Arcade boxing games are an important piece of gaming history, so no doubt today’s list will pack a retro punch, lol. Seriously the so-called “noble art” was the most common sport to appear in arcades during the golden age. Some successful, well-designed titles were released back in the day, much to the delight of those who were tired of shooting flying saucers.
Further, they perfectly fit in the genre of fighters, for which they arguably paved the way. While other arcade sports games such as basketball and hockey were all the rage in the mid 90s, they did not initially shine as bright as boxing.
Alright, no more talk and seconds out. Let’s get ready to rumble!!!
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5. The Final Round (developed and published by Konami in 1988)
It is all too easy to like a game where some of its characters are parodies of famous boxers/actors: Jabbin’ Jim reminds of a young Sylvester Stallone, Black Stallion is based on Mike Tyson and Iron Drago looks like Ivan Drago from the box office hit Rocky IV.
You play as Rocky Balb… Er Jabbin’ Jim lol, and you fight your way through the KBA (Konami Boxing Association) to become the world champion. Your boxer can win fights by knockout, technical knockout or the judges’ decision.
Konami added an extra layer of strategy to The Final Round, though. The game starts with you using 100 points to set your boxer’s speed, power, and stamina. Speed is the quickness of your boxer’s punches. Power determines the amount of damage from your punches. Finally, your boxer’s stamina is the amount of punishment that he can take in the ring!
Fun Fact: FR features two versions of a two player game. The first version is the usual system of two players playing together and selecting two payer game. You and a buddy (playing as Gentleman Joe) have a fun match in the ring.
The second version allows another person to insert a coin at any time during a game to challenge you. This system allows a random guy in the arcade to interrupt your championship run and challenge Jabbin’ Jim. On the other hand, you can happily challenge a friend during his or her session.
4. Title Fight (developed and published by Sega in 1992)
Title Fight is part of the Heavyweight Champ series, one of the most successful series of video games about boxing.
You become a boxer in the ring and fight world champions, with some of them being parodies of famous fighters. You will quickly recognize them, if you are a huge fan of boxing. E.g. Lucky Marciano is a parody of the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history, Rocky Marciano.
The game’s camera is set in a first person’s point of view. You have a green outline to represent you and you see your opponent through the outline. You are always directly facing your opponent, which is a great view to see the other boxer’s emotions during a match.
The controls include two sets of joysticks to control the boxer’s fists for offense and defense, something reminiscent of Karate Champ, but bigger and better. Plus, Title Fight features a two-player mode for head-to-head matches. You and a friend can enjoy a boxing match with your favorite boxers in the game, which was tremendously fun, back then.
In retrospect, the single-player experience was OK, but nothing to write home about. Title Fight’s real forte was its multiplayer mode.
3. Final Blow (developed and published by Taito in 1988)
Final Blow is the shortest game on the list, having a limited roster of characters. In addition to that, every match only lasts one round. If you are a master of boxing games, then you may only need one quarter to become world champion.
You select one of the five fighters in the game’s small roster. Then, you will box them in four consecutive matches for the championship.
Every match begins with a colorful introduction of the boxers. The ring announcer describes each boxer’s attire and says their nicknames before the match begins. Minor additions like this announcer add character to the game, definitely something fresh for the time.
The game was rereleased on the Sega Genesis as James ‘Buster’ Douglas Knockout Boxing. The developers added James Douglas and Iron Head as new characters in the lineup. Also, you can enjoy this game on some home computers, such as the Amiga, the Atari ST and the Commodore 64.
What? Yeah, I forgot to say why I ranked it third. Well, let’s put it this way: had Final Blow been longer, it would have topped this list hands down. It had everything: amazing graphics, realistic gameplay, and the boxers threw and landed convincing punches.
No room for comedy characters or super punches: back in 1988, this was the closest to a sports game simulation to ever grace an arcade. Quality over quantity, that’s for sure, but a game that you can beat in far less than 10 minutes will never be my number one pick.
2. Punch-Out!! (developed and published by Nintendo; 1983 Japan, 1984 North America and Europe)
This list would not be complete without Nintendo’s hit title, Punch-Out!! We are talking about one of the most popular arcade games of all time. You play as an unknown boxer with a bad haircut and green hair… Rings a bell? The NES version is also widely known, but the boxer is called Little Mac and has black hair, lol.
Punch-Out!! does not have an ending like many arcade games from its time. You fight until a boxer finally knocks you out. Once you get the belt, you will have to defend it against all challengers, and they will not stop until they strip you of the title!
You can unleash the powerful uppercut to knockout the competition, but you can only use this technique when the KO Meter is full. Your boxer builds this meter by connecting punches, but the opponent can decrease it by landing punches himself. Just make sure you listen to your manager: he will cheer “Knock him out!” when the meter is full.
Your first match is against Glass Joe, whose nickname says it all about his toughness. Do not count him out too soon, though: upon winning the title from Mr. Sandman, he will come back better and stronger (and with a different pair of gloves, lol).
Best Bout Boxing (developed and published by Jaleco in 1994)
Best Bout Boxing deserves to be recognized for being a fun game. The world’s best boxers compete in a tournament for 1993 Worldfreeweight Championship and like most sports games with original characters, BBB features a cast of stereotypes. American representative is Grute Smith, who looks like the juiced version of Apollo Creed.
Some of the characters use illegal moves in the ring. For example, Biff Vulgue of Australia attacks with his big belly. He slams his stomach into his opponents, and this crazy technique can daze an opponent. Then, you have a chance to knockout the competition.
An interesting inclusion is each defeated fighter has a quote at the end of each match. It is a comical sight of a boxer being able to clearly think about his craft. Imagine Biff saying “I learned a lot” while lying on the mat in defeat.
Best Bout Boxing has also gorgeous graphics. Each boxer has details to add personality to each character. Further, the managers from both corners of the ring also appear in fights, and they react according to how their boxer is doing in the ring. If things get ugly, do not be surprised to see a towel flying through the air…
Make sure you have your headgear on now, the king of knockouts is coming…
1. Ring King (developed by Jastec Neue Design, published by Data East and Woodplace Inc. 1985)
Ring King’s roster features ten characters in one player mode. Violence Joe, Brown Pants, White Wolf, Bomba Vern, Beat Brown, Blue Warker, Green Hante, Onetta Yank, Mendou Kusa and the undefeated Matcho Mans.
You fight in the ring with the best boxers in the league and – like every game on the list – your goal is to become champion. The game has impressive graphics, with a unique design of the arena and the boxers. The ring is huge, but it does not affect the gameplay. You have a full view of the squared circle, and the characters seem perfectly at ease in it. The smooth controls are the icing on the cake.
However, the game does not end when you win the championship! The career of the rising star in boxing continues! The game continuously cycles through the characters, Blue Warker, Green Hante, Onetta Yank, and you can quickly raise your high score (expressed in $ earned) by correctly predicting what round you are going to knock out your opponent.
You will love it in both single and in multiplayer modes. The punches are powerful, the knockouts are simply spectacular. Uppercutting your opponent out of the ring can result in a nonstop laugh attack. You have been warned!
Boxing may not be as popular as it was from the 80s to 90s, but the sport holds a strong legacy in arcade games. With that said, another series of rankings is in the books, but what about you, retro folks? Were you the kind of gamer who went to the arcade with a roll of quarters just to beat Mr. Sandman? Could you hand Matcho Mans his first defeat? Oh, and did I snub one of your favorite titles? If so, then please share your personal list and memories in a comment.
Till next retro post!