Mr. Dream

For those who remember such things, the Nintendo Switch debuted on March 3rd, 2017. Coming off disastrous sales of the Nintendo Wii-U, most finance types wrote the company off. Why shouldn’t they? Yet, the nostalgia is strong with this company, and I fondly remember NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) glory. Contra. Super Mario. Donkey Kong. And the band plays on … these games helped play a part in defining the 1980s. When the Switch launched, I purchased the console Day One. Owning each iteration, I can proudly say I’ve done this for almost every iteration for Team Nintendo. Super Nintendo. N64. Gameboy Advance. GameCube. Wii. Nintendo DS. Wii-U. I felt vindicated but not necessarily surprised watching one of the more remarkable turnarounds in corporate history.

Leveraging the learnings of all consoles that came before, this iteration played the role of a handheld device, possessed top-notch first-party exclusives, and had this unique feature of docking with your television. Play Zelda on the train or big screen. Animal Crossing too.

But with the almost five-year-old Switch starting to show wear and tear, a Christmas upgrade felt needed. Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa. Yes, one can live vicariously through their children.

Say what you want about the OLED Switch; haters are gonna hate, but the screen is fabulous, the battery lasts, and the hardware has a reputation for taking a hit. And why wait for the next? My original switch traveled the world and, yes, still works. Sure, the controller input lags a bit, the kickstand falters, and the little flap that holds the games in place doesn’t quite snap into place anymore. But what are your expectations? On average, consumers replace phones every 18 months like clockwork. This beast turns five soon. As an old-school reference to the Nintendo Seal of Quality, Gameboys have been found in the blazing desert and fire-up years later.

Migrating To a New Console

Changing hardware isn’t a straightforward process. Nintendo has aggressively protected their IP (Intellectual Property) religiously for decades and, to the surprise of no one, built this wonky save system. Any online purchase you’ve made is tied to the console. One can log online and switch to a new device, but you have to manage this with your online account. Frankly, I’m okay with this as IP deserves protection. If an aspiring individual or team spent years creating a game, you’d want to reap the benefits long term too. You are welcome to send hate mail about how they are ripping you off, but I won’t bite. Different business models exist, but they deserve to choose their distribution vehicle.

And if the Nintendo Tech Gods somehow placed the original Super Mario source code on the blockchain, the world would cheer their innovative spirit. Artists deserve payment.

To migrate the old save files, I signed up for the online service (hours of Zelda needed protection) to the new machine and, with the purchase, gained access to a small library of classic games. As an added benefit, if you’re a Sega Does What Nintendon’t type of person, the company’s back catalog is available for an extra 25 bucks annually too.

Punch-Out!!

The first game in the cache to catch my attention was Punch-Out, known for Mike Tyson’s debut in the pixel world. For those 80’s children, this piece of software needs no introduction. Ahead of its time, this 8-Bit innovative monster created the boss rush mode, raised graphical expectations for a home console, and used a sport celebrity to critical acclaim. Mike Tyson sat on the mountain top of the boxing world, feasting on all-comers to the ring. In the heavy-weight class, his streak of knockouts rivals the dominance of Michael Jordan’s title run in the NBA and John McEnroe’s incredible 1984 season.

I give fair warning that this game is challenging and borders on impossible for those who have never played. Playing as Little Mac, one moves through a series of weight classes and seventeen fights, starting with Glass Joe in the Minor circuit and ending with Iron Mike. If you can fire up an old console, which is the ideal and more challenging way to play, the player can only get knocked down two or three times tops in each fight and there are few continues available before having to start completely over. Now and then, I have nightmares of Bald Bull and his infamous charge. Instant knockout. Start over, back to the Minor Circuit. When you reach Mr. Sandman and Super Macho Man in the World-Circuit, the game ratchets up the difficulty even more.

Give Nintendo credit; the developer went to extreme lengths to replicate Iron Mike. In the first round, he can knock you down with one punch and moves with uncanny speed. Like the prize-fighter, his virtual hands are fast. As a kid, I could white-knuckle through 16 fights only to be pulverized in less than 30 seconds as the simple but effective AI changes up its timing. Yes, there are games today with challenging end fights. Each Souls game. Sephiroth. Absolute Virtue. These battles can take hours. But nothing rivals the brutality of losing so quickly. Be fast. Think perfection.

I wonder how many late-night hours I spent taming this beast? When it comes to 8-bit glory, this old man isn’t too shabby. I could beat Ninja Gaiden without losing a life, conquer Contra without the up, up, down, down code, vanquish Dracula in Castlevania III, and destroy the Yellow-Devil in Megaman.

The Dream Edition

There are cons to the Nintendo Online version of this game. For one, it wants to check the server to determine if, in fact, I’m licensed to play. Not unreasonable but kills the joy if you don’t have a wifi connection handy. Why is this needed each and every time? I’m not hyper-connected rolling out of bed, wasting time on airplanes, or taking a break on a sand beach. Also, this version doesn’t have Iron Mike due to licensing. Back in the 80s, contrary to popular lore, the contract expired, and an unprepared and somewhat lost Tyson lost to a determined James Buster Douglas in Japan. As a 50-1 underdog, this is the upset of the decade, maybe century.

