After years of wishing and hoping, Nintendo finally added a selection of Super Nintendo games to its Switch online service. Which of the 20 classics should you play first? We had Kotaku’s resident old men, Chris Kohler and Mike Fahey, Statler and Waldorf together a ranked list.
20. Super Soccer
Chris Kohler: I played this for a minute.
Mike Fahey: Same. I played for a minute, got two fouls, felt very American.
Chris: The opposing team got the ball, started running it toward my goal, and I realized all too late that I had no idea what buttons did what.
Fahey: Which is exactly how real soccer works.
19. Super Tennis
Fahey: I do understand tennis. This is definitely tennis.
Chris: Yes. This one I got the ball over the net a couple times.
Fahey: I appreciate the use of Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 graphics to turn the court around once per match.
Chris: That’s a model of restraint.
18. Brawl Brothers
Chris: There are a lot of great side-scrolling beat-em-ups on the SNES. This is not one of them.
Fahey: It reminded me of several good ones, so much so that I had it higher in my list. Then I played it again.
Chris: It’s not much to look at, the controls are stiff… it doesn’t have the personality of a Final Fight. Where’s Final Fight? Oh, it’s on the Capcom Beat-Em-Up Bundle. Where’s Final Fight 2, then?
Fahey: In the hearts of little children everywhere.
17. Super E.D.F. Earth Defense Force
Fahey: Talk about a misleading title.
Chris: Yeah, if you were thinking this was going to be about killing giant ants, I have bad news.
Fahey: That a game could make me feel bad about a lack of spiders is an amazing feat.
Chris: It is a competent side-scrolling shooter. Again, though, not much personality.
Fahey: We’ll get to good games soon, I swear.
Chris: We’re there now!
Fahey: This is certainly a game that people love a great deal. I still love its look, if not its feel.
Chris: Yeah, F-Zero never really grabbed me. Not sure why.
Fahey: I liked the Gamecube version much better. Until the virtual console gets Gamecube games, we have this.
15. Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics
Fahey: Here is a game I did not remember enjoying, but I’m having fun with it now. Maybe I’m growing up?
Chris: Maybe you appreciate the slow-paced leisurely island lifestyle more now that you’re a parent.
While the original was a straightforward port of the arcade game, this is a console exclusive with more adventurey elements. It’s fun although it’s not quite as exciting as the first one.
Fahey: Or dinosaurs. My kids love those dinosaurs. Either I am older and more mature or I am projecting. Either way, mildly better than those other four.
14. Stunt Race FX
Chris: I had never played this back in the day but I’m fascinated with how they pulled off a polygonal racer on the SNES.
Fahey: It was too slow for me back when it came out, and I was too shallow to appreciate the technical achievement. Now I gawk at it in wonder.
Chris: It has charm. The cars have eyes.
Fahey: Proper headlight eyes, none of this Pixar windshield eyes BS.
Chris: 10 FPS means you have time to appreciate each frame as it goes by.
13. Star Fox
Fahey: Is this the one with the furries?
Chris: ‘Tis. And I think again the personality of the characters and the design helps smooth over the fact that as an early polygonal game, it’s pretty choppy.
Fahey: I do love the characters. And I remember being blown away by what the Super FX chip could do. They basically installed an extra GPU inside the game cartridge. That’s amazing.
12. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
Chris: They keep re-releasing this and I keep playing the first minute of it only to realize the only way I’m going to get past the first minute is to make mastering this game a second career.
Fahey: I just choked on a delicious beverage. This is another game that was much higher on my list until I played it. Still love the look and the terrain morphing.
Chris: Yeah, the music, the graphics, the tech is all so beautiful! It is an appealing game. And then everything about it is designed to murder you relentlessly. I’m too old for this.
Fahey: It will always be the fastest I’ve ever gotten naked. Can’t take that away.
Fahey: You’d think there’d be more non-sim games about casually flying. Aren’t we humans always dreaming about this stuff?
Chris: It’s just this side of being a glorified $60 tech demo for the SNES’ sprite rotating and scaling ability, and yet it’s still super fun. You’re right, the “casual flight” genre is not particularly robust.
Fahey: I am surprised we aren’t playing the latest Pilotwings game on our Switches right now. This will have to do.
10. Kirby’s Dream Land 3
Chris: I forgot to play this. This is good, right?
Fahey: As a fan of everything Kirby, it is indeed good. It’s still too early a game for Kirby to transform into different forms based on which powers he’s using, but the mechanics are all present and accounted for.
Chris: OK. I assumed.
Fahey: KIRBY FOR LIFE!
9. Demon’s Crest
Fahey: Look at us in the single digits, and with a Ghouls ‘n Ghosts spin-off no less.
Chris: It’s all the beautiful animation, art design, music, etc. from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts except you actually have a life bar and mobility and half a chance of winning. This is a very good action game with RPG elements.
Fahey: I remember peeing a little when the dragon peeked through the bars during the game’s opening sequence. In my defense, I was just a young boy of *checks release date* err, 21. Maybe I was drunk.
8. Super Puyo Puyo 2
Chris: It’s Puyo Puyo, which is a good thing.
Fahey: What I love most about Super Puyo Puyo, aside from its Puyo Puyo-ness, is it opens with an anti-AIDS message.
Chris: I saw that! That’s awesome. This particular edition is well-liked for having four-player support. At this point I’m sure you have four Switch controllers.
Fahey: And some of them work!
7. Breath of Fire
Fahey: It’s no Chrono Trigger. It’s none of the Final Fantasies. If I had to pick a turn-based Super Nintendo role-playing game that was not either of those, this would easily be fourth or fifth on my list.
Chris: And yet, where are the Chrono Triggers and Final Fantasies? Certainly not here. So it falls to plucky Breath of Fire to fill the void. I mean, it’s pretty good though.
Fahey: Oh yes, I will happily take Breath of Fire any day. Hell, it’s time for a new, non-free-to-play mobile sequel. I’m sure Capcom is totally on top of that.
6. Super Mario Kart
Chris: When I read the words “Super Mario Kart,” the soundtrack just starts playing in my head immediately.
Fahey: My trigger fingers starts me a-hopping. It’s like F-Zero for people with taste.
Chris: I wish it had four-player balloon battle mode, but I’ll just have to live without it.
Fahey: One day there will be a Mario Kart game with that mode, Chris. One day.
5. Kirby’s Dream Course
Fahey: Now we are talking. For all of the excellent platformers and free-to-play four-player Switch battle games out there, Kirby as a golf ball is the most charming Kirby of them all.
Chris: Oh man, this is still the best golf game ever. So clever. You know, a prototype of the unreleased pre-Kirby version of this, called Special Tee Shot, was just dumped. Would be cool if Nintendo put the final version of it on this service.
