Travel back through the history of Mac!
After 35 years, the origins of Punch-Out can be easily played, thanks to the release of the arcade version on Nintendo Switch. Genyo Takeda was at the helm of the 1983 arcade game, which came on the heels of Donkey Kong’s smashing success. It made use of two screens - a spiritual precursor to the Nintendo DS - mainly out of necessity. After Donkey Kong, Nintendo had too many screens, so they made a game to use two of them in one machine. The characters were designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and quintessential Nintendo composer Koji Kondo made his debut with the company on this project. Classic foes such as Glass Joe, Piston Hurricane, Bald Bull, and Mr. Sandman were part of the fighter roster that squared off against the wireframe green-haired hero, who may or may not be Little Mac. Kid Quick and Pizza Pasta were also foes here, though Pizza Pasta never appeared in the series again and Kid Quick only sort of showed up as Disco Kid in the later Wii game.
The original Punch-Out was well received in the era and received two follow-ups: Super Punch-Out, which was more of the same with some tougher boxers, and Arm Wrestling, a game that used a similar arcade setup. The Super arcade sequel added more enemies, including Bear Hugger, Dragon Chan, Soda Popinski, Great Tiger, and Super Macho Man. Unfortunately, neither of these games are accessible these days, but with Arcade Archives still churning away on Switch, there’s always hope.
By 1985, Nintendo was transitioning away from making their own arcade games, however. Takeda’s team, who helped make the NES and its cartridges, began work on their first game for the burgeoning system: a new version of their arcade game Punch-Out. But, the graphics on the arcade version wouldn’t be possible on the less powerful home console. Instead, they transitioned from the wireframe hero in the tiny frame of Little Mac, who went up against giant enemies, with new bosses including the likes of King Hippo, Don Flamenco, Von Kaiser, and Mike Tyson. Tyson was a major get for the initial release of the game, as Nintendo reportedly signed the boxing legend before he was heavyweight champion. Even if any current version of Punch-Out replaces the real life athlete with Mr. Dream, Tyson is forever intertwined with the franchise even if he’s not on the virtual box these days.
It was a long time before Little Mac showed back up, this time on the Super Nintendo in Super Punch-Out, which resembled the arcade game far more than the NES release. The roster of enemies grew, featuring the return of Bear Hugger and Dragon Chan as well as newcomers ranging from Aran Ryan and Bob Charlie to the Mad Clown and Narcis Prince.
Takeda was in a producer role on this game, ascending higher into the management role that would see him be named Technology Follow alongside Miyamoto after Satoru Iwata’s passing. He retired in 2017.
Directing Super Punch-Out were Makoto Wada and Yasuyuki Oyagi. Wada’s first game at Nintendo was the NES Punch-Out, and he followed up his time on the series working on scripts for the Animal Crossing series and Pikmin 3 as well as directing Mario Kart DS.
Oyagi started working with Nintendo and Takeda on the StarTropics series and after Super Punch-Out, worked on everything from Mario Kart 64, DS, and Wii to Super Mario Sunshine, Wind Waker, and F-Zero X. Most recently, he has been a part of the production team for the latest Mario Kart games.
Punch-Out was dormant for 15 years following Super Punch-Out, only popping up in re-releases courtesy of Animal Crossing and, weirdly, Fight Night Round 2 on GameCube, which featured the SNES game as an unlock and Little Mac as a fighter.
Little Mac’s return took some work, though. He had to rehab in Captain Rainbow, working off added weight with the help of Skip’s weird hero. In 2009, Next Level Games worked with Nintendo to release Punch-Out on Wii. This new version brought back lots of fan favorite fighters, including Glass Joe, King Hippo, and many more. Jason Carr and Mike Inglehart directed the game. Carr, one of Next Level’s co-founders, is still with the company, continuing to work with Nintendo on Luigi’s Mansion 2 and 3 and Metroid Prime Federation Force. Inglehart left the company shortly after Punch-Out, moving to work as Creative Director at Hothead Games, making the Big Win sports series and a number of other well-received mobile games.
Aside from the Club Nintendo exclusive Doc Louis’ Punch-Out on WiiWare, no new games have come out in the series since. Little Mac did make a grand appearance in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS and returned in Super Smash Bro. Ultimate. Who knows what the future of Punch-Out will hold. If past precedent is any indication, we could be a solid 5 years away from any further releases, but Nintendo can be surprising. Maybe we’ll get Punch-Out of the Wild? Or Super Punch-Out Odyssey? A boy can dream, just like Little Mac...