Take it on the chin. A big part of the fun in Super Punch Out!! is, weirdly, losing. The 1994 Super Nintendo game, the fourth in the popular Punch Out!! series, marked a number of transitions for the franchise. While the journey of every prior installment — taking the player-character Little Mac (most recently seen in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate) up the ranks of the boxing ladder — remains the same, the nature of the journey changed quite a bit.
If you're a paid Nintendo Switch Online subscriber, you can play Super Punch Out!! right now for free by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app.
For starters, the game has fully moved on from the man who made it famous: Mike Tyson. Tyson was one of the most electric fighters of the 1980s, shocking the world of boxing with his lightning-quick knockouts. The original Punch Out on the NES capitalized on his success in 1987, promoting Tyson as one of the most difficult final bosses in sports game history.
But things took a sudden turn for Tyson in the 1990s. He began losing fights and was convicted of rape in 1992. Punch Out games began to reskin Tyson as a character called “Mr. Dream,” although Game Informer notes that this “was done two years before said conviction, and it was most likely a contract issue at the time.”
Neither Tyson or Mr. Dream are present in the SNES's Super Punch Out, and the game is better for it. Little Mac’s opponents are the stars of the show in the game and allowing them to shine mostly pays off.
It’s worth noting that some of the characters, like Bob Charlie, have aged rather poorly. Meant to be a reference to Bob Marley, giving a black character a signature “shuck and jive” move is racist, playing into associations with Americans slaves that game developer Genyo Takeda and game director Makoto Wada were likely unaware. It’s telling that Super Punch Out marks Bob Charlie’s first and last appearance in the Punch Out series.
But outside of these, seeing who you’re going to fight, and likely lose to the first few times you play, is a blast. The first character you face, Gabby Jay, begs you to let him win to improve his self-confidence. While it’s frustrating to lose to a 56-year old Frenchman, it’s absolutely worth it to see his little dance as he shouts “Yay!” Similarly, fighting the vain Narcis Prince has joys all its own, like watching him freak out when you punch his beautiful, beautiful face.
Gameplay in Super Punch Out is all about timing, although some luck is definitely involved. When you punch Narcis Prince in the face, he starts to freak out and rapidly attack you, although this makes his face even more vulnerable. These attacks can be avoided by watching for cues, but this gets increasingly difficult as the game goes on.
Despite its faults, Super Punch Out is a really fun experience, and unlike most modern sports games, you don't need to pay $60 each year to get the new roster. Capturing the manic energy of an arcade game in a console is no easy feat, and having its fights revolve around knockouts instead of rounds allows for the type of suddenly epic fight where you’re biting your nails hoping to get the perfect punch.