Fahey: Maybe they will include it in the modern version of Kirby’s Dream Course secretly being developed inside my head.
4. Super Mario World
Chris: I remember when this came out on the Wii U and it was like, ah, finally, a game to play on my Wii U.
Switch has a few more games though.
Fahey: A couple, yes.
This one was tough for me. I feel like Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario Land are constantly duking it out inside my head.
Chris: Yeah, this one is still a fantastic Mario game, but in the fullness of time you can see that it’s not quite as ambitious as Yoshi’s Island.
We’re splitting hairs at this point though.
Fahey: And spitting eggs.
3. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Fahey: In the battle between more Mario and something cool and new, cool and new won.
Chris: We’re deep into “masterpiece” territory now. Playing it again, you can see that the art design still looks fantastic. And that music!
Fahey: It’s ageless, like you.
Chris: Yoshi’s Island will be here after we are all gone.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
Chris: I think this is still the best old-school formula Zelda. Prove me wrong.
Fahey: Do I have to?
Fahey: I would go as far as saying that A Link to the Past is my favorite Legend of Zelda game. The modern 3D stuff has its own flavor. I like 2D better.
Chris: You don’t need to qualify this with “Well, you see, at the time this was released…” — it just holds up. You could put this on a cartridge and sell it (although I’ll glady take it as part of a super cheap yearly subscription instead)!
1. Super Metroid
Fahey: The closest thing we had to a huge disagreement on placement in the rankings, solved by ten minutes of playing this legendary game.
Chris: It is the best Metroid. If you’ve played any other Metroid game and thought, oh, this is cool, but you haven’t played this—this is better.
Danielle Smith has spent half a million dollars on rare video games, most of it in the last nine months. And she’s just getting started.
“I really just want the best of the best,” said Smith, 35.
That half a million bucks has only bought her around 200 games. Last week, she spent $2,650 on a sealed copy of Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo. Smith, a comic dealer from Florida, is just one of many deep-pocketed collectors who have only recently started splashing out in earnest on games.
“Comic book people and art people are coming in, and we want rare games that are hard to find,” she said.
Numerous sources speaking to Kotaku for this story have all said the same thing: The past two years have seen an influx of new money coming in to the classic game collecting scene, primarily high-end collecting experts from other areas of interest like comic books, Magic cards, and coins. They see video games as the next big thing. Like a mint-condition Action Comics issue 1 might be the ultimate trophy of nostalgia for the superhero age of the mid-20th century, so too might a sealed Mario be the perfect bottling of the pop-culture moment of the 1980s.
And these new collectors are ready to spend to get their hands on the best, rarest, mintiest copies, because they’ve seen what happened in their own collecting fields when prices started to rise.
“I truly believe that we are on the brink of something really epic and incredible happening,” said Smith, who says she’s recently been selling off rare comics to fund more video game buys.
Thus far, the world of classic video game collecting has been mostly driven by avid gamers seeking complete sets of games for a certain platform. That’s what caused Stadium Events, an unremarkable and largely forgotten exercise game from the 1980s, to become for a time the most desired, rarest Nintendo Entertainment System game. You couldn’t complete your set without it, so up went the price, even though by itself it held almost no nostalgic appeal.
“You show Stadium Events to someone on the street, they’re not going to know what the hell you’re talking about. But you show anyone Mario and immediately they can sing you the jingle from the first level,” says Deniz Kahn, the president of Wata Games, a company that authenticates and assesses collectible video games.
That’s what Danielle Smith, and others like her, want. They want something that matches their comic collections: a small batch of games representing key moments in gaming, in the best condition possible. A “sticker-sealed” early copy of Super Mario, a sealed Metroid, a first-print Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Although she’s been collecting comics for 15 years, Smith’s personal collection only numbers around 90 books that, even encased in their protective plastic slabs, fit into three small boxes. But those boxes contain an Action Comics issue 1, the first appearance of Superman, that Smith estimates to be worth about $750,000. She’s also got a Detective Comics 27, the first appearance of Batman.
These books are extremely rare and valuable in any condition. But Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and Punch-Out are some of the most common NES games out there. In this case, the condition drives the value. A loose copy of Metroid with no box is a five-dollar game. But a mint, sealed, first-print copy is so difficult to find that its price would be more like five figures.
“Someone said, you know, there’s a lot of copies of that game, so you don’t want to buy more than one copy,” Smith said a collector told her at one point about Punch-Out. “And they’re like, there’s 50 sealed copies. And my mind was kind of like, what the hell? Like, that’s Action 1 rarity.”
Joshua Entin, 43, a lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, is another longtime Golden Age comic collector who’s jumped into the deep end of the pool with video game collecting over the last two years. He got the collecting bug from his dad, who would take Josh along as he scoured stores for old issues of EC Comics back in the pre-eBay days. Today, the younger Entin’s comic collection includes many books valued in the five-figure range, and in the last two years he’s spent about $75,000 buying up about 200 NES games: a sealed Zelda, a sealed Mario, etc.
Entin first saw the appeal of collecting games when he saw a game that had been authenticated and graded by Deniz Kahn’s company Wata Games, which is to the video game world what the Certified Guaranty Company, better known by its acronym CGC, is for comics. Its panel of experts assesses collectible games, assigns them a numerical condition rating, and seals them in an attractive plastic display case.
“I did see one of their games in a prototype case and I was blown away by it,” Entin said. “It was sealed, it was nostalgic, I thought it presented incredibly well.” That’s when Entin knew he wanted some of these games on his shelf. “A switch went off, and I said to myself, I have to get into this, this is awesome.”
The high-profile emergence of Wata Games onto the scene last year seems to have been the inflection point that caused many comic collectors to get interested in games. A similar service called Video Game Authority has been operating for over a decade, but Wata seems to be attracting new collectors in a way that VGA has not. Wata also shrewdly aligned itself with Heritage Auctions, the massive auction house that specializes in pop culture memorabilia. Heritage began putting Wata-certified games into its listings and thus created more awareness of the trend.
“They’ve made it easier for comic people because they use a similar grading scale,” said Smith. “It makes the crossover easier. Because a 9.4 is a 9.4, a 9.2 is a 9.2, and it’s easier for us to correlate that.”
This was all by design, said Kahn. “The closest parallel between video games and any other collectible industry that’s matured is, without a doubt, comics,” he said.
“Comics transcend just the books into the Marvel Universe, and the same thing with video games today,” he said. “In all three major Universal parks, we’re going to have a Nintendo-themed park. We’re now starting to see, between the Pikachu and the Sonic movie, that they’re making their foray into movies. It’s just something that’s recognizable, whether it’s the characters or the medium itself.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised that the next big thing [is] something like a Metroid movie or a Zelda movie,” said Entin, in the way that the Superman or Batman films raised the cultural awareness of the original comics. “Once that happens I think it’s going to take a lot of these to another level.”
