This Week in Gaming History: Punch-Out!! lands a body blow0 Comments
While the history books often proclaim the year 1984 as the temporary death of the American arcade industry, a great deal of new life came to be that fateful year. While previous giants such as Atari and Williams may have stumbled, companies such as Nintendo began to reach new heights. On February 17, 1984, the company previously known as nothing more than "the Donkey Kong company" released Punch-Out!! to video arcades.
Sports-based video games were hot in the arcades when Punch-Out!! came along. Konami was running a marathon with Track & Field, Taito was hitting the long ball with Birdie King and Data East had chopped their way into the hearts of gamers with Karate Champ. The age-old sport of boxing, however, had not been tackled in quite some time until Nintendo unleashed this game on the market, beating out Data East's Ring King by a year.
Unique with Punch-Out!! was the dual-screen setup, with action taking place on the bottom screen while stats and information were available up top. While "spectator monitors" had become popular previously with arcade titles such as Dragon's Lair, this was the first time of note that an arcade game used such a monitor for a different purpose than the bottom unit. One might consider it the arcade version of the dual-screen feature Nintendo was pushing in some version of their Game & Watch series handhelds around the same time, and is now far more famous as the primary feature of the Nintendo DS and 3DS.
The colorful cartoon graphics and incredibly original characters caught on with both gamers and arcade operators alike. Punch-Out!! quickly became a staple of arcades and street locations that had survived the industry downturn, placing high in the earnings charts within both Play Meter and RePlay magazines. Voice effects included with the game also called out the action, making the excited call of "Body blow! Body blow!" a staple sound in the arcade for years after release.
Punch-Out!! hit at the perfect time for Nintendo of America, which was at a make-or-break point. Rich off of the success of Donkey Kong, the U.S. branch of the Japanese company was in dire need of a major follow-up title. At the time, Nintendo's Game & Watch was not selling well in North America, the company was struggling to break into the presumed dead console market and post-Kong arcade titles such as Popeye and Mario Bros. were only modest coin-op hits. With operators skeptical of Nintendo's VS. System and choking on an oversupply of Donkey Kong machines nobody wanted to play anymore, Punch-Out!! managed to restore faith in Nintendo of America in both the eyes of the industry and the players.
The demo mode music, which is often known as one of the most iconic features in Punch-Out!!, did not originate in the game. The song was originally entitled Look Sharp - Be Sharp, and was the jingle for the Gillette razor company in the radio and early television days. Use of the song in the Gillette-sponsored Cavalcade of Sports program forever tied the song to boxing, inspiring the use of the jingle here. Also, it's worth noting here that the composer for Punch-Out!! was the now-legendary Koji Kondo, making his debut. He would move on to produce the iconic, unforgettable soundtracks for games in the Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. series.
The success of Punch-Out!! required Nintendo to make plans to follow-up with other games that could be installed in the heavily purchased dual screen cabinets once earnings dropped off. These kits included the PlayChoice-10, Arm Wrestling (which takes place in the Punch-Out!! universe) and a sequel entitled Super Punch-Out!!, which featured new boxers and more challenging difficulty. Since the original game continued to earn money, the Arm Wrestling and Super Punch-Out!! kits did not sell well and are difficult to find for collectors today. Years later, these cabinets would be used for installation of conversion kits for fighting games such as Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, where the top monitor was used to draw spectators.
In 1987, Nintendo released Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Entertainment System, using many of the same fighters used in the two Punch-Out!! arcade games, including Glass Joe, Bald Bull and Mr. Sandman. Some characters, such as Vodka Drunkenski, were slightly altered into more family-friendly forms in the home cartridge. This version also replaced the green-haired see-through boxer from the arcade game with Little Mac, designed to be smaller so that players could see as much of the opponent's bodies as possible. Even with the success of the arcade edition, this NES release became the best known version of the game. The original arcade Punch-Out!! - like so many of Nintendo's other early arcade titles - have practically been forgotten about by the company, never receiving a direct home console port to this very day.
However, Punch-Out!! has not been forgotten by players, who still flock to the machine when it can be found. The long-lasting legacy of fun the game has left behind is only transcended by its importance to Nintendo's history. Without it, the company might have struggled even more deeply to stay relevant in the American marketplace as the industry went through radical transition while they fought to force themselves into the North American console market.