1987: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
[Occasionally, we here at Stew Over are not content to talk about just one game per year. 1987 is one of those years.]
While I don’t disagree with Tyler that The Legend of Zelda was the greatest game of 1987, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! has to be one of the closest seconds we will see over the course of these articles. Game Informer named it the 16th greatest game of all time saying, “Punch-Out’s genius lies in the fact that it wasn’t really a sports title; each boxer’s patterns and timing created an odd mix of the puzzle and rhythm genres.” The magazine also named The Legend of Zelda the greatest game of all time so it would stand to reason that they’d agree with Tyler and myself as well.
When I originally received the NES as a Christmas gift in 1988, it came with, of course, Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. I was also lucky enough to receive Punch-Out!! I immediately liked it, even more so than Super Mario Bros. at the time. Every new fighter presented a new challenge and every victory felt earned. Taking down the last few fighters became one of the greatest video game challenges I’ve ever faced. In fact, to this day, the fact that I was able to start from Glass Joe and work my way all the way up to, and knock out, Mike Tyson is my greatest video game achievement. Tyson himself was next to impossible to defeat. During the first 1:30 of the first round if he landed a punch you were on the mat. Getting his timing down and learning to be patient was the key. I’ve played Punch-Out!! a lot over the years but I haven’t been able to knock down Iron Mike recently. My 7 year old self would be disappointed in me but he just had a lot more patience with games than I do now. I’m still happy, however, to brag that I have TKO’d the immortal Mike Tyson during my lifetime.
It wasn’t just Mike Tyson that made the game, however. The incredible characters are the main reason it is so iconic. From Bald Bull to Soda Popinski, to Mr. Sandman, the characters were so unique it was a joy to play over, and over, and over again. The one thing that Punch-Out!! really has over it’s competition is the sheer replayability of the title. To this day I can sit down and play the game solo or with a group of other vets.
I’d like to take a minute to look back at one of the other aspects of the characters that is equally memorable. The sheer amount of racial stereotyping they display. Let’s take a look at the five worst offenders:
The second boxer you face in the game is a blatant stereotype of Germans as ultra-militaristic. His taunts range from the relatively tame, “I was a boxing instructor… at the military academy.” All the way up to “Surrender, or I will conquer you.” He also sports an amazing mustache, a German tradition to this day.
The big mouthed King Hippo displays all the stereotypes of an obese person. First of all, his name. King Hippo. Really, Nintendo? Secondly, his appearance is quite ridiculous. He comments on his size saying, “Do you like my shorts? They are size XXX Large… ha ha ha.” Apparently his girth is due to his desire to eat as he taunts you between rounds saying, “I feel like eating after I win, let’s go out to lunch! ha, ha, ha.” Even your trainer seems to realize his weak spot is his mouth telling you to, “(not) give up Mac. Make him close his big mouth!” In the ultimate stereotype, once you knock King Hippo down once he can’t get back up.
Great Tiger works off the assumption that Indian people are mystical as he is able to literally teleport around the ring. He also wears a turban on his head that sports a sparkling jewel which has the unfortunate side effect of giving away his punches. Your trainer Doc gives you some information on his back story between rounds telling you that, “His father was a great magician in India. Don’t be charmed by his magic punches.”
Perhaps using the oldest comedic trick in the book (make fun of yourself so that you can make fun of others), Nintendo created Piston Honda- one one of worst stereotypes in the game. His in ring banter ranges from shouting “bonzai” to letting you know that he’s going to “give you a TKO from Tokyo.” Also, randomly, he just says four Japanese words. “Sushi, kamakazi, fuiyama, nipponchi.” Now that I’m thinking about it, my guess is that Nintendo just created this as a stereotype of what they thought Americans think of Japanese people. Obviously, they’re not giving us much credit.
Soda Popinski (originally Vodka Drunkinski):
Last but certainly not least is Soda Popinski. The Russian stereotypes he employs are borderline criminal. Basically, his character is letting you know that Russians enjoy drinking. A lot. In fact, his original name in the arcade was Vodka Drunkinski. Nintendo was wise enough to change his name but didn’t change much else about him. All of his lines are classic/ridiculous. My favorite two are “I can’t drive, so I’m gonna walk all over you,” and “I drink to prepare for a fight. Tonight I’m very prepared.”
I’m amazed that with this level of stereotyping the game was allowed to release. I suppose we could just blame the times. I mean it was 1987 after all. What’s that you say? They released a sequel that was worse than the first one? On the Wii?!? I guess people were too busy playing Wii Sports and Wii Fit to notice.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one other great game from 1987:
A game that is tragically overlooked in our group of friends simply due to the overwhelming love we have for both Punch-Out!! and The Legend of Zelda. Game Informer, in naming it the 7th greatest game of all time, states that Metroid’s true impact on the industry is that it “started the concept of open exploration in games.” Personally I enjoyed Super Metroid much more as Metroid is an extremely difficult game. Additionally, I never fully experienced the game until after I played Super Metroid and going backwards with games is always more difficult than going forward. Regardless, the game’s impact and greatness is hard to ignore.
What do you think? Was The Legend of Zelda the greatest game of 1987? Or do you prefer Punch-out? Let us know in the comments!