Kahn sees the 8-bit NES era of the mid-1980s as the parallel to the “Golden Age” of comics, the days of Superman and Batman, characters that have survived for nearly a century. There were comic books before Superman, and those early “Platinum Age” books are much rarer than even Action Comics issue 1—but practically nobody’s interested in them.
So too does video games have its “Platinum Age”—the era of Atari. “Extremely rare, but not necessarily very desirable,” Kahn said. “Some of the rarest games don’t even command close to the same premium as NES.”
“I can certainly tell you I’m not alone in this newfound endeavor,” said Entin. “I’m certainly nowhere near as invested financially as many comic book colleagues of mine, and hobbyists that have come into this in the last year. There are some that I know have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of games” in the last year, he said. He gets offers from other collectors looking to buy his games from him “every day.”
Since they got into collecting, Entin and Smith have both discovered a passion for all the little details, the variations of the games that let you tell if a particular copy of Super Mario Bros. is a highly-valued first edition, or a comparatively less desirable later version. On Mario, you’re looking for the top flap of the cardboard box to be sealed with a small round sticker with the Nintendo logo on it, and that sticker should have a matte finish, not glossy. For Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, you need to look at the bullet-pointed list of features on the front cover. If the bullets are colored white, that’s a first print.
Most longtime game collectors aren’t so obsessive about these details. In general, once a collector got a Kid Icarus, any Kid Icarus, the gap in their set was complete and they’d move on to the next, more obscure, game. When the first stories about the Kid Icarus began to hit the news, before the auction went live, many posts in game collecting forums outright scoffed at the idea that the game could reach a price of $10,000.
There were always a few veteran collectors who had long obsessed over print runs and variations, but they mostly shared their knowledge with each other, buried in pages on pages of scattershot forum posts on enthusiast message boards.
“There wasn’t a lot of education available for video games,” Danielle Smith said. She attended a recent classic gaming convention, Too Many Games, in Philadelphia earlier this year, and it was like she was speaking a different language. “I was surprised at how little knowledge some dealers, that have been doing this for—and I don’t want to say this in a negative way, so please don’t think I am—but they had no idea that, like, a ‘Left Bro’ Super Mario 3 was a first print.” (The first run of boxes for Super Mario Bros. 3 put the “Bros.” in the logo to Mario’s left side, which was changed by the second printing.)
“I was a little mind-blown by that because I’m like, this is your job,” she said. “I think that’s also why they’ve been so undervalued for so long.”
Smith, under the name Nerdy Girl Comics, is one of those few remaining comic vendors that still sets up shop at San Diego Comic-Con. As you might imagine, she doesn’t exactly vend boxes full of half-priced graphic novels. She’s got a glass case full of extremely rare books, all CGC-graded and encased in plastic. This year, she topped off the case with some Wata-graded games.
“I put prices on them, but they weren’t really for sale,” she said of the games. “It was more to draw attention and just have conversations. At first it was astounding to me, how many people came to my booth and were more excited about video games than comic books.” Even at the “not really for sale” very high prices that Smith put on her games, she actually sold one. “A longtime comic book buyer of mine ended up buying a Punch-Out from me,” she said. “He remembered playing that game when he was younger, and he was a boxer.”
“That’s what’s going to happen more and more,” she said. “They come into their mid-30s and maybe early 40s, and they have established careers, and this becomes a grail for them.”
Kahn agrees. “For every speculator that comes in from comics, I think there’s at least two guys from comics that are coming in simply because they play these games too. They love it. They’re collectors at heart. And they see something new and exciting that they want to get involved with.”
That doesn’t mean the field is free of blatant speculation. “One thing that a lot of the people that are coming in from comics are doing, that I don’t do,” said Joshua Entin, is “buying every copy of, like, every…sealed Super Mario Bros. 11th or 12th print, whatever it is, that they can get their hands on.” Kahn, too, said he’s seen people buying up multiple copies of games with popular characters.
As the prices rise on first-print games, even some veteran collectors might find that, unbeknownst to them, they have a $10,000 game sitting on their shelf stuck in among their finds from the dollar bin. Some of them might decide it’s time to cash out. If this is all a temporary bubble, they’re right to get paid while the getting is good. But what if it’s not?
“The exact same thing happened in every mature collectible industry,” Kahn said. “Coins, comics, baseball cards. People for decades were like, the prices are crazy, I’m selling out, I can’t handle this anymore. And fast-forward 20 years and they’re like, what the hell was I thinking?”
“That’s why I think a lot of these guys coming over from comics and coins are seeing this and willing to buy when these guys are selling, even if it’s ‘over market,’” he said. “I think ultimately the market’s going in an upward trajectory, but you’re going to have your dips here and there because there is a lot of speculation.”
It’s anyone’s guess whether this moment in classic video game collecting will be looked back on as a flash-in-the-pan speculation bubble or the moment when everything changed for good. But it’s no small thing that many seasoned collectors are betting serious money on the upward trend continuing.
“I compare this to the honeymoon phase in a new relationship,” said Smith. “Everything is still brand new and exciting.”
While fake retro games are certainly not new, now is a good a time as any for a reminder to watch out when shopping.
In the past few years, more and more retro games have been sold in Japan via e-commerce sites Mercari and Yahoo! Auctions. Twitter user Jabberlooper cautioned that many phony versions of rare games are being sold this way and that quality of the fakes is getting better and better.
Below is Magical Pop’n.
Kotakupreviously found a real version of this rare game in Akihabara that was priced around $1,200.
More of the fake Magical Pop’n in the reply tweet:
Here, the tells are the positioning of some of the text on the printed circuit boards. The back sticker is wrong. Also, the soldering isn’t as carefully done.
Another giveaway I’ve seen among some Magical Pop’n fakes, the pcb reads “N1ntendo” with the number 1.
In Japan, Super Famicom Games and Famicom games, in particular, seem to be susceptible to forgery.
For example, here are two copies of the Famicom game 4 Nin Uchi Mahjong. Just looking at the photo, can you tell which one is fake?
The top one is fake. The clear giveaway is how the kanji for mahjong (麻雀) appears. According to this Twitter user, the feel of the plastic is different and the cart is rather heavy.
Since game collecting is global, this problem isn’t unique to Japan. Some of these fakes appear to have spread internationally. There are threads like “Is my copy of Magical Pop’n fake?” on Nintendoage.com and “Magical Pop’n: Real or Repro?” on Reddit.
