The Nintendo Entertainment System was the original king of sports video games. Prior to the NES, most home console sports games were, at best, very forgettable. However, the launch of the powerful (for the time) NES allowed programmers and game designers to better capture what made sports fun. A few of those games are still talked about fondly by retro gamers. Games like Tecmo Super Bowl, Blades of Steel, and Baseball Stars. For many, at the very top of that list is Punch-Out (originally Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out). Adapted from a popular arcade game of the same name, Punch-Out was one of the easiest games to pick up and play for the NES, but one that proved extremely challenging as the game progressed. The Punch-Out brand is one that endures to this day, with numerous follow-ups for many of Nintendo’s consoles, as well as re-releases on their eShop.
Today I take a look at Punch-Out for my latest “Figures Wanted” article. For newer readers, in “Figures Wanted”, I take a look back at popular entertainment franchises that are desperately in need of modern collectibles. In previous articles, I have covered the 1995 film Mortal Kombat, the classic video game franchise Double Dragon, the iconic NES game Battletoads (which are tentatively set to receive a figure line), and John Carpenter’s classic 1982 film; The Thing.
In the article, I’ll give an overview of the games history, any previous collectibles, and who can and should produce toys based on Punch-Out.
Punch-Out began its life in the arcade world. Originally released in late 1983 in Japan, Punch-Out was an eye catching cabinet. The game utilized a vertical two monitor display. The use of two screens was mainly due to Nintendo purchasing a large number of monitors in the wake of Donkey Kong’s arcade success. With a glut of screens, and seemingly nowhere to use them, designer Genyo Takeda was tasked with making a game that could use two screens. The top monitor kept track of the score, the current round, time remaining, and the health of the player and the opponent. The main monitor is where the action took place. You controlled a large transparent wireframe boxer that faced off against numerous colorful characters from around the world. The game features a standard joystick, a left punch button, a right punch button, and a knockout button that delivered a powerful hook or uppercut that could be unleashed when a power meter was filled. The game was an immediate success, and quickly spawned a sequel in Super Punch-Out that featured new characters.
While the arcade game was successful, the true popularity of Punch-Out comes from its release on Nintendo’s 8-Bit home console; the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Originally, the game was simply going to be known as Punch-Out. However, former Nintendo president Minoru Arakawa attended a boxing match that featured Mike Tyson (prior to his World Championship run). Arakawa was so impressed with his power that he signed Tyson to a 3-year deal allowing them to use his name and likeness in the home port of Punch-Out. Thus, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out was born! The home console port retained much of what made the original arcade game so popular. It featured an underdog fighter against a series of cartoonish opponents. The controls used separate left and right punch buttons, as well as a special super punch. However, concessions needed to be made for the game to run on a home console that was far less powerful than the arcade board.
In the home port, the graphical details was scaled down, and the digitized speech was removed. However, it was the best a home boxing game had ever looked, with easily recognizable characters, each with their own style and personality. The player controlled unnamed fighter was replaced with Little Mac, a small scale character that allowed the larger opponents to really shine on your TV. A simple story was added as well, positioning Little Mac as an up and coming boxer that was being trained by a former pro boxer. Nintendo’s own Mario even makes a guest appearance as the referee. In the arcade version, attacks were more random, and harder to repel as Nintendo was hoping kids would dump quarter after quarter to beat each opponent. In the home version, the randomized attacks of the fighters were replaced with a pattern fighting style. This allowed players to memorize the attacks to more easily defeat their opponents, making multiple playthroughs more rewarding. The gameplay was simple, but very addictive. Your journey through the boxing world culminates with a match against Mike Tyson, who is far stronger and faster than any other opponent in the game. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out was a huge success for Nintendo, and is considered one of the best games for the NES, if not of all-time. In 1990, the license to use Tyson’s likeness expired, and the game was re-released simply as Punch-Out. The fight with Mike Tyson was replaced with a match against Mr. Dream.
An official sequel was in development for the NES, starring both Mike Tyson and his manager Don King, and was to be called Mike Tyson’s Intergalactic Power Punch. Instead of controlling Little Mac, you would become Tyson, and take the fight to the far reaches of space, as you fought against a series of alien boxers. However, issues arose during development after Tyson was arrested for (and ultimately convicted of) rape. Tyson’s character was changed to a fictional one, and all references to Tyson were removed. However, Nintendo was unsatisfied with the games progress, and ultimately decided against publishing it. It was eventually released by ASC Games as Power Punch II. The game was a forgettable experience, better served as a piece of classic game trivia. A prototype for the original game was leaked a few years ago.
