?Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! may be the finest video game ever made. Oh, I hear you, commenters, warming up your fingers to tell my why your Chrono Triggers and your various Zeldas or your Half-Lives are obviously and infinitely better. Listen. Those are all great. But let me explain you something. I love adventure. I love time travel. I love science fiction. I don’t love boxing. I’m not sure I’ve even seen an entire, real-life boxing match all the way through. But I do love Punch-Out!!. If you put it in front of me right this minute, I’d probably spend the rest of my evening playing it. It would be great.
I’d love it, even with the understanding that virtually every character the lily-white Little Mac fights in the ring is a raging ethnic stereotype (it does get less stereotype-y toward the end, where it’s just Mr. Sandman being impossible and Super Macho Man frightening you with his pecs). And some of the worst offenders aren’t even in the classic NES game. Let’s run them down, shall we?
8) Glass Joe
Glass Joe is probably the boxer Punch Out!! payers are most familiar with, since he’s the first opponent in the NES game. Lots of those players probably don’t even consider him a stereotype; just a weak and cowardly guy who goes down easy. But if you read his bio, you’ll discover that Joe’s a Frenchman, dating back to his appearance in the original arcade Punch Out!! in 1984. Crazy enough, the Wii version of Punch Out!! that came out in 2009, the stereotype is far more apparent, in that defeating Joe makes croissants and baguettes fly out of him somehow, and he talks like Inspector Clouseau.
I will say, though, that Joe doesn’t surrender. He stands and fights, even though he’s terrible at it. So take that, people stuck in a perpetual 1940!
7) Bear Hugger
Bear Hugger isn’t one of the best-known or most popular Punch-Out!! characters, but he’s actually appeared in three of the games: the arcade Super Punch-Out!!, the SNES Super Punch-Out!! and the Wii game. And if you couldn’t tell from his beard, his name, his girth, his copious imbibing of maple syrup and his friendly relationship with a squirrel who cheats for him during fights, he’s Canadian.
To be fair, I’ve heard Michael Bubl? does exactly the same stuff when you meet him in person.
6) Great Tiger
Can we talk for just a second about how much everyone in Punch-Out!! cheats? (In fact, I remember seeing that Little Mac complained about it some years back.) None cheat more blatantly than Great Tiger, who teleports around the goddamn ring. And just how is he able to do that? Well, he’s Indian. They can pretty much all do that, right?
And, sure, being able to teleport is perhaps the coolest thing in the world to be stereotyped as doing, but a positive stereotype’s still a stereotype. Also: That skinned tiger in his corner? A little ostentatious, ain’t it, Great Tiger?
5) Masked Muscle
Unlike the previous entrants on this list, Masked Muscle has appeared in exactly one Punch-Out!! game: the SNES Super Punch Out!!. And he may be the only example here of being a retroactive stereotype.
Look, it’s outstanding that Nintendo included a luchador character in a game from 1994, well before luchadores were the big deal they are today. Trouble is, Masked Muscle cheats at every turn to get ahead (more blatantly than even all the other cheaters in the series). He headbutts. He spits in your eyes. He’s a Mexican who doesn’t play by the rules so he can get ahead. He’s Lou Dobbs’ fantasy.
4) Hoy Quarlow
There’s a surprising number of martial-arts characters in the SNES Super Punch-Out!!: Dragon Chan is a kickboxer from Hong Kong who, well, kicks and regains health from meditation; Heike Kagero is a confusingly feminine Kabuki who attacks you with his hair and does mesmerizing dances, and then there’s Hoy Quarlow, an old Chinese man who hits you with a stick.
Not only is Quarlow just infuriatingly difficult to fight, he’s also every old kung-fu master you’ve ever seen in any film, except, you know, he’s awful.
3) Bob Charlie
Rounding out our trio of SNES-only characters, comes Bob Charlie, a Rastafarian whose name sounds just like another famous Jamaican’s, Jimmy Cliff.
Here are some things Bob Charlie does: His corner man tells him occasionally to “shuck and jive.” He constantly looks confused. He tells you that you should give yourself over to the rhythm, mon! I’m sure if he had been in the Wii version of the game, joints would have fallen out of him when you beat him.
2) Pizza Pasta
Later to be replaced in future games by Irish boxer Aran Ryan, Pizza Pasta was, if you couldn’t already guess, the Italian character in the original Punch-Out!! arcade game.
His name is Pizza Pasta. Against all odds, he doesn’t have a mustache. Let’s move on.
1) Vodka Drunkenski/Soda Popinski
Back in 1987, if you were old enough to know, you probably thought, “Soda Popinski sure is a thinly-veiled stereotype of a drunk Russian.” Well, did you know there originally wasn’t a veil? That’s right, in the arcade Super Punch-Out!!, his name was Vodka Drunkenski.
It should be noted that in that game, his attachment to bottles was apparently less pronounced than a few years later, after he apparently joined whatever the Russian version of AA is and switched his addiction (and his name) to sugary soda. He didn’t constantly have his mouth wrapped around a bottle in the arcade game, as he does in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! However, I feel I should also note that Popinski repeatedly says he can’t drive in the NES game. I’m not sure if that’s a commentary on him spiking his drinks or the quality of Eastern European cars. Either way.