Racist Games: Punch-Out!


Some games of our favorite games are racist. Now, of course many are unintentionally racist or products of a earlier time or a less sensitive place. So every now and then I’m going to be taking a look back at some of the racist games of the past. Some may surprise you or make you take another look at one of your favorite games. Hopefully it’ll be more of a fun look than a “YOU’VE RUINED MY CHILDHOOD” kind of look. To start with, let’s take a look at the 1987 classic “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out

Oh Mike Tyson, you made Nintendo never pair with a sports star again. Punch-Out certainly falls into the category of “different time, different place” kind of racism. You know the kind, the type of racism your grandmother may have where she isn’t really all that racist, but still uses Oriental or colored as acceptable terms. Old fashion perhaps.

Now you may be asking, what could possibly be racist about a boxing game? The characters. That’s what.

In the game you play as Little Mac, a small, beginning boxer hailing from the Bronx. As you progress through the game you take on boxers from around the world. This is where the game gets iffy. Many of the characters are down right stereotypes of the country they hail from, but some are pretty offensive. Needless to point out that the plot of the game is a little white guy beating the shit out of racial and cultural stereotypes. Let’s take a look at some of the offenders:

Soda Popzinski

Good ol’ Soda probably doesn’t look all that racist, other than his grotesque appearance, but it’s his history that is a little more shaky. Originally named “Vodka Drunksinski” the character was undoubtedly a portrayal of a drunk Russian. Now that’s not to say that all Russian stereotypes are drunk…but many are. Of course Nintendo of America changed the name from Vodka to Soda after they realized they couldn’t have alcoholic references in their video game.

Then there’s Piston Honda, from Japan. There aren’t any downright stereotypes in his appearance, but the character says some pretty strange things. In one of his in game quotes is” Sushi, Kamikaze, Fujiyama, Nipponich..”. Whaaaa? Those are just things that are Japanese, and one of them is Kamikaze?! This one confuses me. Nintendo is a Japanese company, and yet they represent their country with this character? Kamikazes? Really…?

The last one that I’ll highlight is Mr.Sandman, one of last bosses of the game. Mr.Sandman comes to us from Philadelphia, and while he isn’t relying on a country stereotype, he’s definitely relying on a racial stereotype.  With in game quotes like “Welcome to dreamland Baby!” and “Hey Mac Baby!”, the developers of the game obviously thought all African Americans talked jive. Take one good look at that character design…Yeah, that says enough.

There are some also pretty bad stereotypes in the game, like the Indian boxer having  a tiger with him at all time, and the Spanish boxer being obsessed with his appearance, but the above three are arguably the worst. Of course Nintendo fixed a lot of their mistakes with subsequent sequels, including dropping Mike Tyson from the game. That said, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out will remain a pretty fun game..but maybe a slightly racist one.

Please let me know if you thought this was a worthwhile article, or if you can think of any other racist games you might want to see featured.


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4 Responses to Racist Games: Punch-Out!

  1. thekryce says:

    I must admit that I LOVE the stereotypes in Punch-Out, especially Glass Joe (I am French). But I don’t think the game is actually racist. First of all, thoses stereotypes are way too exaggerated to be honest. And actually, Little Mac himself is the opposite of a stereotype: a small boxer ! My personal interpretation is that the game is about FIGHTING thoses stereotypes. 🙂

    • ianrl1989 says:

      I like that outlook on the game! The game certainly doesn’t have anything hurtful or offensive in it, it just kind of a testament to early gaming. Thanks for the input!

  2. calonordic says:

    Racist? Maybe but at least it wasn’t done in a malicious manner but in a playful. lighthearted one.

    I remember Gaijin Goombah tackled this issue pretty well not too long ago:

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