The game that started the franchise is finally here, but is it a knockout package?
Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! is finally here and marks the first time the 1984 classic, and original title in the Punch-Out!! series, has been released since the cabinet hit arcades around the world. That’s right, many people don’t realize that this is the original Punch-Out!! and it, and the arcade sequel Super Punch-Out!!, both released before the more widely known 1987 NES iteration.
As is the norm with the Arcade Archives series, booting up the game immediately gives the player the choice of three options, Original Mode, High Score Mode, and Caravan Mode. High Score Mode has some default settings and lets players compete for a top score, uploaded to an online leader board, using one credit. Caravan Mode also allows players compete for a high score using preset settings, but gives a time limit of five minutes to set a record. Both of these modes are fun, but pausing the game during them will instantly end a run. This can really suck if you get distracted and just instinctively hit the pause button by mistake.
Original Mode is where the more accurate version of the game lives. Thanks to the list of options within the Arcade Archives menu it’s possible to flip all of the meaningful dip switches that exist on the original arcade cabinet to create the type of experience you want. (Note: Some switches affecting how much it costs to play are missing, but they're pointless here anyway.) Just beware, there is a leader board in this mode too, so you may want to change your settings to a more favorable set if you are trying to compete here.
Those playing Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! may quickly notice that there seem to be two separate screens. This is because the original arcade cabinet actually has two screens one stacked on top of the other. The top screen was like a stadium scoreboard. It displays the current fighters, time limit, and has the scoring information. The bottom screen is where all the boxing action takes plays.
Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! gives several options on how to display the game due to the fact the original had this bizarre, and cool, dual-monitor layout. The default, my personal preference on this platform, puts the top screen on the left and the bottom one on the right. Option two is to stack the screens while still using the natural wide screen format of the Switch. This option works, but makes both annoyingly small so it’s my least preferred. The final display option is the ability to turn everything on its side (Tate Mode) so the bottom screen is on the, traditionally, left side and the top screen on the right. The last option is really cool, and allows for the most screen real estate, but you’ll probably have to play with your Switch in Table Top Mode while trying to find a way to safely prop up the screen. This option does also work on a TV, but most people won’t have a way to tilt their screens properly. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to display the game in this mode with the right side on the screen being the bottom which could be a problem for some.
There are numerous other options within the Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! menu that will allow players to mess with the visuals, including adding scan lines. I prefer setting A2. Audio settings are present as well and, as someone who owns a dedicated Punch-Out!! arcade cabinet, I feel the setting Bass Up is the closest to the original machine. Even with this setting though, the bass sounds very weak when played through the Switch’s own speakers.
The game itself is a classic arcade high score attack game. The quicker the player can knock down each boxer, the more bonus points they will earn. The controls are simple: left and right dodge, left and right high shots, and left and right middle shots. Those who played the SNES version of Super Punch-Out!! will also notice a power meter at the top. Land enough blows to fill the meter and it’s possible to use powerful uppercuts too.
One thing that is lost in the home translation of the game is how amazing it feels to slam the oversized Uppercut button that’s on the original cabinet. I can’t really fault the game for not having it, but it really makes me wish for miniature arcade cabinets of some sort that can hold the Switch screen designed for each Arcade Archives game.
There are six opponents to run through, all of which will require different strategies to defeat. As is usual with Punch-Out!! games, you will have to learn how to bait out certain attacks, dodge, counter, and really learn each fight. After defeating the final fighter you become the Heavyweight Champion and will then have to defend your title against most of the previous fighters, only they will be much more difficult. This cycle repeats indefinitely. One neat thing about the game is you are allowed to “pay” one more credit if you lose the first time for a rematch and you actually keep your score going back for round two. After this inevitable second loss it’s truly game over.
The graphics in Punch-Out!! were probably jaw dropping in 1984 and are still really cool looking today. I quickly glanced at other arcade titles released that year and nothing really stood out as much as Punch-Out!! It’s gorgeous.
The sound effects are cool and there is a lot of voice work for games of the era. Players will hear an announcer shout the names of each fighter, but is probably mostly known for constantly shouting the player’s actions. Every attack you make he will say “Left”, “Right”, or “Body Blow.” Many people will find this annoying, but it’s truly part of the game’s charm and with how loud this, and the bell, were in arcades it was clearly meant to draw attention to the hulking machine.
One weird thing I noticed while playing the Arcade Archives version of Punch-Out!! is that I heard speech I’ve never heard on my own machine. Upon filling my KO meter I sometimes hear someone, presumably from the crowd, yell “Kick his ass.” Additionally, though it doesn’t effect gameplay, the referee’s count to 10 also seemed faster than the original. Upon doing some research I found a few other players bringing this up and the Arcade Archives version of Punch-Out!! is actually the Japanese release of the game. I don’t know if there are other differences. Regardless, it kind of stinks that players can’t choose which version of the game boots up since, from a historical perspective, this isn’t perfectly accurate to how people experienced the game in North America. Though I can’t deny the version included is probably better.
Punch-Out!! can be really fun and addictive, but will likely be way too challenging for some looking for a simpler arcade experience. There is a bit of a learning curve that has to be overcome to really start appreciating it, but if you can rise to the challenge there is a great arcade high score game to be enjoyed. Regardless you may want to take a look at Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! as a historical curiosity, be it an interest in classic gaming or as a Punch-Out!! fan looking to discover the roots of the franchise.