When you think about realistic fighting games you don't think about Punch-Out!!. You think about Fight Night or maybe EA Sports UFC.
But Punch Out!! actually has more in common with 'real' fighting than you might think.
God-tier striking analyst Jack Slack posted an interesting article today. Jack Slack is a peerless writer that focuses specifically on fight strategy and analysis. He tends to write about MMA/UFC fighters and he is so on the ball it is unbelievable — to the point where fighters will often approach him for help with strategy or read his articles in an attempt to improve.
In short: he's a big deal.
His article on Punch-Out!! is predictably awesome. Punch-Out!! he says — quite accurately — is seen as more of a puzzle/rhythm game, but the reality is it has an incredible amount in common with real fighting.
The first lesson obvious to anyone playing Punch Out!! is that most opponents have some form of telegraph on their punches. A wind up, a crouch, or something else entirely to let you know that the punch is coming. The entire game, after Glass Joe at least, is built around evading punches and countering, so learning each character's tells is vital to success.
In some cases they are hilariously obvious. Terrible Japanese stereotype, Piston Honda, with his karate straight punches, wiggles his eyebrows rapidly before punching. In a rematch later in the game, he does the same thing but throws multiple punches for every eyebrow wiggle. Obviously an unrealistic tell, but the number of professional fighters whose eyes widen just before they punch is astonishingly high.
Now tells in the real world tend to be less obvious. The eyeball widening is pretty rare at the high levels of combat sports, but more common is a halt immediately before attacking. A guy will bounce around, loose and smooth, then suddenly stop stiff for a split second before he strikes. The most painfully obvious tell I've seen in recent years is UFC fighter, Leandro Silva, showing his mouthpiece before he punches.
Jack Slack focuses on a number of other similarities — like the way Punch-Out!! uses counter striking and lead striking to bait and switch fighters with different styles. It's super intelligent stuff. The reality is that Punch-Out!! is actually a rhythm/puzzle game, but so is the art of high level striking.