25 years ago, Nintendo released the Super Game Boy, allowing the Super Nintendo to play an expansive library of Game Boy titles. Beyond letting gamers play years of portable classics on their televisions, the Super Game Boy housed extra functionality that would enable certain games to achieve a level of presentation that the original Game Boy never could.
To show off these features, when the Super Game Boy launched on June 14, 1994, it was accompanied by a Game Boy game simply titled Donkey Kong. But this release (known by fans today as Donkey Kong ’94) surprised players with some tricks of its own…
Greg Melo is an illustrator, animator, and comicer. He posts JPGs and bad jokes on Twitter @letitmelo.
Let’s take a look at video games’ favorite scene from the Star Wars series: the battle of Hoth. Developers have been trying for over 30 years to get it right.
Which is your favorite?
(This post was originally published in May 2010. We’re bumping it today in celebration of Star Wars Day.)
1982: The Atari 2600 presents The Empire Strikes Back with the abstract-painting level of technology gamers were stuck with back then.
1985: Atari’s follow-up to the 1983 Star Wars Arcade Game, The Empire Strikes Back, used vector graphics to recreate the epic battle.
1992: The Empire Strikes Back for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Hoth’s looking good here. Impressive snow-speeder turning radius
1993: What a difference a year makes. Let’s take it to the Super Nintendo for some Super Empire Strikes Back. This is, I believe, the least-authentic Hoth level we’ve seen in a game. Or were there actually floating hearts in the movie and I missed them? (Warning: NSFW language in this clip.)
1993: This year also saw the release of Star Wars: Rebel Assault for the PC, Sega CD, Mac, and 3DO, the first CD-only game published by LucasArts, with one of the best looking on-rails Hoth battles to date.
1996: Here we see Snow Speeders battling AT-ATs in one of the first Nintendo 64 games, Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire. Note the verrry simple radar. But I remember this level blowing my mind. It was like I was playing the movie!
1997: And then there was Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi, a fighting game that featured a Hoth stage.
1998: Sega’s Star Wars Trilogy Arcade marks Hoth’s return to the arcade, keeping the action on rails but filling in the wire frames.
1999: Back to the Nintendo 64, three years later. This is Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. The AT-ATs look better. The radar is way better. And we’ve got some voice acting.
2000: Luxoflux of Vigilante 8 fame developed Star Wars: Demolition, a vehicular combat game that featured the Hoth battle as a backdrop to fights between “vehicles” like Boba Fett and the Rancor.
2001: New console. Nintendo GameCube. But same development studio as the previous one, the now-defunct Factor 5. This is video game Hoth and this is a leap up.
2001: And who can forget the real-time strategy take on Hoth from Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds?
2003: Factor 5 does Hoth again, and does it with Luke on foot and on Tauntaun. Madness.
2004: First Star Wars Battlefront. Hoth on foot. On Xbox, PS2, PC
2006: But what if Hoth was a Lego playland? What if the battle there was just a tad more cheerful? Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy answers those questions.
2006: In the same year, we had Star Wars Battlefront II doing Hoth on foot.
2008: The Battle of Echo Base went massively multiplayer as an instance in Sony Online Entertainment’s Star Wars Galaxies.
2009: The Hoth expansion for Star Wars: Force Unleashed takes the battle to a more personal level.
2015: Disney Infinity’s Battle of Hoth surprisingly features one of the better control methods yet seen for keeping your speeder steady while flying around a walker’s legs.
2015: EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront brings us the most “realistic” version of Hoth yet.
I’ll make a deal with you, Nintendo: I will promise to buy any console that you release, if you will promise to release a new Punch-Out!! game on it.
This post originally appeared 1/4/16. We’re bumping it today for the game’s release on the Nintendo Switch.
From a critical standpoint, there are games far superior to Punch-Out!!. This I know. But if I was to go back and determine the number of hours I’ve spent playing a single franchise, the Punch-Out!! console titles would rank #1, #2, and #3, and I have no idea what #4 would be.
A Punch-Out!! title is, for all intents and purposes, a series of ‘boss fights,’ one after the other. Each opponent follows the tropes of a final boss; at first glance, he appears invulnerable and scary. A savvy player, however, can observe and uncover a pattern of movement, or a weak spot in the defense, and exploit it.
To be a Punch-Out!! master, one must have an excellent memory. The most difficult boxers might require a player to memorize the high/low pattern of a 10-punch rush combination. He or she must also have the twitch reflexes of a squirrel; if an opponent so much as winks at Little Mac, or shakes his left hand, the gesture is likely significant. It could mean anything from what type of punch is coming, to what direction it is coming from. A player learns these ‘visual tells’ the hard way: by getting hit and KO’d hundreds of times. And over the course of two arcade games, one NES game, one SNES game, and one Wii game, Little Mac has sparred with and contended against 31 different fighters.
Here are all 31 of Little Mac’s opponents, ranked in order from worst to best.
#31. Mr. Dream From: Dreamland Age: ?? Weight: 235 lbs. Record: 99-0 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (NES)
Mr. ‘We Didn’t Renew Mike Tyson’s License’ is dead last—not because of what he is, but because of what he isn’t. This was pure laziness on the developer’s part. How do you go from fighting Mr. Sandman and Super Macho Man, two of the most colorful characters in the game, to fighting No-Name?
He’s a completely broken video game character who can knock you out with a single uppercut. That’s only fun and meaningful when you’re fighting Iron Mike himself. With Mr. Dream, it’s just lame.
#30. Little Mac / Giga Mac From: Bronx, NY, USA Age: 17 Weight: 107 lbs. Record: N/A Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Wii)
For the Wii reboot in 2008, Nintendo decided to add a two-player mode; your Little Mac fights another Little Mac who, if he gets pissed enough, turns into a massive Giga Mac. It’s fun, but it’s also a complete trifle. Most fights devolve into a button mash fest, and the controls are so sensitive that the timing comes down to luck, especially if you’re using the motion controls.
You have the Wiimote in one hand and the nunchuck in the other, and, if you’re a true masochist, you can even stand on the Wii Balance Board to feint and dodge. It’s fun in theory—combat games lend themselves to two-player modes—but not so fun in practice.
#29. Kid Quick From: Brooklyn, NY, USA Age: N/A Weight: 210 Record: N/A Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Arcade)
Kid Quick appeared in the very first Punch-Out!! game, where he was the fourth opponent that you faced. He’s never appeared in any game since, and that’s probably for the best.
This is barely a gimmick. He has nothing special in his arsenal outside of his basic moves, and he’s ‘quicker’ than the guy before him. He also needs some dental work. Moving on.
