If ever I have a biopsy they will see this number tattooed onto my heart
It was 1987 and I was about 7 years old when I first got my hands on Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. It was at a babysitter’s house, that was down the road from where we lived. The babysitter wasn’t exactly the nicest lady. She was one of those “eat your green beans or you can’t leave the table” kinda babysitters. She had a whole slew of her own children that she played clear favorites with too. There was one son of hers that was in middle school and he was, not surprisingly, the bully and the coolest kid in the house. His name was Ryan and he was a tall lanky kid that just hit his growth spurt. He towered over me as I was a little pipsqueak at the time.
We could only play the Nintendo when, Ryan the older boy, set it up. It was his. I remember that there weren’t even any chairs in the room that the kids were allowed to play in. There was an entertainment center with TV and a VCR and the room had cheap dark blue carpeting. Not being able to really do anything, I remember being so bored at some points that we played with calculators to see what numbers were gonna pop out if we did such-and-such combination of buttons, so you can imagine our elation when he came home and wanted to play.
I specifically recall playing Castlevania at their house, but I didn’t seem to have the knack for it. I’ve never been that crazy for the original, in fact. Ryan said he had beaten the game although I never saw him do it. Still, I’d seen him get a lot father than I ever could so I couldn’t really deny it. After I proved my punching mettle beyond any of the other kids, beyond him too, he would still hold his beating of Castlevania over me, as a matter of pride. “Because Castlevania is a real game”. See they were even doing it back then.
When they got Mike Tyson’s Punch Out though, the tables turned just a bit because it turns out that I was pretty dang good at it. Every kid wanted to play, but Ryan’s made-up rules were you can play as long as you survive, and if you lose you have to pass the controller to the next kid. He had us sit in a half-circle around the TV on the blue rubbery carpet and would delegate who plays after who. If at any time he wanted to play, nobody could whine. Or else. It sure beat playing with a calculator.
Having a knack for the game I happened to survive longer than other kids and therefore get more practice with the game. It eventually got to the point where other kids would give up their turn to watch me play instead. Actually, I never beat the game at their house, but I was able to get to Mike Tyson. My biggest accomplishment was beating Super Macho Man The first time I beat him nobody was watching, so basically it didn’t happen, but I was able to pull it off later for them. A year later, I got my own Nintendo from my grandpa on my 8th Birthday and eventually could play it without any sharing. I beat it soon after and I was the only kid I knew that could beat it. I never really thought about it since then to be honest.
The other week though, I was scrolling through some interwebs and came across the above video. I watched this documentary-esque video done by speed-runner “Summoning Salt” with a shocking surge of adrenaline. I highly suggest checking out his channel.
Anyhow, the video got me thinking about Punch Out and what sort of effect it had on my games taste. With very little needed thought, I realized that this is one of the most influential games in my life. That’s why I’m a-writin’ this post. This game pretty much set me up for all future fighting games that I was to play, and in general showed me that I had the chops to play what we now call “twitchy” games, games that take precise timing and skill. Of course, I was just having the time of my life as a kid and didn’t think about how this was preparing me for anything in the future. I was a second grader.
The game is basically you going through and beating a boxer one on one and then having to fight a bigger and harder next match. Eventually you get up to Mike Tyson as the last remaining opponent. The trick to beating the game was to recognize weaknesses and patterns in your opponents play-styles and exploiting them. The opponents of course were simple AI with built-in weaknesses, but most kids didn’t have the quick hands to finish the game. So when fighting games became the rage in the early-mid 90’s, I was the local king of the arcade. Fighting games in consoles came much later. I believe that I owe this to Punch Out. It had given me the opportunity to build the kinds of skills that were necessary to compete against real players. Games that I was pretty darn good at were Street Fighter II (and some of its other variations), Mortal Kombat I&II, Tekken 3, Killer Instinct I&II and some others less lived games like Primal Rage. There were games that I was less than great at, like Virtua Fighter and Samurai Showdown.
It hadn’t dawned on me until watching that video that Punch Out really paved the way, upper-cutted the way?, to me being able to enjoy and excel at fighting/twitch games. In retrospect though it couldn’t be any other way. My heart fluttered watching Summoning Salt’s video and I knew all this to be true. Thank you Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. You are a golden game for me.
I need to get a NES.
Can’t believe Tekken 7’s release date is now in June.