In 1987, the world was Mike Tyson's oyster. He was boxing's world heavyweight champion, he was on the verge of marrying Robin Givens from TV's Head of the Class, and he had his own video game in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Who would have guessed that just a few years later, he'd lose his title to Buster Douglas, get bitterly divorced, find himself in mounting legal trouble, have his business relationship with Nintendo come to an abrupt end, and, in the ultimate indignity, find himself replaced in Punch-Out!! by some goofy George Reeves-looking palette swap of his former self? Yes, in 1990, Punch-Out!! was forever altered--Mike Tyson was out and Mr. Dream was in. And you know what? It didn't make much of a difference. The game was still Punch-Out!! through and through, and Mr. Dream still fought like Mike Tyson. Now the Mr. Dream version of Punch-Out!! is available for the Wii Virtual Console for 500 points ($5), and unless you're dead set on playing only Mike Tyson-brand Punch-Out!!, this is easily one of the best ways to spend $5 on the VC.
For the uninitiated, Punch-Out!! is a boxing game chock-full of kooky characters, ranging from the lowly Glass Joe (an aging Frenchman with a 1-99 record and a dislike for getting hit in the face) to the iconic Bald Bull (a hulking, chrome-domed Turk known for his infamous "bull charge" maneuver). You, the pint-sized Little Mac, work your way through a variety of boxing circuits, collecting championships and eventually earning yourself a title shot against the fabled (and extremely tough) Mr. Dream.
Each fighter has unique punches and special moves, as well as unique weaknesses that can be exploited. Who can forget the wide-open mouth of King Hippo or the timing of the punch needed to stop Bald Bull's bull charge dead in its tracks? Though several of the boxers animate similar to others and even use a few of the same punches, the timing is never quite the same on each, so it behooves you to learn each boxer's individual timing and tricks to be successful.
Of course, beyond getting down the twitch-action timing of different boxers and beating them up with high or low punches (with the occasional special uppercut thrown in), there isn't much to the game. It's a very simplistic boxing game that leans more on its crazy characters than on anything resembling real boxing. But in a sense, that works to the game's favor now. The personalities of the boxers are just as memorable as they were 20 years ago, the cartoony graphics are still pleasant to look at in spite of their extreme age, the tunes are as catchy as ever, and the game is still fun, despite the simplicity of the action. You can beat the game in an hour if you're wicked good at it, but you'll be happy to spend that hour time and time again.
Just make sure you're playing on something other than an HDTV, or at least be prepared to readjust the timing you remember from your childhood. There's nothing wrong with the emulation of Punch-Out!! on the VC (even the old password system still works), but if you're playing the game on an HDTV, you may find just a hint of lag between the controller and the onscreen action that doesn't exist if you play on an SDTV. It's not too noticeable early on, but as you start to progress to the faster and tougher boxers in the game, it becomes apparent that something is slightly off. You can adjust to it, but it's an irritation all the same. Also, the game is best played with a Classic Controller, simply because the Wii Remote's plus and minus buttons aren't comfortable substitutes for the start and select buttons, and trying to reach for that plus button to execute an uppercut is a bit vexing.
Whether it's Mike Tyson or Mr. Dream, the story remains the same. Punch-Out!! is one of the greatest games of the NES generation, and while it certainly shows a bit of its age with this Virtual Console release, none of what made the game fun or unique has been lost with time. If you remember the game from your younger days, you probably ran off to go download this the moment King Hippo got name-dropped. If you never had the chance to experience Punch-Out!! back in the day, there's no time like the present.