#28. Donkey Kong From: Donkey Kong Island Age: ?? Weight: 800 lbs. Record: ?? Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Wii)
Donkey Kong is the unlockable character at the end of Punch-Out!! for the Wii. To fight him, you have to beat Contender Mode, and beat Title Defense Mode, and hang on long enough in Mac’s Last Stand; Donkey Kong will eventually appear and face you randomly. There’s some cute fan service peppered throughout the fight—if you lose (which you inevitably will the first time you fight him), Donkey Kong will sling you over his shoulder, Pauline style, and head for the hills.
The match itself is fun but a little unwieldy. Because Donkey Kong is so large and disproportionate, he doesn’t visually read as well as the other fighters. And it’s actually a pretty easy fight as well; the big ape telegraphs all of his moves. It’s only the sheer novelty of fighting Donkey Kong that makes this engaging. At least he’s a better choice than Princess Peach; she was an early idea that was later shot down, because Nintendo didn’t want to implicitly endorse violence against women. Animal cruelty, it seems, is up for grabs.
#27. Piston Hurricane From: Havana, Cuba Age: 25 Weight: 170 Record: 21-10 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Piston Hurricane first debuted in the original arcade game. According to the Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) instruction booklet, he has a chip on his shoulder because his home was destroyed in a hurricane. The Minor Circuit in Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) is an instructive tutorial, and Hurricane’s job is to teach you the necessity of blocking. He can move a little from side-to-side. Other than that, however, he’s sort of bland.
The secret to destroying Piston Hurricane is to aim for his gut—his chin is pretty tough, but if you hit him in the stomach hard enough, he won’t even be able to get up from a second knockdown.
#26. Pizza Pasta From: Napoli, Italy Age: N/A Weight: 235 Record: N/A Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Arcade)
He’s got a grapple hold. That’s about all that distinguished this boxer, movewise, from the rest of the pack. But that name—Pizza Pasta—is just incredible; a shining testament to just not giving a shit. It’s like naming a Chinese boxer Chop Suey Wonton, or a Thai boxer Pad Thai Curry Puffs.
Punch-Out!! lacks cultural sensitivity, to put it mildly—the characters range from being slightly offensive caricatures to highly offensive caricatures. It’s American ethnocentrism at its most blatant—the hard-working American underdog taking on the rest of the world.
How did the developers get away with this? Well, first of all, Punch-Out!! was a product of the 80’s; ethnicity was a much less nuanced concept 30 years ago. Second, the developers took a ‘scorched earth’ approach to their stereotyping; every ethnicity was equally lampooned, which pre-empted any accusations of ‘singling out’ anyone. And third, the stereotypes were so extreme and absurd—the Canadian boxer, Bear Hugger is a hairy lumberjack who drinks maple syrup and plays hockey—that it’s difficult to take seriously.
Punch-Out!! is not for the thin-skinned, and Pizza Pasta won’t be picking up Italian Heritage Awards anytime soon. Even so, he’s not even close to being the most mean-spirited stereotype on this list. More on that later.
#25. Rick Bruiser From: ?? Age: ?? Weight: 210 lbs. Record: 41-1 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Rick Bruiser felt like a cop-out—the gimmick was that he and his older brother Nick were at the top of Super Punch-Out!!’s Special Circuit. Since only one of them could be champion, they fought, and Nick won—that’s why Rick has a single loss. Rick has a couple of unique moves—a nasty elbow and a fast counter-punch, most notably—but he’s just too similar to Nick, and their two fights, back-to-back, feel redundant.
Both Bruiser Brothers have a particularly demoralizing special move—an ‘Arm Breaker’ that puts Little Mac’s left or right arm out of action for a length of time. There’s no worse feeling than having a ‘broken’ arm, and being unable to do anything but duck and dodge your opponent’s attacks.
#24. Gabby Jay From: Paris, France Age: 56 Weight: 110 Record: 1-99 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Gabby Jay is what happens when you take Glass Joe and make him even sadder. The backstory is that he was a waiter in Paris, until his mind snapped and he got the urge to become a professional boxer. His one win actually came from KO’ing Glass Joe himself. But that’s not evident when you fight him; Gabby Jay is way too easy. He’s ‘slam on the buttons and pray’ easy. Glass Joe’s level of ineptitude should be the established bottom for the Punch-Out!! rogues’ gallery; it doesn’t do the player any good, even on an instructional level, to fight someone more pathetic than that.
The only fun thing about fighting Gabby Jay is how quickly you can destroy him. There’s a Time Attack Mode in Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) that clocks your KO to a hundredth of a second, and once you achieve total mastery of the game, you can burn tens of hours whittling increments from your best times. I can KO Gabby Jay in under seven seconds, but that’s not close to the world record, which is posted above.
23. Bob Charlie From: Kingston, Jamaica Age: 26 Weight: 140 lbs. Record: 24-13 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) took some real chances. It would have been easy for the developers to simply remake the original (similarly to what the Wii developers did), but the SNES developers seemed determined to put their own stamp on things. They devised a slew of new fighters, and one of these was the “Jive King of Kingston,” Bob Charlie.
Not only does Bob Charlie suck as a fighter, but he dances for his entire match, while his manager yells at him to “shuck and jive.” Jesus. Christ. His taunt is also really weird; he shimmies his shoulders, closes his eyes, and hoots, “Hoooo! Hoooo! Hooooo!!” I’m not really sure what that’s about. Whatever it is, however, it can’t be good, and if you listen closely enough to the soundtrack, you can hear Bob Marley spinning in his grave.
#22. Masked Muscle From: Mexico City, Mexico Age: 29 Weight: 240 lbs Record: 19-5 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Masked Muscle was a former lucha libre wrestler. That, by itself, was sort of cool; this was pre-Lucha Underground, pre-Rey Mysterio.
But Masked Muscle was not doing head scissors takedowns and hurricanranas—no sir. His main offensive gimmick was to spit in his opponent’s eyes, blinding Little Mac for a short period of time. Masked Muscle mainly feels like a wasted opportunity; the developers could have done something really cool with a pro wrestling character, but they went for a lazy joke instead.
#21. Doc Louis From: N/A Age: N/A Weight: N/A Record: N/A Appeared In:Doc Louis’s Punch-Out!! (Wii)
Doc’s been with Little Mac since the beginning, but in Punch-Out!! (Wii), he’s something of a revelation. First, he’s insane. Doc insists on giving Little Mac nothing but useless advice; usually, it has something to do with chocolate bars. In fact, when I entered the Punch-Out!! (Wii) tournament at Nintendo World in 2009, the employees handed out Doc’s chocolate bars as promotional items. And in-game, if you instructed Doc to eat his chocolate bar in between rounds, it would restore some of Little Mac’s health.
