching roots, hence the challenge. It came back into the public consciousness last week after someone discovered a secret that had been hidden up to this point, so I figured I’d see just how bad my reflexes had gotten with age. Given my general lack of experience with the game, I like to think I did pretty well for myself, making it to the second encounter with Bald Bull before I could take no more. I owe most of my progress to the fact that the game is really good at teaching you how to play through the visual information it offers. Yeah, the tells can be a little too obvious at points, but a game with characters like Great Tiger and Soda Popinski was never going to be accused of having subtlety anyway.
Like most classics of the NES era, my interest is more in studying the design philosophy at work than in actually playing it at this point. Looking at the arcade original, it is pretty interesting to see what needed to be compromised. Little Mac’s size was simply out of necessity, the limitations of the hardware unable to make him any larger, but it fit naturally with the idea of being a fighting underdog. Even if it couldn’t look as good as the original, there’s a feeling and a rhythm to the game that sort of imprints into your brain after playing for a while. I guess that’s why high-level play starts to resemble a dance of sorts, as if you were hitting the buttons in time to an invisible metronome.
Actually Nintendo, now that I think about it, I’m going to need you to make a hybrid Rhythm Heaven/Punch-Out game. Put the R&D guys in a room and don’t feed them until this happens. That NX stuff can wait.