Punch-Out (or rather, Punch-Out!!, which actually apparently came in two versions, Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream and Punch-Out!! Featuring Mike Tyson, identical except for the sprites and perhaps sounds of the final opponent) is an NES game that I’ve been hearing about for a long time. So when it showed up on the virtual console and I was running a bit low on games to try, I thought I’d give it a try.

The virtual console buying experience was a little tedious, though I suppose it wasn’t any more tedious than necessary for a credit card purchase through your TV. (I don’t think I even had to enter my full mailing address, though I did have to enter my county.) I hope Nintendo is remembering most of that information on a secure server somewhere, so I don’t have to re-enter all of it the next time I refill my points. The download itself was very fast, which in retrospect is completely unsurprising given the size of NES ROMs.

And then there’s the game. It was fun. Nominally a boxing game, but it was mostly about pattern recognition. To start off, you have simple patterns: your opponent might be just standing there blocking most of the time, so you can’t do any damage. (And vice-versa.) But sometimes he pulls back his arm. If you just stand there, you’ll get hurt. But if you dodge, he’ll miss, and then you can punch him four times in a row before he’ll managed to block you again.

As you progress, of course, this gets more elaborate. In particular, later opponents often have special moves that knock you down with a single blow if you don’t do exactly the right thing (which can take a while to guess and can require precision to pull off), but if you do do the right thing, you’ll typically knock them down with a single blow instead.

I played through the first two series of opponents. By the end of the second series, I was getting a bit tired, though. That series was four opponents long; it took me ten minutes or so to get to the last opponent, and if I lost to him, I had to go back and fight the next-to-last opponent again. And if I lost three times, I had to start the series over. This meant that I only got a few chances each hour to try a new counter to the last opponent’s special move. Which was okay, actually, but when I got to the next series, and learned that it was six opponents long with the average difficulty higher than before, I could read the writing on the wall, so I stopped there.

Still, I can see why people speak favorably of the game. I enjoyed the time I spent on it; if I’d had more free time and less spending money, and was living in an era of primitive video game design, I doubtless would have finished the game. Sure, it’s no Super Mario Bros. 3, but what is? As it was, it was a fine way to spend a few bucks and a few hours; and I’m pretty sure I stopped playing at the right time.

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