"Most gaming protagonists do not need our help, for they have been blessed with the skills, weapons, physique and mentality to win at all costs. They strut about the screen, preening and flexing and sneering dismissively at all who dare inhabit their personal space. Look at these heroes! Solid Snakeís only true obstacles are the hundreds of girls who flock after him, Cloud Strife fears nothing but a bad hair day, and Mario can barely sneeze without knocking a dozen Bowserís into a pool of molten ..."
Most gaming protagonists do not need our help, for they have been blessed with the skills, weapons, physique and mentality to win at all costs. They strut about the screen, preening and flexing and sneering dismissively at all who dare inhabit their personal space. Look at these heroes! Solid Snakeís only true obstacles are the hundreds of girls who flock after him, Cloud Strife fears nothing but a bad hair day, and Mario can barely sneeze without knocking a dozen Bowserís into a pool of molten lava. Who are we Ė the pasty-faced, flabby-armed gamers of the world Ė to dictate how these champions go about their business? For the most part, itís best that we just leave these muscle-bound Adonisís to their own devices, and focus on the mighty quest of finishing the Doritos. They donít need us.
It is lucky for us, and good for our shriveled egos, that the likes of Little Mac exist. This up-and-coming boxer, and the protagonist of Mike Tysonís Punch-Out!!, needs all the help he can get. Heís taking on the world; armed with nothing more than his two scrawny arms and a doddering old warhorse of a coach who will provide only three random nuggets of wisdom during Little Macís entire career. Helping this diminutive young thing claim his titles and become champion of the world is, in every sense, a true challenge.
Little Mac will have to overcome much more than a lack of muscles and an overweight, braindead coach to win some titles. As a boxer, his skills leave much to be desired. He refuses to move about the ring, preferring to transfix himself (possibly in fear) at the bottom of the screen. The best he can do to escape from harm as his foes rain down blow after merciless blow is to weave madly backwards and forwards and hope that his scrawny frame remains intact. One realises why no rational, reasonable coach would take up this job, as Little Mac vainly tries to fend off the ham-fisted thrusts of the flabby King Hippoís and burly Bald Bullís that line up opposite him. Their attacks are powerful and relentless, and it will be achievement enough if you can keep Little Mac conscious.
So perhaps your best chance is to launch a stirring offensive, to send Little Macís battered body forwards in an all-out assault! We have just witnessed his opponents bounce excitedly about the screen and unleash powerful techniques; Little Mac wouldnít be in the ring if he wasnít a potent killing machine!
As coach cheers unintelligibly from the sidelines, Little Mac lets loose a pitiful volley of punches. Most thud safely against his opponentís raised arms, and those that make a tangible connection shave the slightest amount off the vitality bar above. Little Mac punches as weakly as his coach solves complex differential equations. Those on the receiving end shrug it off, and return dutifully to their task of making their opponent bleed out his ears. Occasionally the little scamp might receive a special star, allowing him to throw a more destructive punch, but compared to the awesome onslaughts of the other title contenders itís a pittance of power.
With such insurmountable odds seemingly stacked up, how could one possibly envisage themselves playing, winning and actually enjoying this one-sided slugfest? What madness could drive us to take up the plight of this faceless, gormless boxer and take on the stereotypical yet charismatic fighters from around the world? The hilariously tipsy Russian, Soda Popinski and sumo-esque Piston Honda from Japan may front up time and again to cast an impenetrable shadow over Little Mac with their bulk, but we with the controls take them onÖand somehow winÖtime and again.
Itís all about the guts and determination involved in claiming the titles and dethroning Tyson. Itís about the intoxicating burst of adrenaline that rockets through you as Little Mac dodges deftly and unleashes a flurry of counter-attacking jabs. Itís about the instantaneous reflexes that are demanded from you, as that split-second knockout opportunity comes and goes in an agonising burst. Punch-Out will captivate you with the intrinsic simplicity and addictiveness of its mechanics. The array of Little Macís attacks is severely limited, yet there is enormous scope for frenetic and dramatic action. Each hostile boxer (excluding the indomitable Mike Tyson) sports a weakness of sorts, and as Mac slowly exploits them and moves gradually closer to a knockout, the heart rises into the throat.
Mike Tysonís Punch-Out!! works, for is it a classic underdogís tale. We donít have the beefcake, commando in our control, ready to jump into the ring and fill these unsuspecting boxers with lead and testosterone. Weíve got the scrapper, the poor young kid with a dream. And no matter what it takes, weíre going to make that dream come true. It wonít be the minute-long jogging sessions that coach sagely dumps upon his protťgť every few matches that will propel Little Mac to the top, it will be us. Weíll be there for every gut-busting, fist-clenching, jaw-snapping moment that this game throws up. Finally we have found a challenge worth undertaking, a cause worth championing, and a champion worth causing. Iím not going to rest until Iron Mikeís bulbous head hits the canvas and he hands over his prized belt.
And then Iíll do it all again!
Community review by kingbroccoli (July 12, 2004)
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