There are few 8-bit games more fondly remembered than Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! The game may have been simple and not as influential as, say, Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda, but it made up for that with a cast of indelible characters and, for a short time, at least, the endorsement of the Baddest Man on the Planet, Mike Tyson. Simply put, Punch-Out (we’ll give the grammar checker a rest and drop the exclamation points from the title from here on) was the coolest thing you could put in your NES in the late ’80s.
Because it’s always the right time to celebrate a classic, here are a few things you might not know about the game that taught us all to dance like a fly and bite like a mosquito…
1. Punch-Out was created because Nintendo had too many left over Donkey Kong monitors. As is often the case with great video games, Punch-Out was created to solve a problem. During the early ’80s, Nintendo couldn’t keep up with demand for their first major hit, Donkey Kong. In order to keep the arcade cabinets flowing, Nintendo had a huge standing order for video monitors. Eventually, the Donkey Kong craze would cool down, but Nintendo didn’t alter their regular monitor order, so the company had warehouses full of unused monitors on their hands by the mid-80s. The solution? Create an arcade game that uses two screens, and thus consumes monitors twice as fast.
Imagine if Nintendo had thought to save their receipts for all those monitors.
Nintendo toyed around with a lot of ideas, but hardware at the time unfortunately wasn’t powerful enough to render two screens worth of action. It was Genyo Takeda, Nintendo’s lead arcade designer at the time, that broke the code. He came up with the idea for a boxing game where one screen was used to show your opponent, and the other was used for character portraits, energy bars and the audience. Because all the stuff on the top screen was basically static, and only a single boxer needed to be rendered on the bottom screen, Nintendo was able to pull off a two-screen game without overheating primitive arcade processors. Thus, Punch-Out (and arguably the main concept behind the Nintendo DS) was born.
2. Shigeru Miyamoto drew some of the game’s iconic boxers. Shigeru Miyamoto is well-known as the creator of Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda, but he isn’t often associated with the Punch-Out series. Well, it turns out that he was almost as involved in Punch-Out as some of the series he’s officially credited with creating.
In 1983, Miyamoto already had Donkey Kong under his belt, but he wasn’t yet a legend or even a particularly big wheel within Nintendo. He was just another guy working in Nintendo’s small design and art department. So, when Genyo Takeda decided he wanted to do a boxing game, it fell to Miyamoto to design the characters. Miyamoto designed most of the characters based on Takeda’s suggestions, but Miyamoto thought his style was a little too cute for the game, so he got an anime company (Studio Junio) to give them a slightly harder, more polished edge. So, you can add Glass Joe to the list of characters you can thank Miyamoto for.
“I drew Soda Popinski, motherf*ckers!”
3. The arcade version of Punch-Out was the first game to feature sound designed by Koji Kondo. Most of your favorite songs from the Mario and Zelda series were probably written by Koji Kondo, but Nintendo’s most famous composer didn’t get his start with those series. Kondo’s first game, which he worked on before he was even officially hired by Nintendo, was the arcade version of Punch-Out. The arcade hardware the original Punch-Out ran on could only output three notes, yet Kondo managed to compose this incredibly catchy tune with them.
Needless to say, he was given a full-time job soon after.
4. Before Mike Tyson, Punch-Out was endorsed by Larry Holmes. Punch-Out will forever be known for it’s association with Mike Tyson. Before that very profitable team-up, Nintendo got another famous boxer to endorse the game. In 1984, when Nintendo was planning to bring Punch-Out to American arcades, they set up a demo for the press and got World Champion Larry Holmes to show off the game. Holmes even signed some gloves for the star struck designers of Punch-Out, which still reside at Nintendo’s headquarters.
The cover of Punch-Out wasn’t the only thing Tyson took from Holmes.
5. The NES version of Punch-Out was designed as a prize for a video game golf tournament. The NES port of Punch-Out is the version most of us know and love best, so it may surprise you to know the home console version was basically tossed together on a whim to be a prize in a Japanese contest. Gamers were asked to send in their best scores for the rather forgettable NES game Golf, and the winners would get the NES version of Punch-Out in a very swanky gold cartridge. Nintendo never intended to sell the game to the wider public, and they probably never would have if President of Nintendo of America Minoru Arakawa hadn’t attended one of Mike Tyson’s early fights.