Video: The Minimum Punches To Beat NES Punch-Out!!

Please forgive the two exclamation points in the title. We writers are only given a limited number of exclamation points to use every month by the shadowy Punctuation Cabal, but Punch-Out!!’s title has two of them in it, so to properly stylize it I have to use two each time. Wasteful! Oops, there’s another one. I’m just going to save them from here on out. But anyway.

YouTuber Pap is a TAS speedrunner, meaning, he deals with absolutes. He knows the state of the machine, and isn’t limited by any puny human reaction times, but works by recording button sequences that can be played back infallibly. He asked a question: what’s the minimum number of punches needed to play through the main game of Punch-Out? The answer is 120, but since the game has significant randomness, it’s really unlikely.

He presents what is probably the definitive answer, but that’s not really the interesting thing about it. His video is a master class on the game’s state, how it determines knockdowns and knock-outs, and how it awards stars. Some interesting things revealed:

  1. If a fighter ever gets up on a count of 1, connecting with a single star punch can knock them back down immediately.
  2. Many star punches are awarded based on successful punches where the opponent is not stunned or knocked down. You get them on a cycle based on a count that differs with each fighter. Special timing doesn’t have anything to do with it; it’s if the hit was successful of not. Late punches after stunning give star punches because the opponent is no longer stunned, not because they’re late.
  3. On top of that, there are random stars that are awarded sometimes. This randomness is significant for the minimum punch count challenge. But these stars can only occur if you already have at least one star! Keeping a star in reserve actually helps you earn more stars more easily.
  4. You having full health affects multiple boxers in significant ways, including sometimes turning knockdowns into knockouts.
  5. Soda Popinski has a trick where, if you hold down while he’s preparing to uppercut, he delays. He can then be gut-punched, and if you do, your next star punch will always knock him down.
  6. In the second fight with Bald Bull, I always wondered why it was difficult for me to counter his bull charge at first. Turns out, it wasn’t just me. The “long” version of his charge has a shorter success window, of just four frames! The “short” version, which happens if you dodge the long version, however, has a window of 13 frames. It’s so long it’s almost a gimmie. (I am resisting the urge to expend another exclamation point there.)
  7. The greatest minimum number of punches needed to beat any opponent is a tie between King Hippo (an atypical opponent in many ways) and Mr. Sandman (not surprising at all) at 20.
  8. The lowest minimum number is one, which can be gotten from Glass Joe (of course), the rematch against Piston Honda (huh) and the rematch against Bald Bull (what?).
  9. Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream can be defeated in six punches.

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