The Rise & Fall of Mike Tyson, Part I
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1987-1992

The Rise & Fall of Mike Tyson, Part I

Good: The original Punch-Out is a gaming classic
Bad: The decline of game quality mirrors the life of the man featured here
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POtitle   Love him or hate him, former professional boxer Mike Tyson is one of the most intense and enigmatic public figures in recent memory. In the 1980’s, Tyson began his career in boxing, quickly skyrocketing to the top of the sport, becoming the undisputed Heavyweight Champion through a whirlwind of spectacular bouts, most of which ended in a knockout in the early rounds. What’s even more impressive is the fact that he accomplished this before the age of 21. This all coincided with the resurgence of the console videogame market, spearheaded by Nintendo, with their release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. The fact that the two joined forces was perhaps inevitable, setting the stage for one of history’s most unforgettable console releases. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was released in 1987 for the NES, and has consistently been ranked high on various lists of ‘all time greatest’ video game lists. Tyson IRL As we all know too well, what goes up must come down. Beginning in 1990 with a knockout loss to Buster Douglas, Tyson’s life took a turn for the worst, and in some cases, the bizarre. Soon after, a rape conviction with prison time followed, along with a comeback of sorts that culminated in the man biting another boxer’s ear off in the middle of a fight, coupled with another stint in jail for road rage and numerous public meltdowns, the last of which included Tyson threatening to eat another boxer’s children prior to a fight. Oh, and don’t forget the facial tattoo. Finally, after being knocked out by Lennox Lewis in 2002, Tyson’s time in boxing was coming to an end. He retired soon after, and went on to an afterlife of sorts in reality television and movies. What’s particularly interesting is that Tyson’s life in video games mirrors his real life, and for being such a dominant force in his sport, his official video game appearances can be counted on one hand. So, head back to your corner, spit out your mouthpiece, and sit down and take a look at the Baddest Man on the Planet’s video game history.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (1987, Nintendo)

tryagaintyson

Widely regarded as one of the greatest NES games of all time, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! casts the player in the role of Little Mac, an underdog fighter trying to make his way to the top. The game began life as an arcade boxing simulation, seeing releases in both Japan and the United States. Prior to releasing the home console version,  Minoru Arakwa, who was the founder of Nintendo of America, attended a boxing match that featured Tyson. He was so impressed with Tyson’s performance that he acquired the boxer’s name and likeness for the home release. The rest was history. For the rest of the 1980’s, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was a must-have in any gamer’s home, with Tyson being perhaps an unintentional metaphor for Nintendo’s dominance of the home gaming market at that time. The game was a big part of Nintendo’s merchandising at the time, with hats, tshirts, posters, and even appearances in the Captian N cartoon.

popinski

The game itself hosted a colorful roster of opponents for the underdog Little Mac to contend with. All of the fighters have a different fighting style and mesh well with the look that Nintendo was going for, with a great deal of humor thrown in for good measure. I cannot stress how ‘above and beyond’ this game was, in terms of what we were used to when it came to home video games. It was nearly perfect. Waiting for you at the end was Mike Tyson himself, who was merciless. I have been playing this game since probably 1988 and I have never defeated him. For this reason, Mike Tyson has the distinction of being one of the toughest video game bosses of all time.

mr dream

In the summer of 1990 Nintendo re-released a version of the game, with Tyson removed from the game. This version, simply titled “Punch-Out!!” featured a different boxer named Mr. Dream. Many people think this was due to Tyson’s rape conviction, however that was not the case at all. Earlier the same year, Nintendo’s license to use Tyson’s likeness expired, and the company decided not to renew it in the wake of Tyson being defeated by Buster Douglas. This worked out for the company, seeing as how the rape conviction was just around the corner. As for the game itself, everything remained the same, save for the title fight and new box art. Mr. Dream was nothing more than a color swap with reworked facial features. This version saw limited release and is actually less common than the original version. In my opinion, the Mr. Dream version was flaccid in comparison to the original, and has no use other than to complete my collection, rather than replace the original that I grew up with.

Power Punch II (1992, American Softworks)

PP2 gameplay

Bear with me for a second. Imagine a game, in which Mike Tyson is beamed into outer space by an alien boxing federation, and is then required to engage in intergalactic pugilism with aliens from across the universe. Yes. That was the concept behind the unofficial sequel to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! The game was originally being developed by Beam Software under Nintendo’s supervision, however that whole rape conviction thing caused Nintendo to back out during development. This led to the game being finished without Nintendo’s consultation and ultimately was published by American Softworks in 1992. The original title was “Mike Tyson’s Intergalactic Power Punch,” which was later changed to simply “Power Punch II.” For reasons that were unclear, the “II” followed the game’s title, although there never was a previous Power Punch title. I would speculate that this was an attempt to lead consumers on to the fact that despite everything in the news, this was the sequel to Punch-Out!!

PowerPunch

In all honesty, when taking a look at this game, we are presented with a textbook example at some of the half-assed software that somehow made it into the NES library. When you play this game, it is quickly apparent that while the chassis of a good game is there, the rest of the vehicle is missing. You can tell that the more refined parts of the game were created while Nintendo was still involved. The dumb storyline I can deal with, where this game really suffers is in the execution of the gameplay. The controls are laggy, the fighters are poorly balanced, the backgrounds are pedestrian and one dimensional, and the music and sound effects rival that of the late Atari era. The attempts at recreating the original Punch-Out’s subtle humor falls flat, but at least you can see some sort of effort was expended in that area.

PP2 advert

Power Punch II Magazine Advertisement

What’s more galling is the fact that once Tyson was deemed no longer fit for the gaming industry, how little effort was placed into effectively removing Tyson from the game. Sure, they changed the name of the boxer to “Mark Tyler,” and tweaked the advertising and box art, but the character in the game is clearly Mike Tyson. Perhaps, in Mike’s case, that it ended well for him to not be directly associated with a game like this, which suffers with being nearly unplayable as well as saddled with an overall dumb concept. To be quite frank, it wouldn’t have been much of an addition to a career that was already spiraling out of control at this point in time.

Street Fighter II Controversy (1992)

balrog character select

This isn’t so much of a controversy as it was a curiosity. What you may not know that in the Japanese version of Street Fighter II, the boss character we know as Balrog was originally named M. Bison, who was the game’s final boss. This was due to the fact that the character was modeled after Tyson, even to the point where the character’s bio entailed him being a ‘disgraced boxer.’  When Capcom brought the game to the States, they ultimately decided to switch the bosses’ names around in order to avoid a possible lawsuit from Tyson, who was admittedly ‘sue-happy’ at the time. I would hesitate to even say the character was a thinly-veiled reference to Tyson, hell, early versions of Balrog look nearly exactly like the man. Later on in the series, however, Balrog’s character evolved from a Tyson parody into his own character, far distanced from the man he was originally intended to poke fun at.

balrog vs ken

So that’s about it for the first half of our look at the life and times of Mike Tyson in video gaming. When we look at these early examples of Tyson in gaming, one can only speculate at what other gems and duds we could have had featuring the boxer in other games we never got the chance to play.  In the second half of this two-part series, we’ll take a look at some later games that came along later that featured a post-prison Tyson, and evaluate accordingly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed back to play some more Punch-Out!!

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The Rise & Fall of Mike Tyson, Part I, 7.3 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
fflando
fflando


I am a full time Firefighter/EMT living in the United States. In my spare time, I split my time between modern games on my Xbox and the rich universe of the systems we all grew up with.

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