Boxing: the sweet science. Well, as sweet as a science dedicated to causing temporary unconsciousness in a fellow human by using your fists can be. Don't get me wrong, though: I am a boxing fan, which is why I'm going to take you back into the mists of time with Visco's 1990 squared-circle-'em-up Great Boxing - Rush Up! for the NES.
I've gotta say, with a title like that this game is off to a very good start. It fits in nicely with the vainglorious boasting of most professional boxers, that's for sure. Before you've even opened the box, the game is telling you straight out that this is great boxing: none of that rubbish stuff you get whenever Audley Harrison fights, just pure meaty chunks of pugilistic action. It was rather depressingly renamed World Champ for the markets outside Japan.
A shocking lack of effort, especially because it doesn't actually mention to which sport "World Champ" refers. It could be "World Champ" of nailing your eyelids to the wall (sadly yet to be recognised as an Olympic event) for all you know. Okay, so I'm exaggerating - the boxart does quite clearly feature two large men punching each other, and the title screen goes some way to redeeming the drabness of the World Champ title by including the tagline "Super Boxing Great Fight" which is a nice, solid bit of Engrish to start the day off right. Even so, I'll be sticking with the Japanese version for one main reason that will become apparent later.
So, once you've started the game, you can choose between the various game modes: there's a two-player vs mode, a tournament mode where up to eight players can join in, and the career mode, which makes up the meat of the game. The career mode screen is pictured above. That's you on the left, trying to looking tough despite your receding hairline and bizarrely-shaped mouth. Look at it, squashed up there so close to his nose that he could lick his own brain: I'm not sure if he's supposed to have very large lips or a very small goatee. My brain can't quite seen to latch on to one interpretation or the other, like I'm halfway through a particularly difficult Magic Eye picture.
As you can see, the top-right of the screen is taken up with the training. Yes, unlike Punch-Out!! and pretty much every boxing game of this time, you can train your little fighter up until his style is impetuous and his defences impregnable. Simply pick the attribute you want to increase, press start and your sparring session begins.
The training consists of a fight between you and the lowest-ranked member of your current weight division. The sparring sessions work in exactly the same way as an actual fight, except your opponent is a much more willing sandbag than usual.
With the obvious limitations of the NES pad, the controls are very simple. You get one button to float like a butterfly and the other to sting like a bee, and the control pad moves you around the ring. If you press the dodge button just as your opponent throws a punch, you'll (hopefully) either block it or weave out of the way. Pressing the other button throws a punch, the type of which can be modified by holding the D-pad: up for uppercuts, down for body blows and left or right for straights.
The gameplay, it has to be said, is very basic. You have to hit your opponent and then mash attack, hoping your combo holds them in place long enough for you to pummel their face in, making it in essence an 8-bit version of Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots. I find it helps if I pretend that every time I press punch, a strong electrical current is fed into Piers Morgan's body via a randomly-selected orifice. It really is amazing what a bit of positive thinking can do to relieve thumb fatigue. While it might sound basic to the point of boredom, the gameplay offers more entertainment than you might think, just like, well, Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots. Most of the challenge comes from trying to move your boxer into the right position and judging when your combo is going to stop so you can try and get out of the way. The rest of the challenge comes from summoning the patience to accomplish the roughly four thousand hours of training required to get your boxer's stats high enough to take on some actual fighters.
Once you're sufficiently bored of the training, it's time for the big fight. Your first opponent is J Mollino, a pasty, sunken-eyed journeyman. He at least has a mouth positioned roughly where a human mouth should be, but hopefully you're going to be changing that. Before the fight, and between each round, GBRU lets you choose which punches you want to make more powerful by assigning you stat points for "punch" to them.
Personally, I always put it all into straight and then back away slowly whenever I get a combo going. It's not cowardice, it's called outboxing. The fighters also have two bars measuring their progress in the fight: one is a standard stamina bar that decreases as you throw punches and have your brain rattled against the inside of your skull by your opponent's attacks, and the other is a "spirit" bar that fills up when you successfully land punches. On the spirit bar is full the next hit will knock your opponent down, so try and keep those combos going and then put them on the canvas.