As a special gift for Club Nintendo Platinum members, Doc got his own Punch-Out!! (Wii) spin-off, Doc Louis’s Punch Out!!. Finally, Little Mac could take on his coach in a friendly sparring session. It was fun—Doc has his own Star Punch move, and he heals himself, of course, by eating chocolate—but the developers should have taken it further, and allowed you to have a full-on, ‘old school’ match.
Bear Hugger first debuted in Super Punch-Out!! (Arcade), but he gained the most exposure from his Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) appearance, where he appeared as the second opponent after Gabby Jay. Like Piston Hurricane, he was an instructional opponent; he had a monstrous overhead attack that taught you the importance of ducking. Once you got past that, however, he was pretty simple to beat. When Bear Hugger re-debuted in Punch-Out!! (Wii), he had a whole new bag of tricks—you still needed to duck, but you also needed to nail some well-timed counterpunches to put him down for the count.
Bear Hugger’s character design is fun; he’s just so physically dissimilar from the other boxers. If you hit him in the stomach, it registers little to no damage; he grins at you and sticks out his tongue. And most recently on the Wii, Bear Hugger has acquired a big, hearty lumberjack laugh for when you get knocked down and are trying to crawl to your feet.
#19. Heike Kagero From: Osaka, Japan Age: 19 Weight: 120 lbs. Record: 14-8 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Heike Kagero was deceptively difficult. His individual moves were all mildly to moderately damaging, but they accumulated very, very quickly. Out of all the boxers in Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), Heike’s gloves were especially hard to read—he barely telegraphed any of his moves, which made it hard to know whether to duck, dodge, or block.
The game played up Heike’s outward effeminacy. He wore pink. He had long hair (which he used as a weapon). His instruction booklet biography even made implied references to a bullied background: “After being trained as a youth in Nihon Buyo (A form of Japanese ballet), Heike Kagero learned to box to defend himself. He is not afraid to use his quick speed and dance moves while boxing.” Even if they didn’t cop to it explicitly, Heike was Punch-Out!!’s first LGBT fighter. And even though it was all a bit blatant, at least Heike was a badass. That Mirage Dance was grounds for controller breaking.
#18. Piston Hondo From: Tokyo, Japan Age: 28 Weight: 174 lbs. Record: 26-1 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (NES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
The disciplined, lone warrior, sacrificing family and friends for superior technique. That’s Piston Hondo, the best boxer to ever do the Piston Hurricane gimmick. In fact, Piston Hondo did it so well that he exceeded its original practitioner.
In Punch-Out!! (NES), he was originally called Piston Honda. His between round taunts were a random potpourri of Japanese: “Sushi… Kamikaze… Fujiyama… Nipponichi…” For the Wii release, the developers preemptively changed his name to Piston Hondo to avoid any legal problems. The Wii version of Piston Hondo is one of the best designed characters in the game, from a technical standpoint. He has incredible feints and fakes on his uppercuts, and when he gets hit, his body expels sushi. Plus, those bushy eyebrows are out of control.
From a creative standpoint, however, Hondo is nothing to write home about. The higher ranked boxers have a humor and charisma to them that Hondo lacks. Stoicism can be intimidating, but it isn’t a crowd pleaser.
#17. Von Kaiser From: Berlin, Germany Age: 42 Weight: 144 lbs. Record: 23-13 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (NES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
An ex-military man with a nasty case of PTSD, Von Kaiser’s main job in Punch-Out!! (NES) was to be one step above Glass Joe—slightly more competent because he knew how to block, but useless in nearly every other regard. His PTSD was not the result of some bloody conflict; rather, it was from getting the crap beaten out of him by children.
The second time you face him in Title Defense mode on the Wii, however, he’s a lot tougher—he’s got a buzzcut, and he has a one hit kill overhand punch that starts from the back of the ring. “Das ist boxen, Little Mac, und kein Tantenkaffee!”
#16. Disco Kid From: Brooklyn, NY, USA Age: 20 Weight: 210 lbs. Record: 4-13 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Wii)
Everything about Disco Kid is a flamboyant throwback, from his Carlton dance, to his Richard Simmons schtick, to his Flash Dance routine before the match, between the rounds, and after the match. Disco Kid is referred to in the game’s data as ‘kidquick,’ leading many people to believe that he took the spot originally intended for the veteran boxer. As it turns out, Disco Kid is the only brand new character for Punch-Out!! (Wii), but he makes his appearance worth it.
The best Punch-Out!! humor comes from its physical comedy, and every move Disco Kid makes is funny. The gleaming bullshit smile. The ‘boxercise’ moves. Even his KO animation is funny; he spins like a top before doing a full-on face plant, a la Ric Flair.
#15. Aran Ryan From: Dublin, Ireland Age: 23 Weight: 160 lbs Record: 18-10 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
When Aran Ryan first debuted in Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), he was a tougher version of Piston Hurricane—he had a longer, more intense version of the Hurricane Rush called the Irish Cream, and he added a grappling move reminiscent of Pizza Pasta’s. His main gimmick was that he was invulnerable to regular punches—you needed KO punches to make any sort of realistic headway.
When he was announced for the Wii, my first response was skepticism. Why, out of all the colorful boxers from the past games, were they going with this guy? But Nintendo’s developers knew what they were doing. They reinvented him as a scrappier, angrier, dirtier brawler, who packed horseshoes in his gloves, headbutted you from the ropes, and always got up at the count of 7. Luck of the Irish indeed.
#14. Nick Bruiser From: ?? Age: ?? Weight: 210 lbs. Record: 42-0 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Everything about Nick Bruiser is intimidating. His straight faced scowl. His cut physique. The way he saunters over to you before the bell rings. After all the loud mouths and braggarts and showmen that Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) throws at you, you finally come up against a silent killer, and it’s such a stark comparison.
The first one hundred times you fight Nick Bruiser, a mounting despair sets in. It seems as though there’s no end in sight. He thrashes you so totally and soundly that it hardly qualifies as a match. He’s the only boxer in Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) who makes Little Mac spin around before hitting the canvas. A single Nick Bruiser uppercut hits twice and depletes nearly all of your health. And half the time, you can’t even fight back anyway, because your arms are ‘broken.’ But slowly, through pure muscle memory, you begin to dodge Nick’s haymakers. You survive past the first minute. And when you finally do manage to put him down three times for the TKO, it’s oh so sweet.
#13. Soda Popinski From: Moscow, Russia Age: 35 Weight: 237 Record: 33-2 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Punch-Out!! (NES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
The story has passed into video game folklore. In the original Super Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Soda Popinski was originally Vodka Drunkenski. But when Punch-Out!! got ported to the consoles, Nintendo decided to go a more kid-friendly route, and Soda Popinski was born. An offensive stereotype was thus made a fraction less offensive; the in-game quotes still refer to alcohol, and Soda Popinski retains the flush of someone who’s three sheets to the wind.