And so, as Tyson’s aura of invincibility faded, Nintendo lost interest. Instead of renewing, they reskinned the fighter. Enter Mr. Dream, standing tall with a 99-0 record and owning the same set of skills.

Muscle-Memory

In life, there are some things you don’t forget. I lose my car keys daily; however, I somehow remember the weaknesses of most of the fighters. After adjusting to the joy-con controls, the game come backs to you. I TKO’d through the first and second circuit relatively quickly. I did forget about hitting select while Mac’s trainer talked between rounds to regain energy, the back and forth upper cuts to knock out my favorite rose carrying boxer, and how best to KO King Hippo. Yes, he knocked me down once.

But, eventually, everything clicked.

An Old Videogame Easter Egg

By everything, I mean the infamous and nightmarish Bull Charge. As a kid, Bald Bull drove me insane. I’d rattle off easy wins and have the Major Circuit in my grasp. And then, he’d unleash the one-hit knockout. At this juncture in the game, it’s an electronic game of chicken. One fighter wins–the other loses. To claim victory, Little Mac has to time a body blow at just the right moment. That’s what makes this game special. Charming opponents. Each possesses a unique attribute or puzzle to unlock.

To win, I time the punch based on sound. Three bunny hops, quick pause, and click. I don’t even have to watch the game unfold. I’m proud to say this skill, if you call it that, took months to develop. Not long ago, someone discovered a reporter in the crowd snaps a picture. If you punch at the flash, the Bull goes down. Maybe, everyone knew this. But I find it amazing this trick remained out in the open for decades. Try as I might, I found this worked about a third of the time while my approach rarely failed. Still, I’m kicking myself for not knowing this sooner.

The Main Event

To reiterate, completing the World Circuit is almost impossible. Yes, Super Macho Man and Sandman are tough, but Mr. Dream is near unstoppable. For the first 90 seconds, he comes at you with these one punch finish moves. Pro-tip. React. Don’t guess.

But, at times, I did. Or, my fear of getting knocked out led to me getting knocked out. Funny how that works; videogame fear and frustration. Eventually, I survived the longest 90 seconds in the game. For the finale, Little Mac needs to leverage his strength, which is speed.

Here lies the problem with this Switch port. One has to use the quick dodge to take the day. If you hold left or right, your fighter will hover out of harm’s way a touch longer. However, if you lightly tap, Mac moves in and out like a ruthless butterfly. If the tiny challenger doesn’t move fast, he’ll never land a punch. Unlike other fighters down-ballot, Mr. Dream recovers fast. The joycons don’t do this, at least not reliably. To truly fight Iron Mike, as Nintendo created, you need to hook up the ole’ NES, blow on the cartridge, and use a wired controller.

To compensate for lag and near impossible difficulty, Nintendo built a maligned pause, rewind, and save feature for these classic games. If Mr. Dream blindsides you, rewind and try again. Save mid-round? Sure. Why not? I was torn; this is cheating. So, I slogged on and only rewound to restart the fight. Once I survived the initial onslaught, Mr. Dream winks to televise his punches. And, somewhere in the second round, I noticed he does this blink and abruptly freezes. It’s a strange animation quirk. If you’re playing the original, maybe Iron Mike receives a premonition of how incredible his career would have been if he’d never met Don King. Or, the tattoo flashes in a brilliant fit of creative inspiration? No matter, punch! If you uppercut Mr. Dream in the Switch version, he falls to the canvas. In the original, Iron Mike shrugs off the blow and throws five punches. Sure, it’s easier here but take the gift. Play on.

The key to winning the fight is to let Mr. Dream end the Round 2 with as little health as possible. Whatever you do, don’t knock him out. When Round 3 rolls, he throws everything he has at you. Quick jabs. Big uppercuts. Even with the slow dodge, I managed to knock him down twice. Yes, the strange wink helped. With seconds remaining, the champ only had a sliver of energy left. So, I went for the knockout … but … mid-flight time ran out. For boxing fans of yesteryear, James Buster Douglas was saved by the bell in Round 9 too.

When the decision went to the cards, I won. The credits rolled. Despite not getting the TKO, I felt this a fitting end with the puts (controller lag) and takes (odd daydreams). Yes, indeed, you can revisit childhood glory through less than perfect emulation.

Other Notes:

  • There are many different game business models these days with Gamepass, Steam, etc., Nintendo is unique; they always have been.
  • Writing a books is hard too, give this one a read.
  • If you’re great, try leaving Mr. Dream with as little energy as possible at the end of Round 1. As the quick dodge is lacking, I couldn’t quite get there. Destiny was in the cards.
  • Yes, this post is ridiculous, but I had fun belting it out. A nice diversion hiding in a crazy world. Sometimes, the glory days are truly glorious.