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Published March 31, 2009

I can clear the first two circuits of Punch-Out!! with my eyes closed, I have childhood sketchpads filled with doodles of Bald Bull and Soda Popinski, and I hope to name one of my future sons King Hippo. I grew up on that legendary NES game. I understand the nostalgia. Even so, I cannot fathom how anyone can dismiss its sequel, Super Punch-Out!!, when it outclasses its predecessor in nearly every respect.

Super hit the virtual console on Monday, and already, the critics were quick to remind us how it’s not nearly as beloved as its prequel. Well, that may be true, but only because it was so criminally overlooked back in the day. But more importantly, I’ve been dismayed by the lack of love in the upcoming Wii revamp. Granted, we’ve only seen four fighters so far, but all of the marketing seems to suggest that developer Next Level Games has forgotten Super.

To be fair, the original game has a certain “David versus Goliath” charm that has never really been matched by any boxing game since. Given the hardware limitations, the developers couldn’t manage to fit the screen-filling pugilists of the Punch Out!! arcade game onto an 8-bit cart, so they opted to shrink down Little Mac instead (you can read more about the series’ origins here). While the nameless boxer from Super is still pretty short – even Gabby Jay has a few inches on him – he never had to jump a few feet off the ground to connect with Bald Bull’s chin. That, and the classic background tunes are the NES game’s greatest assets in this comparison.

However, anyone who ignores the advancements of Super is either delusional or simply clouded by nostalgia. Some of the major improvements of the sequel include:

  • Better Pacing – Truth be told, I actually cannot stand the aforementioned ease of those first two circuits. I love the characters, and I do recall the initial challenge of learning the patterns as a kid, but that game is a total snooze-fest until the second tussle with Piston Honda. Super ramps up the challenge much more gradually. Early opponents like Bear Hugger and Piston Hurricane still hit the mat quickly, but they’re not complete pushovers.
  • The Stamina Bar – Rather than collecting stars and retaining hearts, this new boxer builds up stamina with each successful blow, eventually allowing him to throw vicious haymakers and flurries. The new system is superior for a few reasons, but all you need to know if you’ve never played the game is that you’ll now have four types of super punches at your disposal instead of one. Naturally, this lends Super a bit more depth.
  • Time Trials – Punch-Out!! did have a point scoring system, but like so many other games from that era, these numbers were just a vestigial holdover from the arcade. Besides sending in Polaroids to Nintendo Power, the score didn’t offer much in the way of bragging rights. However, I’d argue that being able to speed run through Super is a genuinely impressive task, and I spent many afternoons trying to shave a few seconds off of each fight.
  • Kicks, Canes, Spitting, Juggling, etc. – So some of these moves may or may not be regulation, but you have to admit that they gave Super just a bit more flair. I’m going to call it a tie when it comes to characters – did I mention I plan to name my firstborn son King Hippo? – but only the sequel’s crew kept you guessing. Between rounds, Soda Popinski could chug like a champ, and Super Macho Man could make his nipples dance, but inside the ring, few of the original boxers changed up their tactics. This point is a bit more subjective, but I always appreciated Super‘s more outlandish slugfests.
  • No Passwords – Yay!

Well, this list may not be definitive, but hopefully I’ve inspired a few doubters to give Super Punch-Out!! another chance. It may not have the following of the original, but it still packs plenty of the same pattern-based pugilism and cartoony charm. And while I won’t lose sleep if the Wii-make breaks ties with the SNES sequel, it will be a shame that a new generation of gamers will only get to meet half the cast of one of my favorite series.

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