Up until recently, Popinski would have been at the bottom of any Punch-Out!! list. Yes, he was faster and more dangerous than the boxers who preceded him, but he had no creative gimmick beyond that. The Wii remake changed all that. Not only was he drinking soda; he was drinking nuclear soda, that healed him when he drank it. Popinski was re-characterized as a freak lab experiment; an Ivan Drago Soviet experiment gone wrong. And every time he got up, he got a little bit redder, madder, and faster—a human hydrogen bomb, just waiting to go off.
#12. Mr. Sandman From: Philadelphia, PA, USA Age: 31 Weight: 284 lbs. Record: 29-2 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Punch-Out!! (NES), Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
Mr. Sandman is not to be messed with. He’s got that hard-assed Philly vibe going on, and he’s been the resident toughman on the roster since the very beginning. Sandman required Little Mac to mix up his highs and lows; the first punch in a combination would always go to his jaw, but all the others had to be aimed at his gut, or they wouldn’t connect.
Mr. Sandman was also notable for his second wind; in all of his appearances, Sandman would wait until the end of a match to pull out all of his tricks, including his Dreamland Finisher—three consecutive monster uppercuts in a row. In Punch-Out!! (Wii), Mr. Sandman took on Tyson duties, and inherited Iron Mike’s wink punches from the original console game. It was a perfect, self-referential nod to the franchise’s 20+ year legacy.
#11. Narcis Prince From: London, England, UK Age: 20 Weight: 150 Record: 12-3 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
The privileged pretty boy from across the pond definitely has the most stylish boxing style out of all the fighters in Super Punch-Out!! (SNES). It’s a lot of evasive twirling and fancy footwork, and he’s got a brutal sidestep punch that kills your lifebar while simultaneously increasing his. That’s Narcis Prince’s gimmick; he’s nigh impossible to hit in the face, but once you do, his sense of self-control goes out the window. He gets mad, and his technique breaks down. And that’s when you move in for the kill.
Narcis Prince has some of the best facial reactions out of anyone in the game, especially when he gets pissed and his lip curls. He also makes a really funny sound when he gets knocked down—a dramatic moan with an exaggerated British accent thrown on for good measure.
#10. Great Tiger From: Mumbai, India Age: 29 Weight: 132 lbs. Record: 24-5 Appeared In: Super Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Punch-Out!! (NES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
From here on out, we have the icons and the legends—the greatest boxers in Punch-Out!! history, who have that perfect balance between creativity, comedy, visual design, and pure entertainment value. And we’re starting it off with Great Tiger, a magician and illusionist with a glowing turban and a flying carpet. When you play Punch-Out!! (NES) for the first time, Great Tiger is the first boxer to use insane moves against you—up until then, you could have wrongly gotten the idea that your opponents, however unconventional, would follow some version of the rules. Great Tiger, with his appearing/disappearing act and his blurringly fast Tiger Punch, puts that matter to rest.
In Punch-Out!!’s (Wii) Title Defense mode, Great Tiger has his best, most versatile incarnation; the jewel in his turban glows green, blue, yellow, red, and white, and each one signifies a different attack and a different counter strategy.
#9. Don Flamenco From: Madrid, Spain Age: 23 Weight: 152 lbs. Record: 22-3 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (NES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
The first time you fight Don Flamenco in Punch-Out!! (NES), he’s actually easier than Glass Joe, so long as you know the secret to beating him. After he misses with one of his trademark uppercuts, you jab him, alternating between left and right hand shots, until he drops. He won’t block any of them. The second time, however, is more challenging, and requires additional strategy.
What sets Don Flamenco apart from his fellow competitors is that he’s a counterpuncher rather than a straight up fighter. Flamenco never attacks first; he baits and goads little Mac into taking the first shot, and that’s how he gains the upper hand. Fighting Don Flamenco often means winning on decision, rather than winning by KO—he’s more than content to let you chase him, and let the fight come to him rather than bringing the fight to you. It’s irritating, no doubt, but devastatingly effective.
#8. Dragon Chan From: Hong Kong Age: 20 Weight: 130 lbs. Record: 15-7 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Every fighting game has to have its Bruce Lee wannabe, and for the Punch-Out franchise, that character is Dragon Chan.
Chan’s appearance is the moment in Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) when you are forced to use strategy by ducking and dodging, rather than throwing punches when you see an opening. Prior to Chan, you could ‘interrupt’ an opponent’s punch by throwing your own punch; the opponent would be forced to abandon his attack plan and block, or risk getting hit in the face. With Dragon Chan, however, part of his punch animation involves a sidestep, which means that any of your ‘interrupt’ punches will hit dead air. Fighting Dragon Chan requires patience; you have to wait for him to make the first move. A more overly aggressive fighter will get destroyed.
Dragon Chan also has the coolest arsenal of special moves: a flying kick from the top rope, a triple kick combination from the ground, and a healing meditation. But of course, he delivers all of these moves by making Bruce Lee-esque noises and baring his bucked teeth. Horrible, but not unexpected.
Mad Clown’s biography is sort of sad. He began life as a famous opera singer, but then he had a nervous breakdown. He went into circus clowning, and after he failed at that, he went into boxing. Mad Clown’s signature move is ridiculous, even by Punch-Out!! standards. He rears back, juggles six balls, throws them at you, and then flips forward with an overhead head clap that he calls the ‘Big Topper.’
Like Bear Hugger, Mad Clown’s stomach is invulnerable. Unlike Bear Hugger, Mad Clown is unbelievably light on his feet. He’s got a nasty punch that starts out as an uppercut, but turns into a backhand, which will catch you during your dodge recovery. Mad Clown is also a fantastic counter puncher, and he uses the entire ring to his advantage. Many times, you’ll be fighting in one area of the ring, and Mad Clown will then dash to the other side before continuing his attack. It may seem like a little thing, but it completely throws off your timing, and in a game like Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), that can be the difference between victory and defeat.
#6. Glass Joe From: Paris, France Age: 38 Weight: 110 lbs. Record: 1-99 Appeared In: Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Punch-Out!! (NES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
Glass Joe is nothing if not stubborn; he continues marching to defeat, even after 99 losses. He’s been Nintendo’s go-to whipping boy for over two decades.
In Punch-Out!! (Wii), he finally does something constructive about his glass jaw, and puts on protective head gear the second time you face him. But even though this makes him slightly more competent (it’s actually possible to lose to Glass Joe in Title Defense Mode, which is straight up embarrassing), he’s still the worst boxer on the roster.
