Punching someone while getting hit yourself is quite the accomplishment.
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
RELEASE DATE: 1984 (SG-1000/Arcade); 1985 (MyCard)
There are no prize-fighters in Champion Boxing – no Jake LaMotta, Rocky Balboa, or Little Mac. You’re a no-name boxer from a (presumably) dead-end town fighting an opponent who’s just as poor and hungry as you. You have three attacks to your name: jab, straight, and upper. Jabs knock your opponent off balance, straights are punches with a kick, and uppers derail teeth, if you can land ’em. Whittle your opponent’s life bar down to nubbins before he knows what hit ‘im, but don’t let him do the same to you. This latter point is imperative because you don’t have a very good hold on defending yourself. If your opponent gets into a swingin’ groove, he could pummel half your life before you’re able to strike back. Usually, it takes a couple tries to knock him completely out of commission. There are three rounds for you to take him out. I’ve never seen a match go into overtime – one of you will be pulp before the bell rings at the end of the third.
Oh! Right in the kiwis!
Knock out your opponent and Champion Boxing rolls back to the start screen. Yes, one fight and the game decides you’ve had enough. There are five levels of difficulty to choose from, but every level has the same opponent, just slightly quicker and cheaper. Whether you win or lose, a match will be completed within a few minutes because each of the three rounds only lasts for ninety seconds, then it’s back to the start screen. After you’ve played a handful of matches at various difficulties, you’ve boxed all there is to box. Whatever appeal Champion Boxing had when you fought your first match will be quenched by mindless repetition.
Don’t cross a Muppet…
Champion Boxing wasn’t the only boxing game to emerge in 1984. Punch-Out!! by Nintendo made its arcade debut in 1984, as well. The two games couldn’t be any more different: whereas Champion Boxing tried to simulate the intricacies of a real boxing match, Punch-Out!! focused more on timing and rhythm. Opponents in Punch-Out!! always gave visual cues before they were about to strike. The player then memorized the cues and attacked accordingly. Punch-Out!! also had six opponents one could fight against, made use of two monitors that displayed stats on top and action on the bottom, and had absolutely beautiful graphics. Champion Boxing is paltry in comparison.
Perhaps it seems unfair to compare a cutting-edge arcade game to an SG-1000 title, but consider that Sega released Champion Boxing into the arcade in 1984 after releasing it for the SG-1000 (were they really that proud of the game?). The difference in versions? Very little. In the arcade, if you defeat your opponent, the difficulty levels naturally progress upward. Otherwise, graphics, sound, and gameplay are completely the same between versions. If Champion Boxing seemed slight on the SG-1000, imagine how it looked in the arcades next to Punch-Out!! That’s like standing Glass Joe up against Mike Tyson and calling them both boxers: technically true, but still laughable.
The Muppets took Manhattan, I think they can handle a boxing ring.
No, Champion Boxing wasn’t the epitome of virtual pugilism when it was released in 1984, but the game did usher in one of Sega’s future stars. Yu Suzuki – he of Virtua Fighter, Outrun, After Burner, and Shenmue fame – was hired as a programmer at Sega in 1983, and Champion Boxing was his first coding project. I’d like to say there are glimpses of Suzuki’s future greatness on display here, but besides the occasional graphical details (the bobbing faces in the crowd! Pengo holding the K.O. sign!), Champion Boxing plays like a slightly more advanced Urban Champion. You might not be fighting for street glory, but the lack of options and the repetitive jab-punch-jab gameplay is largely the same.