Nintendo would officially bring Punch-Out back for their immensely popular Super Nintendo Entertainment System (aka the SNES). Super Punch-Out allowed Nintendo to more accurately recreate the original arcade games for home consoles. Little Mac was replaced with a transparent boxer, much like the arcade version. The audio and visual presentations received major upgrades, and the game had a mix of new and returning opponents. The gameplay was, once again, simple and addictive, leading to another successful and beloved release. The last new game in the series was Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Wii. Little Mac makes his triumphant return here, with the game getting a 3D makeover, and motion controlled fighting (with standard controls optionally available). The game was another critical and commercial hit for Nintendo.
Most of these games (sans the “Mike Tyson” version) are available via Nntendo’s eShop for play on various Nintendo systems.
For the most part, I will be focusing on Punch-Out for the NES. It’s easily the most popular iteration of the game, and many of those characters have appeared in multiple Punch-Out games, while Little Mac has made the jump to other franchises as well. The characters vary in age, race, and weight class, making for a potentially great selection of figures.
Little Mac and Doc
The player controlled character known as Little Mac would be an ideal first release in any line of Punch-Out toys or collectibles. His small stature and young age made him an underdog until you picked up the controller. If a toy company were to take a crack at the license, and were to go for a 6″ scale for the line, then Little Mac would be the smallest figure in the line by far. According to the original game, Little Mac was 17 years old, and stood just 4’8″ tall. So any 6″ scale figure would stand under 5″ tall.
Possible variants would include his training outfit, and possible color variations based on in-game situations, such as when Mac is out of stamina. Additionally, fans would want to have enough articulation to pull off any in-game poses, such as a victory pose and his jumping uppercut. Any action figure for Little Mac could include a few swap out portraits, such as his smiling portrait from the profile screen, and a serious portrait for fight poses. With Mac being a smaller character, it wouldn’t be a leap to see a possible 2-pack with his trainer; Doc Lois.
One of the best parts of Punch-Out is the progression through different boxing circuits, with each new circuit bringing in larger and stronger fighters. The circuits and fighters break down as follows:
- Glass Joe
- Von Kaiser
- Piston Honda
- Don Flamenco
- King Hippo
- Great Tiger
- Bald Bull
- Piston Honda
- Soda Popinski
- Bald Bull
- Don Flamenco
- Mr. Sandman
- Super Macho Man
For an action figure company, the great thing is a lot of these characters would be able to share parts with each other. In the game, some characters shared base models with each other, allowing the game designers to focus on their personalities, portraits, and fighting pattern. Thinner characters like Glass Joe, Don Flamenco, and great Tiger could all easily share the same body sculpts, swapping out smaller pieces and portraits to create unique figures. The same could easily happen with larger characters such as Bald Bull and Piston Honda, who again shared designs. This would allow a toy company to spread the cost of development across multiple releases. Only a few of the characters, such as King Hippo, would require truly unique molds that share little with the others. Again, if 6″ scale is the ideal size for the figures, then it would allow for a nice variety of figure sizes. While Little Mac would be fairly small, characters like Super Macho Man and Soda Popinski would be huge, standing nearly 7″ tall.
Characters would ideally include some swap out portraits to add some value to the release. With a boxing game, there’s not much need for other accessories. Boxing/Wrestling rings are abundantly available, so properly displaying the figures wouldn’t be a problem. By eliminating the need for additional parts and accessories, it would allow a potential toy company to really focus on the sculpt and articulation.
To Tyson Or Not To Tyson…That Is The Question
For fans who grew up with the NES, THE version is Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Tyson was a larger than life fighter, whose real life knockout punches were talked about by every kid. So when the game came out, and the code to immediately fight Tyson was unveiled, it became a huge bit of bragging rights for budding gamers who could last beyond a few seconds against him. If you happened to be able to beat Tyson, or knew someone who did, then they just had to show off their NES boxing skills to their friends. When the game was rebranded as just Punch-Out, and Mike Tyson was removed from the game, it was later in the NES life cycle, and it never held the same reverence as the original.
Making a toy line “Mike Tyson’s” Punch-Out does present its own challenges. It adds an extra layer to any licensing discussion, as multiple parties would need to agree on his inclusion. You would need the toy company to want to include Tyson, Nintendo to agree with his inclusion, and for Mike Tyson to agree to a licensing deal. Potentially, that becomes very expensive, and makes it a little harder for the line to pull a profit, as neither a Nintendo license or a Mike Tyson license is likely to be on the cheaper side. You then run into the issue of Tyson’s past, and whether that is something worth taking on. Over the last few years, a few toy companies have brought Mike Tyson figures to the hands of collectors. Those have included Storm Collectibles and Big Bang Pow.
Ultimately, if any company were to tackle Punch-Out, I believe it would be without the Mike Tyson branding. I have a feeling getting Nintendo on board, and the cost of multiple licensing would be too great, and make any venture less worthwhile.