There’s something lovable about Glass Joe’s complete ineptitude. Perhaps it’s because on some level, he’s everything that we don’t want to be. We want to be good at the game. We don’t want to be KO’d by all of our opponents. Fighting and destroying Glass Joe is strangely reassuring: “Whew! At least I’m not as bad as THAT guy!” And from then on, you feel a little more comfortable taking a loss or flat out sucking. Hey, at least you’re not as bad as Glass Joe.
#5. Hoy Quarlow From: Beijing, China Age: 78 Weight: 100 Record: 62-13 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
I loved Hoy Quarlow growing up. He was so frustrating, but in the best way possible; you never felt like the fight was insurmountable or that it was anything but your fault when you lost. Hoy is the only Punch-Out character who carries a weapon with him into the ring, and blatantly uses it for the majority of his match. As it turns out, bringing a clubbed stick to a boxing match gives one some distinct advantages.
First off, if Hoy blocks one of your punches, he’ll poke you with unblockable move that pushes you to the side. Second, he’s got a sick arsenal of special moves — a spinning backfist, a rising wheel kick, an ‘Ancient Attack’ from the back of the ring, and a countless variety of high/low attacks with his stick. And third, he recovers insanely well; after being knocked down, he will rise with most, if not all of his energy. Defeating Hoy Quarlow requires memorization and diligence, and when you finally manage to do so, it comes with a huge sense of relief. Finally. Now, about those Bruiser Brothers…
#4. Mike Tyson From: Catskill, NY, USA Age: 21 Weight: 220 lbs. Record: 31-0 Appeared In:Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (NES)
Finally, we get to the Baddest Man on the Planet. To anyone who didn’t grow up in the 80’s, it’s easy to dismiss Tyson as a sad punchline; his personal life and fall from grace are well-documented, and don’t need to be rehashed here. But before Don King, before Buster Douglas, and back when Cus used to train him, Tyson was a brutal force of nature. Of course Nintendo made him the final boss in Punch-Out!! (NES), then called Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! — it would have been impossible for them to invent anyone more intimidating. Tyson delivers nothing but KO punches for the first minute and a half of his Little Mac fight, and frighteningly, this was not an exaggeration of what happened in real life.
I recently spoke with Gail Tilden, the former marketing manager and founder of Nintendo Power, and she recalled Tyson’s “odd behavior” while filming the below commercial for *Punch-Out!!*. This included punching her art director as a goof, which, according to her, “knocked the wind out of him.” Even when he was being playful, it seemed as though Tyson had little concept of his own strength.
I’ve beaten every Punch-Out!! boxer on this list with the exception of Tyson/Mr. Dream. I can take down Nick Bruiser in under 20 seconds. I can KO Von Kaiser (Wii) using only five punches. But Tyson remains undefeated. I’ve never come close to beating him, if I’m honest about it, and I don’t know anyone, personally, who has. I only know it’s possible because I’ve seen it on YouTube. How long did it take you to beat Tyson, if you’ve managed to do it? Let me know in the comments, because I’m fascinated.
#3. King Hippo From: Hippo Island, South Pacific Age: ?? Weight: ?? Record: 18-9 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (NES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
King Hippo was a stroke of brilliance on Nintendo’s part. He’s the only boxer in Punch-Out!! (NES) who doesn’t share a sprite in common with another boxer in the game, and that’s extremely appropriate, because he’s completely unique in every way.
King Hippo seems invulnerable at first; for prior opponents, the most reliable tactic was dodge-and-attack, dodge-and-attack. But that doesn’t work on King Hippo; no matter how quick you are, he puts his gloves up before you can get a shot in.
The secret to beating King Hippo is this: sometimes, right before he throws a power punch, Hippo will open his mouth. If you take that moment to hit him in the face, his pants will drop, revealing a big band-aid over his stomach, his only weak point. When you knock him down once, he stays down; he’s too big to stand back up.
Put another way, there is no ‘safe way’ to fight King Hippo — to land a shot, you have to stand your ground, in the line of Hippo’s fire, and risk getting pulverized. This tension is what makes the fight so compelling, and it’s what lands King Hippo in the #3 spot.
#2. Super Macho Man From: Los Angeles, CA, USA Age: 28 Weight: 230 Record: 29-3 Appeared In:Super Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Punch-Out!! (NES), Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
Super Macho Man is every self-obsessed jerk turned up to 11. He’s basically a walking, talking, tanned penis—all testosterone and unaware homoeroticism, and no brains. What started off as a pale guy flexing his pecs in the original console game has evolved into something entirely unique—Super Macho Man now works his exercise routine into his fighting, and poses for his fans before and after his fights. In Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), his manager refers to his punch combos as Exercises A (high jabs), B (body blows), and C (uppercuts).
In the Wii remake, Super Macho Man incorporates inspirational phrases, like “Release the Beast!” into his trash talk, and is completely submerged in Hollywood culture. He spends his in-ring time taking sexy selfies of himself, and at the conclusion of each match, will have himself airlifted out of the arena via helicopter. In a universe that is filled with over-the-top, silly characters, Super Macho Man is the funniest.
#1. Bald Bull From: Istanbul, Turkey Age: 36 Weight: 240 Record: 34-19 Appeared In:Punch-Out!! (Arcade), Punch-Out!! (NES), Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), Punch-Out!! (Wii)
Bald Bull is undisputed king of Punch-Out!!. He’s never been known as the strongest, the quickest, or the most clever. He’s never been the ‘final boss’ of any Punch-Out!! game. But still Bald Bull is #1. Why? Because of his Bull Charge, that’s why.
In a bullfight, the matador must risk life and limb to attain a perfect, instant kill. The sword must be driven precisely between the shoulder blades to hit the internal organs, which means that the matador must approach the bull head-on and put his safety in jeopardy. Bald Bull was the first and best metaphor in Punch-Out!! for this kill or be killed philosophy. If you delivered a body bow at the exact right time, Bald Bull would lose all of his energy and drop like a stone. But if you missed, it was a one-hit knockdown, guaranteed.
Bald Bull was a well-rounded fighter, and he had lots of other moves that could put the hurt on Little Mac. But none of those moves was as memorable, or as poignant, as the Bull Charge. It forced us to take a stand; were we going to run from the fight, or were we going to take a terrible, 1-in-a-million shot to end it quickly? Most of us mustered up our courage and just went for it, which probably resulted in more tears than cheers. But when it worked, and Bald Bull got that weird, bug eyed look before he hit the canvas, all the aggravation became worth it.
Kevin is an AP English Language teacher and freelance writer from Queens, NY. His focus is on video games, American pop culture, and Asian American issues. Kevin has also been published in VIBE, Complex, Joystiq, Salon, PopMatters, WhatCulture, and Racialicious. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @kevinjameswong.