With his quiff and white t-shirt, the referee looks more like a cast member from Grease than someone officiating at a sporting event. I like the detail in fallen boxer's face, where in a handful of pixels they have really captured the anguished expression of a man with three broken ribs and a detached retina trying to stand up. Nice work there, Visco.
Eventually, you'll win the fight and your little proto-champion will no doubt be recording an interview at ringside and thanking Jesus for giving him the strength to beat another man into a coma like boxers so often do. You get a few extra stat points, move up a place in the rankings... and that's really all there is to it. Like real boxing, it's a relentless struggle to stay at peak physical fitness whilst beating everyone ahead of you in the rankings. Beat the five fighters in each class to move up to the next weight division until you've completed a Manny Pacaquiao-esque domination of the boxing world.
But who are the men standing in the way of your glory? Well, here's the reason I decided to stick with the Japanese version of GBRU, rather than playing World Champ. In World Champ, the boxers all have vaguely humourous names like Action Jim, Money Man and Jumbo Joe.
Despite his name, Jumbo Joe is the same size as all the other boxers. You lied to me, Jumbo Joe. How will I ever learn to trust again? However, things are a little different in GBRU. Let's take a look at some of your opponents from the Japanese version, shall we?
Well well, who do we have here? Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman? Almost certainly, although Hearns and Foreman are looking a little... pale, and by pale I mean caucasian. Maybe that's actually Tommy Hearns' long-lost German relative Tomas Hearnz. As ever, the Japanese aren't afraid to include thinly-veiled duplicates of actual people in their videogames, and they're much more interesting than the likes of Jumbo Joe. The higher up the weight classes you go, the more famous the boxers become, until you're left with only one opponent, the champion of the heavyweight division. Care to take a guess who it might be? Bearing in mind that this is a boxing game from 1990, there's really only one candidate.
Yes of course, it's Mike Tyson, or possible his alternate-universe double Mark Tysan. In World Champ he's rather boringly called Hard Head.
While a hard head is undoubtably a useful attribute for a boxer to have, it's not as interesting as fighting Iron Mike, so GBRU wins out over its American counterpart. Iron Mike has maximum stats in all departments, but of course he still hits harder than you even if you also have maximum stats. If you have put in the requisite grind to reach 99 in all stats, the fight isn't all that tough as long as you manage to stay away from Tyson. A few combos and he'll go down.
Yeah, how d'ya like that! Not so tough now, huh? Wait, what are you doing with your face?
Oh I see, you're practising the great British tradition of gurning, as demonstrated here by a man old enough to have seen Mozart live in concert:
Terrifying, but it doesn't help him any and the World Championship belt is yours. Hoorah! You win a trophy and a pair of oversized novelty chess pieces.
After that, you get a couple of screens of congratulatory text telling you that your sublime skill in punching guys in the head has left the world of boxing changed forever. Aww. Sadly, the ending text is all in perfectly comprehensible English with nary a mistranslated sentence to been seen, robbing me of a heaping bowlful of Engrish and leaving me to wonder what the point of playing this game for so long was. Ho hum. At least it's nice to see that the programmers were fans of '80s glam-metal. How do I know? Because there are some rather odd inclusions in the "special thanks" section of the credits.
Alice Cooper and members of Hanoi Rocks and Motley Crue get a namecheck, which is sort of sweet. I can just imagine the developers beavering away somewhere in an office in Japan, programming a fake Mike Tyson while softly banging their heads or air-drumming along to "Poison" or "Kickstart my Heart". It's a nice thought.
And there you have Great Boxing Rush Up. All things considered, it's not a bad little boxing game provided you have the patience to train your boxer plenty. It's never going to take Punch-Out!!s belt as the best NES boxing game, but it's definitely a contender. Okay, I'm going to stop with the boxing analogies now. Plus, it's got a fake Mike Tyson in it, and what more could you ask for than that? I think I might create a Wikipedia page: unlicensed Mike Tyson likenesses in videogames. I suspect it would be longer than you'd think.
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