No. Power Punch II wasn’t going to be a sequel to Punch-Out!!

No. Power Punch II wasn’t going to be a sequel to Punch-Out!!

Three rounds, that’s all I ask

Punch-Out!! was one of the games I played for the first time, later in my life, that saved retro gaming for me. I still haven’t beaten it. I’ve reached Super Macho Man, I think. Progress is just so slow at that point that I eventually get distracted and move on to something else.

That has nothing to do with Beam Software’s Power Punch II. Well, not nothing. You would have to be blind to not look at it and see it as having lifted Punch-Out!!’s formula. That’s nothing new for the industry, though. Power Punch II just happens to have been catapulted to notoriety due to a rumor and its uncanny resemblance. It’s a rather strange game, but it’s one where the ability to judge it by its own merits has been lost.

Power Punch II a Punch

I could wallop you all day with this surgical 2×4

The pervasive story about Power Punch II is that it started life as an intended sequel to Punch-Out!!. According to the tale, Nintendo commissioned the game as a follow-up but dropped it once the scandals around Mike Tyson broke out (and also because of the quality of the game, as some tell it). This never made sense to me, and hear me out: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was reissued as Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream in 1990 after Nintendo lost the license to use Tyson’s likeness, so they obviously didn’t have any interest in maintaining it. Power Punch II was released in mid-1992. Super Punch-Out!! was released in 1994, and while that leaves time for development to stop on one title and start on another, the actual bears the name of the arcade game from 1984, as one would expect.

Now, the boot screen does say that Nintendo owns the trademark to Power Punch II and that it was licensed to American Softworks. Strange. So, for clarity, I reached out and asked Power Punch II’s programmer and character designer, Andrew Bailey (now at Relic). He replied:

“I don’t remember it being commissioned by Nintendo. We were working for LJN (from memory) a small US publisher. Of course, Nintendo needed to approve every game, and they would have probably not liked [Mike Tyson’s] involvement once the issues came out.”

That response has a few vagaries to it (the publisher was American Softworks, not LJN, but I think that’s a reasonable mix-up), so you can believe what you want. However, I find it doubtful that someone from Beam would forget working with Nintendo and the drama around the project being dropped. Also, the Mike Tyson’s Intergalactic Power Punch prototype does not mention Nintendo’s ownership of the title. It is very strange that it’s called Power Punch II when there wasn’t a Power Punch One, but that probably had more to do with American Softworks.

Given the fact that there is no citation on the original claims of the game’s source, I think the legends are questionable at best and most likely untrue. Regardless of how they’ve been accepted by the internet.

Power Punch II Training

He’s going to die on his feet

The game itself, however, is obviously inspired by Punch-Out!!. You control Mike Tyson — or, sorry, Mark Tyler — from behind the back as you throw down against cartoonish aliens. The biggest difference is that you can move Mark left and right, whereas those buttons were instead used to dodge in Punch-Out!!. You can also throw body blows by holding down on the D-Pad, whereas Punch-Out!! had only jabs and uppercuts.

Then there are also the training ships, which is kind of the first place where Power Punch II goes wrong. You need to train in between each circuit of boxers in order to raise your stats. The problem is if you’re going to get good at any facet of Power Punch II, make it the training. Heightened stats can mean the difference between victory and defeat. It’s not the only factor, but it’s a damned important one.

The next problem that Power Punch II has is that its decision to go with movement instead of just dodges affects the strategy of the game. Punch-Out!! was all about reflexes, pattern recognition, memory, and a bit of anticipation. Power Punch II is maybe a bit of that, but you can get really far by just leading your opponent to the edges of the screen and counterpunching them. Their AI just can’t fight and move at the same time, and it’s really easy to take advantage of this in early fights and just win by decision. It’s like that Charlie Chaplin routine where he just hides behind the ref.

Power Punch II Knock Out

To the shores of Fistiana

If you want to actually get KOs, you not only have to train well, but you also need to gain power punches. You get these in a similar way to Punch-Out!!, you just have to hit an opponent the right way at the right time. It can be hard to tell what the right way or the right time is, but if you want to do more than just chip away at their health, you need these punches.

The enemies are maybe not as memorable as the ones in Punch-Out!!, but they’re also not based on stereotypes. They’re a collection of aliens, and they do their job. They’re colorful, big, and rather detailed. They don’t telegraph their attacks, which, again, carries Power Punch II further from Punch-Out!!’s majesty, but… I don’t have a follow-up to that. It sucks.

The music is done by Marshall Parker who also did one of my favorite soundtracks: the SNES version of Shadowrun. His talent doesn’t really shine here. The soundtrack is decent, but I’m not about to add it to my playlist.

Game Over Screen

Punching isn’t your thing, but that’s okay.

As much as I don’t think Power Punch II is a terrible game, writing this article has made me realize what it means to try and measure up to a perfect game. It seems like the only way you can be favorably compared to Punch-Out!! Is to do everything the exact same. I doubt most developers at the time would be willing to so blatantly carbon copy a Nintendo game. In fact, how many have even attempted it since? Mega Cat Studio’s Creepy Brawlers is the only one that comes to mind.

But again, Power Punch II isn’t as bad as its reputation. It just fails to answer the question of why you aren’t playing Punch-Out!! or any of its sequels. What is it the kids say these days? “We have Punch-Out!!  at home?” Yeah, this fits that meme like a mouthguard.

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