Chances are that if you owned a Nintendo, at some point you played Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!. It was a groundbreaking title, where you played a 4'8'' tall, teenage boxing prodigy who was appropriately named "Little Mac." Along with his trainer, Doc Louis, Mac went on to spar against a series of quirky pugilists in his quest to face off against the world heavyweight champion: Mike Tyson himself. It was Rocky in 8-bits, the consummate underdog story.
Its cartoonish presentation and colorful characters appealed to gamers of all stripes, and made Punch-Out far more successful than most sports games of its era. Given its amazing sales figures, Nintendo saw real promise in the blossoming Punch-Out brand and quickly green-lit a sequel: Mike Tyson’s Intergalactic Power Punch.
The plan was to make a sequel that immediately followed the events of Punch-Out!! Players would control a disgraced Mike Tyson, seeking to redeem himself in the wake of losing his title to a diminutive 17 year old. However, having already bested every boxer on Earth (aside from the indomitable Little Mac) Iron Mike was at a loss as to who could possibly help him reclaim his title. So The Baddest Man on the Planet set his sights on the stars.
Kid Dynamite was then to grab his long-time manager, Don King, board his personal rocket ship and travel the universe to compete in the Intergalactic Boxing Federation. There they would hunt down the fiercest boxers in the universe, as part of Tyson's quest to face inhuman opponents who could match his own super-human strength.
And what a rogues' gallery it was! Monsters, mutants, cyborgs, and interstellar dwarves all stood in line to fight Earth's new contender. If you thought Little Mac flooring Bald Bull was impressive, Mike Tyson was tasked with toppling men who had tank treads for legs.
You can't make this stuff up. Both Tyson and King signed their names to this project. And once you get over the silliness of the setting, the game's narrative was actually pretty clever. By making Tyson the star of the sequel, it dramatically changed Punch-Out's narrative. Punch-Out 2 was to be no underdog story. It was all about a comeback that would have presumably set the stage for the greatest rematch in video-game history: Mike Tyson's inevitable return to Earth and second bout with Little Mac.
It would have been epic. But sadly, it never happened. In light of Mike Tyson's very real 1991 legal problems, Nintendo no longer felt that he was a suitable mascot for their products. As a result, Nintendo divorced themselves from Power Punch project, and proceeded to remove all mentions of Tyson from the existing Punch-Out series.
Now normally, this would have been the end of the story. However, Nintendo wasn't actually developing Power Punch. Unlike the original Punch-Out!!, creation of Mike Tyson’s Intergalactic Power Punch had been contracted to the Australian developer Beam Software. And, they were unwilling to throw in the towel.
With neither Nintendo's funding, the Punch-Out brand name, nor even rights to Tyson's likeness, Beam struggled to finish work on the sequel. Yet despite these major setbacks, American Softworks Corp agreed to produce the project. And in 1992, it was indeed released to the NES under the new title of Power Punch II. The "II" being a desperate attempt to still link it to the successful Punch-Out!! game which spawned it.
For obvious legal reasons, some changes needed to be made to the game. Most notably Mike Tyson was replaced by another, fictional boxer, who just happened to look exactly like Mike Tyson. This new protagonist was creatively named: Mark "Tough Guy" Tyler. Almost no effort was put into revising the existing graphical assets of this game, so it looks pretty much the way in which it was originally designed. One of the more glaring holdovers from the original game's design can be seen in Power Punch II's sole arena. Among its seats are three people that bear striking resemblances to Don King, Cus D'Amoto (Tyson's original trainer), and Robin Givens (Tyson’s ex-wife). It's hard to say whether these additions were intentionally left in, or if time restraints did not permit the studio to create a new look for the game. Either way, the finished product was less than stellar.
Compared to Punch-Out!!'s larger than life presentation, and phenomenal game play, Power Punch II is sloppy. Controls are unresponsive and enemies possess a great deal more mobility, making them infinitely more difficult than the previous game's opponents. But even worse, is the presentation. Power Punch doesn't look half as good as its predecessor, which sported some of the most iconic animations to ever grace the NES. On the whole, it's kinda' hard to blame Nintendo for pulling the plug on what was a clearly inferior sequel.
Still, despite its many flaws, Power Punch II remains a rare example of a nixed Nintendo project that managed to see the light of day. And, let's be honest: there is a real novelty to playing a game about Tyson boxing with aliens. Is it a great game? No. Not by a long shot. But in 2015, game play probably isn't why anyone would want to pick up this title. Power Punch II is a deliciously guilty pleasure for anyone who adores everything that was both terrible and unforgettable about the 80s. That kind of spectacle is hard to come by, and guaranteed to make a lasting impression on anyone who beholds it. And it is for precisely this reason that I love Power Punch II. Not as a game. Just for being.
But then, I also unironically recommend watching Jem and the Holograms for similar reasons. Point being: my tastes are questionable at best. So tell me, what do you think of Power Punch II? Were you lucky enough to play it, when it hit shelves in '92? Did you ever know its convoluted story of one game clawing its way out from the depths of development hell? How do you think it stacks up to the original Punch-Out!!? I'd love to hear any and all of you thoughts in the comments below.