Super Punch-Out!!

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Super Punch-Out!! (1995)

I’m Irish, which means boxing is in my blood. I’ve never actually stepped into the ring mind you, or done anything remotely like boxing training. I couldn’t even eat that foul pitcher full of egg yolks like Rocky does in that one film.

I can run a little bit, which would surely be useful when I come up against some opponent 3 times my size and hailing from a country with a Human Development Index ranking 4 times worse than Ireland’s. Whether that’s me running towards the opponent or running to safety well away from him, I’ll let you be the judge of.

But let’s be honest, pro boxing’s lost something, hasn’t it? It had it, lost it, and doesn’t know how to get it back. Meanwhile UFC grows in popularity (in tandem with ‘Tap-Out!’ shirts…) and WWE probably remains about the same, whatever that means.

So for all the talk of boxing being the noble art and the sweet science and all of that stuff, the reality seems to be that more and more people prefer throwing an opponent onto the floor, mudwrestling with them for a bit and then raining hammerblow after hammerblow on their prone body, long after they’ve been knocked unconscious. Sounds great to me, if I’m honest. Great if it’s someone else other than me.

Even though I am rapidly getting over the hill, assuming I was ever fit enough to be at the base of the hill in the first place, I still harbour that slight hope that one day, if it all came down to it, I could be that boxer. You know, that great Irish hope that beats up the more glamorous countries and comes away holding belts and Gold Medals and tricolours aloft.

When it comes to sending squads to the Olympics, it seems Ireland sends over a parish full of boxers and then the odd sailor and rower and showjumper to round things off. They all go and do the best they can, but the boxing is the one to watch – watching Annalise Murphy and those two nutters from Cork battle against the sea and against their minds and bodies is great, and all credit to them, but they don’t throw wild punches at people or try to get sly elbows and headbutts in, do they?

Katie Taylor is the greatest athlete this country has ever produced and I’ll go to my grave championing that woman. I do this in the hope that she will notice me, which should be any minute now – Katie, if you’re reading this, you’re welcome round for tea any time.

When she isn’t punching out fools for Gold Medals, she’s scoring goals for Ireland. She took my wet dreams and made them her own, so I have to respect her for that. But you’ll notice after each and every single one of her 200 boxing victories, she thanks God for being at her side and giving her strength.

Is it really divine intervention? As a hell-bound doubting Thomas I’m not really qualified to comment, but I know that you’ll probably need God in your corner to beat some of the foes in Super Punch-Out.

The original Punch-Out for NES (not really the original at all, but you know what I mean) was all about the underdog story. You took the role of Little Mac, 80lbs of smiley muscle and 3 foot tall to boot. With the help of your not-Apollo Creed trainer, Doc Louis, you took on hulking behemoths who were wider than Mac was tall and had dancing pecs bigger than his head.

Eventually you triumphed to batter Mike Tyson – that’s right, in a colourful and dorky Nintendo game, the baddest man on the planet was waiting for you at the end, surely ranking as the scariest end boss of all time. Although let’s be honest, you didn’t actually beat Tyson. You sort of staggered into the ring, shivering, before he knocked your head clean off with one thuper vithious uppercut that left you convulthing, in the man’s own words, “like an infantile retard”.

Obviously Nintendo couldn’t let a convicted rapist headline their next boxing game, so it was all change for the Super Nintendo’s Super Punch-Out. Released to pretty little fanfare, you don’t even play as a character that could recognisably be called Little Mac.

Doc Louis is at home sleeping, a lot of the most memorable opponents from the NES classic are gone, and there’s only one round of three minutes. There’s no Decision either – if you haven’t done the biz by the time the three minutes are up, the fascist dictator in charge of scoring and ringing the bell will announce you as the sad, crushed loser and you will have to suffer the rest of your days with a loss against your record.

Rather quickly, your social invitations will dry up, your wife will run off with all of your money and your children will hate you. But at least you can always have another go and work out how to beat the next cheating opponent on your way to winning the coveted World Video Boxing Association belt.

And boy do they cheat! Off the top of my head, you have buggers who will charge at you from across the ring, spit at you, headbutt you, aim actual karate kicks at you, break your hands and force you to keep fighting, elbow you, cause localised earthquakes, strike you with canes, and open fire with a FAMAS-G2 assault rifle equipped with a LASER-Aiming Module, set to fully automatic and with a full magazine of 30 Armour-Piercing rounds, plus six rifle grenades “for emergencies”. I made up that last one, but you well believed it, didn’t you? Against all of this skulduggery, your counter-offensive consists of ‘honest boxing’, which isn’t a great strategy by comparison.

Really, to call Punch-Out a series of boxing games is a misnomer as critical as thinking that a 450 lb clown is going to be a pushover to defeat in the ring. You can liken Super Punch-Out more to a puzzle game, where you need to figure out your opponent’s cues, i.e. know whether they’re going to spit, scream, duck, dodge or throw a flying forearm smash at you from atop the ropes.

Once you know what your ridiculously proportioned foe is going to do, it’s simply a matter of dodging and then slugging him back – or if you’re really brave, countering his punch at the risk of taking a hiding yourself. It’s the high-risk, high-reward counter punching play that’ll keep you coming back to Super Punch-Out, as well as the ranked time trials. Take down a champion in 11 seconds? It’s possible, if you’re good enough.

The game can be a bit annoying occasionally, with its one-round rule, some bland opponents (a long way from the goofy stereotypes from Punch-Out NES) and the cheating even grates on you at times, but nothing to really leave your battered and bruised head with permanent blunt force trauma.

Super Punch-Out gets a bit left in the lurch by the NES classic and the really excellent Wii title, and doesn’t have the replay value that those two sluggers have, but this one isn’t too bad. I lap it up, if I’m honest. It’s just that the game ends up a little bit too much like the boxers it features, and a bit like the boxers of today really – obviously talented, and occasionally good to watch, but sadly just a tad forgettable.

04 April 2018

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