N'Gai's famous quote about the Resident Evil 5 trailer was, "Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game." My thought after winning the minor circuit belt in the new Punch-Out!! was, "Wow, clearly no one French, German, gay, or Pacific Islander worked on this game."
I don't want to get too deep into the weeds on this. Still, it's odd that RE5 could provoke such a firestorm of controversy starting almost two years before its release, and Punch-Out!!, which similarly relies on questionable and outdated images as shortcuts for characterization, has so far been given a pass everywhere I've seen.
Let's just run them down. In Punch-Out!!, you face:*
- A cowardly, effete Frenchman
- A stern, militaristic German
- A fabulous, lisping gay man
- A fat Pacific Islander
- A womanizing Spaniard
- A drunken Russian
- A magical Indian
On one hand, it's nice to see this kind of diversity in a game. On the other hand, how much would it have blown your mind if King Hippo were the womanizer, Soda Popinski the homosexual, and Glass Joe the mysterious sorceror? But that would be ridiculous, you say.
Nobody's playing Punch-Out!! for deep characterization, granted. And the game seems to do a good job of giving Little Mac's opponents flashes of personality during the fights. Their facial expressions and body language are portrayed in a classic cartoon style, exaggerated and expressive. That's why it's so disappointing to see such lazy stereotypes providing the characters' foundations -- ironically, the fighters' very design shows that the designers could have done better. (Still doesn't explain why a defeated Glass Joe falls onto a bed of croissants, or why King Hippo collapses amid a buffet of tropical island fruits.)
Anticipating the objections: Yes, most of these characters have been in the series from the beginning. If tradition were a good reason to perpetuate this stuff, you'd still see the Confederate flag flying from state houses in the South.**
And, sure, this is all in good fun. It's supposed to be funny! Not like Resident Evil 5 at all, which was all booga-booga. That's exactly the problem. Much as some observers thought that RE5 was using loaded racial imagery as a replacement for creating new horror ideas, Punch-Out!! employs stereotypes for humor, without commenting on them, or even seeming to consider them. The joke is that the French guy is a pussy. The joke is that the Disco Kid is a flaming queer. These are not good jokes.
I'm not saying Punch-Out!! would be improved with realistic opponents. But there is one character in the game who shows how you can have silly, cartoonish characters without dredging the bottom of the barrel: Doc Louis. He's a good trainer, and he often gives Mac good tactical advice between rounds. But his inspirational speeches make no sense, and even though his job is to keep Little Mac in shape, he himself is overweight. Doc may still be assembled from off-the-shelf parts, but unlike the other characters in the game, his parts come from different shelves.