Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Sweet Science (of Nintendo)

I've started sparring recently, and as you might imagine I'm sort of terrible at it. That's primarily because, although I've been learning how to properly punch and kick for the last two years, the actual dance of boxing is totally separate from drills and forms training. It's completely exhilarating though, and spikes up along this raw dimension I sincerely forgot I had.

As I'm learning the basics of the sweet science...a retro-nerdy thought occurred to me: Punch Out was pretty right on.

Hear me out, because there are several aspects of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out that are brutally unrealistic to boxing, among them the idea that plumbers can be referees or that pink sweatsuits are acceptable workout attire. But dig all these ways that the boys at NES got it right:

1. It's all timing

Strength is sort of overrated. I've got a decent natural amount of it because of my size, for instance, but speed and finesse and timing are really the keys to the fortress. In Punch-Out, when you "stun" a guy with a hit, the gameplay subsequently emphasizes a rhythmic series of punches to maximize your attack strength. No rhythmic punching, less success

Also, in general, the game focuses less on wild punching right from the get go than does, say, Wii Boxing...and rather emphasizes watching, waiting, blocking and dodging in time.

2. And endurance

Little guys fight hard and sometimes even win, and it's mostly because of this. Strength can only take you so far, and in many situations will simply fail in the face of persistence/ belief in a just cause/ or just plain old heart.

Underestimate your opponent only at your peril, dude. Little Mac is scrappy. And he wants it bad...hence he's able to train harder and hold up longer.

3. And speed

Pretty obvious, but the big swinger knockout star punch that Little Mac puts all of his weight behind won't accomplish anything if Sandman sees it coming.

4. And patience (fighters usually have tells)

Like everything else in life, your first approach to a new situation should be to lay low and keep your mouth shut and observe what's going on. Though the fighter tells are obviously exaggerated in Punch-Out, it still makes for a fairly accurate representation of how fighters follow patterns and have weak spots or give consistent openings.

5. Judging the distance from your target is probably the most important aspect of a punch

Epitomized by Little Mac's series of fights with Bald Bull, Punch-Out is subtly communicating perhaps the most vital "technical" skill of boxing...which is the weird dance of distance. Couldn't possibly overestimate the importance of being the correct distance from your target-it's everything. Constantly staying in the "goldilocks zone" of perfect distance from your opponent (out of his reach, and then quickly stepping into the sweet spot to strike) is basically what boxers are trying to do the entire time they're fighting.