The Sega Genesis. One of my all-time favorite systems and the first one I ever played. When everyone else was playing Mario, I was kicking back with good ol’ Sonic. And when everyone was playing Donkey Kong, I had Vector Man. You had Contra? Well, I had Gunstar Heroes. Most of the time, I wasn’t exactly on the winning side. Yet, as years go by, one genre of games that I always see not getting much of an update or even a mention is boxing games. Sure, there’s Fight Night, and that’s a great series. I suppose as a boxing fan, I have to concede that the glory days of boxing are over and it’s time to admit that MMA has won. Long gone are the days of Punch Out… and… oh wait, that seems to be the only boxing game that anyone remembers.
But wait, Jon, you mean there was another boxing game other than Punch-Out!? A game that was just as good, but completely overlooked? Why yes, you’re right, there was a game just like that. Oh, I think I remember it now! Is it this?
No. No no no no. Not Super Punch Out. It’s not a Nintendo game. It’s a game not many people have heard of, but I can attest that it’s one of the best sports games ever. And the name of this game is Greatest Heavyweights.
Greatest Heavyweights, unlike Punch Out, is shot from a side view. However, on the flipside, you can throw different punches much like in Punch Out. Hook, jab, uppercut, with both your left and right hands, able to hit the head or the body. Combinations are the key, but a general rule of thumb is that a bigger boxer usually targets the head, and a smaller boxer targets the body. Much to it’s name, you can select from eight different historical heavyweights, plus an additional thirty fictional fighters, and any boxers you make for career mode. Nonetheless, the historical boxers are by far the best boxers in the game and arguably the draw for anyone wanting to play this.
First off, all the historical boxers have “max attributes”. The game shows this, but it’s not as cut and dry as it sounds. If you pick Joe Louis, you aren’t going to be darting around the ring like you were Muhammad Ali. If you don’t know, Joe Louis had a reputation for being flat footed, so for him to have maximum speed would have been way unrealistic. I like the fact that it is realistic, though. But if you pick a fictional boxer, unless it’s your guy from career mode, chances are you’re not going to win an exhibition fight against a historical one. Even so, the idea of actually doing a “Super Fight” scenario is awesome. Ali vs Louis, Holmes vs Frazier, Marciano vs Patterson. All of those are possible with Greatest Heavyweights.
The career mode is another big time sink altogether. You start from the bottom (lol Drake reference), and work your way up. You can customize your boxer any way you like, from how he looks to his beginning attributes, to how tall he is. I like to think that the height of your boxer relays the difficulty of your that particular career. If you pick the tallest guy, it’s easy because with your gigantic reach you just counter-punch all day without too much difficulty. If you pick the average build, that’s the equivalent of “normal” difficulty. You’re a little faster than the giant, but at the cost of some reach. Being the smallest guy is like hard mode. You’re pretty fast, but you have a very low reach, and bigger guys will just nail you before you can get in close. Once you get good at the game though, you’ll find ways around your height handicap. After every match, win or lose, you can pick at least two items to strengthen yourself (three items if you won). You have power, for how much damage you do, speed, for how fast you move, and stamina, for how well you take hits. Once you get to Mike Dixon (rumor has it that he’s Mike Tyson, but due to Tyson’s agreement with Nintendo for Punch-Out, his name couldn’t be used. Either way, he fights exactly like Tyson would in the game with practically the same build), and win, you get into the challenger matches, where you fight each historical boxer until you beat them all, and with that, the game. These guys are tough, and the programmers did an excellent job programming how each boxer actually fought into their AI. Ali uses his speed and throws lots of jabs, trying to outlast you while he taunts you. Rocky Marciano shows no fear and constantly moves towards you, throwing powerful punches and aiming for a knockout. But by far the hardest guy in the game is Larry Holmes.
Larry is the biggest heavyweight in the game, and he has the longest reach. He hits very hard, and rather than be a guy who tries to end the fight quickly, he likes to sit and defend and take his time just whittling away at your health. It’s not like Punch Out where Mike Tyson kicks your ass in forty seconds, you could be going at Holmes for like a half hour and lose. I was replaying this the other day and even though I didn’t lose to him, my hands hurt like a bitch because of the how many rounds it went to. Personally when I play with a historical boxer, I like to play with Jack Dempsey. Ali is too much finesse, Louis is extremely slow, Holmes is too easy. Good ol’ Jack is like the perfect person to use. Plus, there’s always some street cred that you’re technically picking the oldest boxer from the roster to duke it out.
In terms of the true boxing experience, I feel that Greatest Heavyweights captures the sport better than Punch Out. You don’t get to customize Little Mac, and the fight is always the same. You dodge moves, and then punch the guy. Rinse, repeat, until you win. GH lets you make your own boxer, the AI is more accurate, it just feels like a more complete boxing experience. Punch Out is more arcade-y, and I guess that makes sense considering it was an arcade game, but it not an accurate portrayal of the sport itself. It’s like playing NFL Blitz… and then going and playing ESPN 2k. NFL Blitz might be more fun, but it’s not accurate. In the end though, both games are good. I just feel like Punch Out gets a lot of praise while almost no one mentions Greatest Heavyweights. Next time you’re in a retro game store or something similar, and you run across it, you should give it a shot. Trust me, if you’re even the slightest bit intrigued, you’ll have a blast. At the very least, you can always make an alien boxer and take over the world.
Final Rating: 8/10
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