Punch-Out came out on Switch today! No, not Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Not the Wii Punch-Out, either. The one that started them all, the granddaddy of Nintendo’s boxing series: the 1984 arcade version of Punch-Out. It’s worth playing if you love the series, but just be aware that it’s pretty rough around the edges by today’s standards.
Like the recent releases of Mario Bros. and Vs. Super Mario Bros. for Switch, this is all part of the publisher Hamster’s series of Arcade Archives, which are emulated versions of the original arcade games. It’s the first time that any of these games have had an official arcade-perfect home release. Nintendo turned Punch-Out into a hit NES game, but the arcade version was quite different. It used sprite-scaling tech to make the enemy boxers grow larger and smaller as they got closer to the “camera,” for one, which was a pretty nifty trick in 1984.
The arcade gameplay was also different, closer to the game Super Punch-Out that would eventually come out on the SNES in 1994. That, and this, revolve around sneaking in hits on your opponent to build up a KO meter that would, when full, let you throw special big-damage punches.
The arcade version also used two monitors stacked vertically on top of each other, like a 300-pound Nintendo DS. The top screen displayed most HUD elements like the fighters’ portraits and health bars, while the bottom screen showed the KO meter and the boxing ring—that is, the two things that you really needed to keep an eye on.
The Switch version of the game handles this oddball display very well. The default mode is to simply display the screens side by side—not quite arcade-perfect but totally playable. You can also stack them vertically on your TV, which greatly reduces the size of both screens but orients them in the classic manner.
The real thrill is being able to rotate the screens 90 degrees—useless on a television or when playing the Switch in handheld mode, but perfect if you have a stand that will hold your Switch in a vertical orientation. It might get annoying playing an arcade game with tiny sprites or text in tabletop mode, but Punch-Out’s sprites are so big and colorful that they look great even when relegated to one half of the Switch tablet’s screen.
I love that this game is on Switch now. Playing Punch-Out at home instead of a noisy arcade, you really get the chance to take in all of the little details of its presentation. I’ve played many arcade Punch-Out cabinets, and I have never heard the little sound effects that are supposed to sound like the boxers’ trainers talking to them while they’re in the ring. I could never pick them out from the din and was genuinely surprised to hear them in the quiet of my own home.
That said, I’d be lying if I said that arcade Punch-Out stood up today as a particularly strong entry in the series. The gameplay isn’t anywhere near as elegant as the eventual home versions. There are only six boxers, and beating them is really about just learning and memorizing a few simple tricks. I do like that you can mess around with the arcade settings in this version, as with Hamster’s other releases; in this case, you can select from four difficulty levels. (These would have actually been invisible to the player of the arcade version, and you’d have no way of knowing if the game was set to Easy or Very Hard before you dropped in a quarter.)
It’s tough to recommend Punch-Out to everyone, but if you too have particularly nostalgic memories of this classic, want to see where the series originated, or just spend too much money on Switch games, rest assured that this version of the game is quite well done.