RetroVision – Creating Punch-Out!!’s Roster

Punch-Out!! is well known for its range of colourful and unique characters.  But did you know that despite their apparent individuality, most of the fighters share some of their traits with another character?  If you look closely you’ll notice that Glass Joe and Don Flamenco, Von Kaiser and Great Tiger, Bald Bull and Mr. Sandman, and Soda Popinksi and Super Macho Man all share the same body, simply featuring a palette swap, and small cosmetic differences in order to individualise the character.  Even the Dynamite Kid Mike Tyson himself features a palette swap with Little Mac’s rival Piston Honda.

This was done by Nintendo in order to conserve computer memory, in order to help the game run the way it does, and cram in as much content as possible.  Nintendo even used this same process on the Super Nintendo sequel Super Punch Out!!, as again it allowed them to make the best use of the technology.  In fact the only opponents that were created independently across both Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!! include, King Hippo from Punch-Out!!, and both Dragon Chan and Bear Hugger from the Super Nintendo title.

Von Kaiser & Great Tiger
Von Kaiser and Great Tiger are two characters who share bodies

Of course aside from this Little Mac is an individual character model, though not without change.  When adapting the arcade game for release on the NES, Nintendo realised that they wouldn’t be able to have player’s character at the same size as the other fighters, as this would cause players wouldn’t be able to see their opponent.  Thus, Nintendo knew that they would actually have to make him drastically smaller.  This however ended up feeding into the creation of the character Little Mac.  Influencing not only his body, but his whole back story as the protagonist.  Something the original arcade title lacked as it utilised a nameless wire-frame hero.

The cameo appearance of Mario makes up the final uniquely created character within the game, though Nintendo obviously repurposed Mario from other titles for this.  In fact game creator Genyo Takeda never planned to have Mario add Boxing referee to his list of skills.  He simply added him in during development without permission, and when nobody noticed, he left him there.

Smash Bros
Little Mac and Mario square-off in the ring in SSB4

All in all, from palette swapping, to the creation of Little Mac, and Mario’s cameo, this all simply exemplifies how good a job Nintendo did in creating Punch-Out!!’s memorable cast of characters, each one filled with personality.  What’s more, Nintendo’s work in repurposing characters didn’t end with the initial release of these titles, with Punch-Out!!’s namesake character going through one more alteration.  Whilst Little Mac is obviously both the main character, and the most memorable, Punch-Out!! as many know was originally released as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, featuring Boxing icon as the final fight.  However, following the successful launch of the game in 1987, as soon as the licence to use Mike Tyson’s likeness came up for renewal, Nintendo decided to let this expire.  Re-releasing the game as simply Punch-Out!! in 1990.

However, this obviously left the problem of the final fight.  As such Mike Tyson’s body (and by virtue of the body share, Piston Honda’s too), was once again re-purposed, creating a new final fighter in Mr. Dream.  Nevertheless, Mr. Dream is nothing more than a recolour of Mike Tyson with a different head.  Beyond this he is exactly the same, retaining the same stance, moves, and ability to knock Little Mac out with one punch.

Tyson Dream
Mike Tyson & Mr. Dream

Many believed that Nintendo didn’t renew their licence with Mike Tyson due to his imprisonment on the charge of rape, however this event actually occurred a year after Punch-Out!!’s re-release.  In fact, despite allowing the licence to expire with regard to Punch-Out!!, Nintendo had planned another game featuring Mike Tyson, namely Power Punch II (hence being referred to by the number two).  Nevertheless, despite originally being planned as a sequel to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, Nintendo disowned the project.  This came following Mike Tyson’s imprisonment, and his earlier loss to James “Buster” Douglas.  With it further being influenced by the continued success of Punch-Out!!, regardless of the now lack of celebrity branding.  As such developer Beam Software, who were contracted to develop the game, went on to finish the title.  Upon release Power Punch II was not only compared to the game it was based upon, but was also widely criticised for being a highly inferior game to Punch-Out!!

Ultimately, Nintendo had not needed Mike Tyson or his branding in the first place.  Not only that but something that could have been seen as a negative, namely utilising palette swaps, ultimately allowed Nintendo to create the wide ranging, diverse roster of characters that the game became famous for, alongside its gameplay and polish.  Whilst some may see all the similarities within the characters, and the changes that went into others, as easy game creation.  In fact what Nintendo did was utilise their hardware as best as they could to create as many memorable characters as possible, all feeding into a classic 8-bit title that is still played today.  In many ways Punch-Out!! is Nintendo’s creative power at its very best.

For our review of Punch-Out!! just click on this link.

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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