If you wanted to knock out Iron Mike in the late '80s, you only had one choice: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Here’s everything you need to know about the addictive console version of the classic arcade game.
1. IT HAD MORE FEATURES THAN THE ARCADE VERSION
While NES consoles didn’t have the technical capabilities of arcade units and required some game redesigns, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! picked up some bonuses on its trip into players’ homes, including animated cut scenes, background music for fights, and a new system for saving your progress (or jumping ahead) with passwords.
2. BEFORE THE GAME’S OFFICIAL RELEASE, 10,000 JAPANESE FANS GOT A GOLD VERSION
Nintendoficionados who submitted high scores from 1987’s Golf U.S. Course Famicom Tournament received gold-colored Famicom (the Japanese equivalent of the NES) cartridges containing the game’s near-identical precursor, with Super Macho Man as its final foe.
3. THE NES VERSION GAVE THE PUNCH-OUT!! PROTAGONIST A BACKSTORY
The game’s manual establishes that Little Mac—a 17-year-old, 107-pound kid from the Bronx, and the game’s hero—came under Doc Louis’ wing from a chance meeting, after which the coach entered him into the World Video Boxing Association.
The instructions also establish that Super Macho Man, who serves as the ‘end boss’ in the Super Punch-Out!! arcade game and the NES Gold version, is a 27-year-old from Hollywood, Calif. His glitzy background explains trash talk like "I work on my tan harder than I'll have to work on you," "I don't smoke... But tonight I'm gonna smoke you," and "My body is just so totally cool!"
4. IT ALSO TONED DOWN ONE OF THE ARCADE VERSION’S STEREOTYPES
For Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, the name of Russian pugilist Vodka Drunkenski was changed to Soda Popinski for the sake of young American players. However, Soda’s catchphrases still recalled his earlier identity, with quips like “I'm going to make you feel punch drunk” and “I can't drive, so I'm gonna walk all over you.”
5. MARIO’S CAMEO AS A REFEREE WASN’T PLANNED
Game creator Genyo Takeda has said that he didn’t intend for the Nintendo poster boy to be in the final version of the game and that he added Mario as referee during development without permission from the company. When nobody noticed Mario’s presence during the final proofing phase, the plumber added “boxing referee” to his resume.
6. IT WAS THOUGHT TO CAUSE THE GAMING-RELATED INJURY “NINTENDO NECK”
For a spell, parents and medical professionals suspected games like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! and Super Mario Bros. were the cause of “Nintendo Neck,” or acute non-traumatic torticollis, because they kept youngsters craning their necks in a fixed position for long periods while sitting or lying down. In 1989 chiropractor Neil Cohen told the Philadelphia Daily News that this prolonged strain “can cause permanent damage.”
The paper reported that Nintendo spokeswoman Karen Peck “said company officials laughed when she asked them about the affliction.” Peck added, “They have no comment. They haven’t heard about it.”
7. TYSON’S LICENSING DEAL BEGAN BEFORE HE WON THE WORLD TITLE
While Tyson went on to become an iconic champ, he hadn’t won his first world belt when Nintendo licensed his name and likeness for the game. Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa attended one of Tyson's bouts prior to his 1986 victory over Trevor Berbick that claimed the World Boxing Council belt. Arakawa was impressed and signed Tyson for Nintendo at a pre-world champ price. Nintendo let the contract lapse before his subsequent legal troubles.
8. EXCEPT FOR KING HIPPO, THE CHARACTERS ARE MOSTLY BODY DOUBLES
Many of the game’s character sprites are used for two characters each, with changes made to the colors, head, and special moves only. Mike Tyson’s sprite was used for Mr. Dream, who replaced him as the series’ final Dream Fight opponent after Tyson’s contract expired.
9. THE GAME DEFINED THE WORLD VIDEO BOXING ASSOCIATION’S RULES
As a parody of boxing’s real-world governing bodies, the WVBA invoked a number of rules tailored to console fights during its reign in the late ‘80s. WVBA boxers were subject to final judgment by referees, a loss-inducing time limit (if they were Little Mac), and the three knockdown rule. In 2009, it began allowing boxers who pass the 100-loss mark to wear headgear during fights.
10. THERE WAS A HIDDEN FOURTH CIRCUIT WITH NO SECOND CHANCES
The wallops didn’t end with the Minor, Major, and World Circuits. By entering the code 135 792 4680, holding SELECT, and pressing A and B together, players could open a “Another World Circuit,” a ‘secret’ mode of play in which the order of fighters is different and all bets are off.
After starting with King Hippo, Little Mac works his way through Great Tiger, Bald Bull, Piston Honda, Soda Popinski, Don Flamenco, Mr. Sandman, Super Macho Man, and finally Tyson himself, but is forced to retire automatically upon any loss.
11. DOC LOUIS REPS FOR LITTLE MAC BUT GIVES NINTENDO LIP SERVICE, TOO
Keeping it classy, Doc Louis contributes to the game’s ringside banter with "Dancing like a fly, bite like a mosquito!" and less strategic counsel like “Join the Nintendo Fun Club today, Mac!”
12. THE COMPANY INSERTED OTHER SELF-PROMOS AND FAN NODS
Entering the code 800 422 2602—Nintendo’s customer service phone number at the time—in the main menu of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! would set off a busy signal. Two Genie Codes for the game were similarly self-referential: the code SAYZEY would trigger Mario Bros. mode and give him a white hat, while PTTZZZ would render gameplay in classic Game Boy black-and-grey.
13. DESPITE BEING AVAILABLE FOR JUST 3 YEARS, IT WAS STILL A TOP SELLER FOR NES
Although it was only marketed between 1987 and 1990, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! has still clocked roughly 2 million game units sold, making it the 11th-most popular NES game in the console’s U.S. history. It also claimed the ninth spot on GamesRadar’s “Best NES Games of All Time” list, which praised the game’s developers for “disguising a brilliant puzzle game as a sports game.”
"The holy grail of a video game is easy to play, hard to master," said Cashmere Productions game developer Jeremy Pope to ESPN in a retrospective on the game. "Punch-Out!! nailed it by utilizing a set of mechanics that never changed, having a set of characters with cool backstories and making the gameplay challenging. In grade school, I set up a camcorder and videotaped myself beating Tyson so I could prove it to my buddies."
14. THIS YEAR, SOMEONE BEAT IT BLINDFOLDED
In February of 2015, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! fan Jack Wedge released a video of himself beating the game 14-0 while blindfolded, making him the first person on record to do so.
15. Tyson Claims He Never Played the Game Until 2013
In 2013, Tyson took a beating from Glass Joe in front of Fox Sports 1's cameras.
16. THE CHARACTERS LIVE ON IN OTHER GAMES (ESPECIALLY KING HIPPO)
After receiving added depth in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, Little Mac, Doc Louis, and other members of the gang were ready to make appearances in games outside the franchise and throughout pop culture. King Hippo has become a legend in his own right. In addition to being featured in the animated series Captain N: The Game Master, comics based on the series, and various other games, he was ranked the 64th-greatest villain ever by IGN and helped define “unforgettable” bosses for Destructoid because of his unassuming appearance—specifically, the “shame” of being beaten by him “drove [the writer] to drink.”