In the 80’s, there were a few toys based on Punch-Out, but nothing that has held up over the years. In 1988, Hasbro introduced the Nintendo Trophy Figure collection. These were small static figures on a plain display base, each with a “score card” on them to record your high score. The covered a few Nintendo properties, such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Punch-Out. Each Punch-Out Trophy Figure featured Little Mac taking on one of the games opponents in an action pose. The quality, by today’s standards, is pretty low. The figures lacked much detail, and the paint was sloppy. However, the Punch-Out Trophy Figures were a bit harder to find, and a few of those sell in the hundred-dollar range.
A company called Applause, in 1989, put out a few 3″ tall mini-figurines of their popular properties. Most of the figurines were based on Mario. However, there was a single figurine of Link from the Legend of Zelda, and two figures based on Punch-Out. Those included Little Mac, and King Hippo. They were, again, static figures with no articulation. However, they were nicely detailed for the small size, with decent paint. these mini figures are pretty rare these days, and easily sell for $100 for a sealed pair.
Finally, in 2014, Nintendo released Little Mac as a small amiibo figure. For the few unfamiliar with amiibo, these are small collectible figures that unlock in-game content when placed on a Nintendo device playing a compatible game. The Little Mac amiibo is based on his appearance in Super Smash Bros., and is compatible with a few games on the 3DS, Wii U, and Switch consoles.
About The License
Unlike some of the other properties I’ve talked about in past articles, there are no real complications here. Punch-Out is owned exclusively and wholly by Nintendo. The only real issue at play is Nintendo’s seeming unwillingness to license out solely classic properties for merchandise. Most of the modern toys featuring Nintendo characters are based on either recent titles, or are “evergreen” versions that can fit in with modern iterations.
Who Could Handle The License
There have been no shortage of companies working on Nintendo properties over the past decade or so. Companies such as JAKKS Pacific, Medicom, Tamashii Nations, First 4 Figures, LEGO, Good Smile Company, and Dark Horse Comics have all released some form of Nintendo collectibles over the last 5 or so years. And honestly, just about any one of those would likely put out fantastic Punch-Out items. But I’m going to focus on just a few companies I think would be really ideal for this type of license.
I’ve known that NECA has wanted to do a Punch-Out line for ages. NECA’s own Randy Falk has mentioned a few times that it’s his dream license to work on, and he would specifically want to work on Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. He’s even approached Nintendo on the subject, but they weren’t interested. NECA would certainly be a really good choice. They’ve done a number of classic game appearance figures from the NES era, such as Contra, Friday the 13th, Batman, Godzilla, and more. I could easily see each Punch-Out figure in a flapped window box featuring different covers and artwork from the NES Punch-Out games. At 7″ scale, they would have plenty of detail and solid articulation. I imagine they would feature cel-shaded paint jobs, with maybe a few getting second releases with more traditional paint decos.
Another company that could tackle Punch-Out, but in a very different way, is Storm Collectibles. They’ve made a name for themselves producing excellent, highly detailed, action figures based on popular fighting games. Unlike Jakks Pacific, their take would likely be a bit more realistic (well as realistic as they make them), with a lot of articulation, and usually a lot of swap out pieces. The figures would, no doubt, look phenomenal. However, Storm is known for going long periods between releases, some times a year plus. And a license like Punch-Out would best work as waves of figures.
The most obvious choice, in my eyes, would be JAKKS Pacific. They currently produce a number of Nintendo-themed toys in different scales and styles, and have been handling the license incredibly well. Their popular 4″ scale action figure line is a perfect mass market take on a lot of Nintendo characters. While they mainly focus on Super Mario figures, they’ve previously released figures from franchises such as Metroid, Starfox, and The Legend of Zelda. The figures usually include a few accessories, and a decent amount of articulation. They’re fun, affordable figures that do well with casual and longtime fans. I could absolutely see Jakks Pacific handle Punch-Out with the same quality. They have nailed the cartoon style that Nintendo is known for, and it isn’t a stretch to imagine how well they would handle characters like Little Mac, Bald Bull, and Glass Joe. Another major plus for Jakks, is they also produce 2.5″ tall (mostly) static figures, perfect for having the characters in action poses with a scaled boxing ring playset that you can place your other 2.5″ characters around as an audience. And let’s not forget their small 8-bit figures (example) that take the pixelated sprites of NES characters and bring them into 3D. Above all, their products are affordable and look great, and that’s all we really want.
Punch-Out is one of those timeless games, that could easily find an audience with the right team behind it. There are so many great character designs from the game, and each one would feel right at home as an action figure. It all comes down to Nintendo, and some company finally convincing them that it’s a highly sought after license, and both kids and adults would support it. It doesn’t hurt that so many toy and collectible companies could fit Punch-Out figures into their current styles. Perhaps one day.
I’ve curated a number of images from Punch-Out. Check those out below. The collectible images came from a number of eBay Auctions.