The Punch-Out!! series is one that many Nintendo fans remember fondly from the big N’s golden age, and with good reason. Though it seemed simplistic, Punch-Out!! boasts the same level of intricacy and depth that Nintendo games are known for. But it also seems relegated to the lesser echelon of Nintendo titles, laying dormant once Nintendo made the jump to 3D up until the series made a triumphant return on the Wii in 2009; only to once again fall off the radar in the years since (but at least series’ hero Little Mac has made it into Smash Bros. now, though he probably should have made the cut a few entries earlier than he did). The series’ final entry in its heyday was Super Punch-Out!! on the SNES, which remains a stellar experience to this day…even if it can get frustratingly difficult at times.
In Super Punch-Out!!, players take control of a very different-looking, more blonde Little Mac, and fight their way through the boxing world to become champion. The game features three normal circuits to fight through, each consisting of four opponents (three foes to climb the ranks, plus that cup’s champion), with a secret fourth circuit being unlockable if you can make it through the other three without losing (and good luck with that).
Though the NES game displayed the action from a top-down view, the jump to the SNES meant the series could now take advantage of then-new graphical effects, with Little Mac being made transparent during fights to give players a much more welcome third-person perspective.
The controls are simple enough; move left, right and backward to dodge enemy punches, press B to throw a right hand, and Y to give your opponent a mean left hook. Pressing the buttons on their own strikes at the opponent’s body, while pressing up on the D-pad with the buttons takes a strike at their head. Additionally, every hit you successfully land builds up a meter at the bottom of the screen. When this meter completely fills up, you can press the A button to unleash more powerful attacks as long as the meter remains full. Of course, every time Little Mac takes a punch, the meter drops.
This is all simple in structure, but in execution it makes for some surprisingly deep strategy. You have to constantly play close attention to your opponents’ movements and patterns, so you know what kind of punch or dodge to use at which time. This is made all the more strategic by the fact that every opponent fights differently. Some may fake-out punches before going for the real thing, others have strong midsections and can only be hurt by a punch to the face, and others completely break the rules of boxing by jumping off the ropes. Learning every enemy’s strategy is key to victory, and if you can master them well enough, you can even manage to fell your opponent before the standard three knockdowns.
On the downside of things, there does seem to be a little bit of a trial-and-error method to some fights, particular opponents who posses one-hit KO moves. On its own that’s not a terrible thing, but seeing as you have to start a circuit over should you get a game over, it can get a little annoying when you finally manage to defeat some particularly difficult opponents, only to lose to one of the more trial-and-error fights and have to go through each opponent all over again.
Another questionable element is that every fight has a three minute time limit, and if you fail to knock your opponent out within that time, you automatically lose. You could potentially knock your opponent down twice, and take very little damage in return, but you’ll still lose if the clock strikes the three minute mark. Whatever happened to winning by decision?
These complaints are ultimately minor, however, when you consider how much fun the overall package is. Along with the deep combat, Super Punch-Out!! is bursting with personality. Every character is an outlandish cartoon caricature; from Bruce Lee knockoffs to Bob Marley parodies. There’s just so much humor and charm in every fight that it becomes all the more enjoyable.
The upgraded graphics from previous installments help bring out this personality all the more. The character animations are incredibly detailed, and you’d be surprised just how extravagant the character movements and expressions can be, considering this was on 16-bit hardware.
Super Punch-Out!! is a refinement of the NES entry in the series, and remains a whole lot of fun to play today. Only truly dedicated players will probably finish all four of its circuits, but Super Punch-Out!!’s simple controls, deep combat and boatloads of personality make for some great entertainment, not to mention replay value.