The Nintendo Wii ushered in the era of video game motion controls and countless titles that can be played by swinging your arms around. The technology behind it didn’t exist back in 1985 when the NES came out, but that didn’t stop Ian Charnas from upgrading the original version of Punch-Out!! so that it can now be played by throwing hands instead of using a controller.
If you’ve got a Punch-Out!! craving, there are actually many many ways to enjoy both the original and updated versions of the game. It’s available through the Switch online service’s NES emulator, and a version with improved graphics was released for the Nintendo Wii over a decade ago. There’s actually no shortage of boxing games available for consoles like the Wii and Switch that take advantage of motion controls, but Charnas wanted to pair that modern functionality with the simple 8-bit aesthetics of the OG Punch-Out!!. The solution just required a dash of AI.
Google’s MoveNet is an AI-powered model that detects 17 different points on a human body and generates a crude stick-figure skeleton that not only mirrors someone’s movements but makes the tracking and motion data for every point available to developers for other uses. In this case, Charnas harnessed that data to create custom software that recognized specific gestures and movements of a Punch-Out!! player based on a live video feed of them, and then translate those moves (like hooks, punches, blocks, and dodges) into the corresponding controller button presses the game is expecting.
To make the game even more realistic, Charnas even added some physical punishment to correlate with a player getting hit by an opponent. But instead of a jab from a boxing glove, an armband running an Arduino delivers painful electric shocks as a stand-in for a blow from King Hippo, and it sounds just about as fun as you can imagine.
Anyone wanting to try out Charnas’ Real Life Punch-Out game can point their browser at RealLifePunchOut.com where it’s strongly advised to go through the tutorial before jumping into the game. Only a limited number of players can step into the virtual ring at a time because Charnas only purchased a limited number of NES Punch-Out!! cartridges to keep Nintendo’s lawyers at bay (they’re probably still lurking) so you may have to wait in a virtual queue first, but unlike the motion control games on the Switch and Wii, this one’s completely free to play.