So, it's a not-too-serious 2D boxing title with a cast of "wacky" pugilists (except the Japanese guy, he's very serious). I know what you're all desperate to know: is it better than Super Punch Out!!? Well, no - but it comes a damn sight closer than most.
The first thing you'll notice is that Best Bout Boxing is a big, meaty game, in that way only arcade games every truly seem to be. The sprites are large, the fonts chunky and the announcer so full of vigour that his words seem to solidify in your ears like so much impacted earwax. Unlike the Punch-Out series, BBB plays out on the horizontal plane, with your fighter on the left. Your goal? To inflame the lust of your opponent through a series of breathtaking modern dance moves until they can no longer contain themselves and attempt to copulate with you right there in the squared circle. No of course not, you have to punch the other guy until he falls over, like so:
Now, this is where so many other boxing titles fall down. More often than not the controls are leaden or imprecise: rather than feeling like you're whipping out a hurtful jab or delivering a jawbreaking hook, it feels more like you're limply offering them your hand to kiss as though you're a goddamn French nobleman. Luckily, BBB has a solid yet uncomplicated control system that keeps things moving along nicely.
It's a three button setup: one button for high shots, one for body blows and one for your special punch, a powerful attack unique to each boxer. Pressing the upper punch button while holding the joystick performs a different move depending on the direction held. Hold down for uppercuts, forwards for a long straight and, most interestingly, pressing up and punch will cause your boxer to parry. If the opponent connects with a shot while you're parrying, they'll be momentarily stunned and you'll have an opportunity to beat them into unconsciousness. It all flows nicely, and it's intricate enough to be fun without being overly complex.
Now that you know how to fight, all that's left is to pick a character. And what a motley bunch they are!
Going from left to right, we start with Mexican contender Jose Hum-Dinger. Yep, that's his name alright. You could argue that maybe "Hum-Dinger" is his ring nickname and not his actual surname, but that's still a pretty terrible boxing name. It makes him sound like a ninteen-fifties traveling salesman who though "shucks, this boxing gig don't look so tough, I'll give it a try!" He fights with a flicker jab style and has arms of a length that would make most orangutans slink away looking embarrassed. He also attacks with a spinning backfist, which is extremely illegal in actual boxing but is almost quaint by BBB's standards. Also, when I look at Jose here, all I can see is Frank Zappa.
Biff Vulgue is big, fat and Australian, like a kangaroo with a glandular problem (not really, the kangaroo's just lazy). He actually attacks you with his gut, but luckily for you he's hardly a master of the ancient art of not getting punched right in his fat face. As for his name, I wonder if he isn't supposed to be called "Biff Vulgar" and they just translated it wrong. (Update: reader Emerson points out that Biff may well be based on famous-in-Japan former wrestler Abdullah the Butcher, and I must say I agree.)
Next is Britain's representative, so wipe away a patriotic tear and look upon Carolde First. Okay, now I'm sure this one is mistranslated, given that the announcer pronounces it "Carol Dee First". If he's supposed to be called Carol the First, it'd certainly tie in with the (apparently unshakable) Japanese belief that everyone in Britain is an aristocrat, although "Carol" is only marginally more likely than "Chardonnay" or "Trixie" to be the name of a British toff. Carolde is the speed type, good for dashing under his opponents punches and praying that they don't hit him, because Carolde's jaw is more fragile than my dwindling sense of self-worth.
Japanese hero Jyoji Horigushi, fair-fighting man of honour, is up next. Yes, he's the Ryu of BBB. No, he can't shoot balls of psychic fire out of his hands. He does have a rather nifty super uppercut, though. I suspect the developers may have been slightly influenced by superior boxing manga Hajime no Ippo when designing Jyoji: not only does he share a first name with Jyoji Morikawa, creator of Hajime no Ippo, (and it's not a particularly common name either, being a Japanese approximation of "George",) but his special move is also called the "Gazelle Punch", which is also the name of a trademark punch belonging to Hajime no Ippo's main character.
Kim Hi-Soo. He's Korean, and he is a dick. Headbutts, elbows, and I'm pretty sure one time he tried to slip his hands into my trunks. I got nothin' else to say to you, except you'll be hearing from my lawyers.
Thamalatt Zip may sound like the title of a lost B-52s single, but he's actually the competitor from Thailand. He's a cross between a gang member from Mad Max and a chimp who's had too much caffeine, and he fights pretty much as you would expect him to. Judging by his portrait there he's furious about something, but I'm not sure even he knows what it is, although given his tendency to act like a wild man I think he just resents being forced to wear trunks.
Finally we've got American beefcake Grute Smith, the bastard child of Mike Tyson and Apollo Creed. I don't really have much to say about Grute, other than that his star-spangled trunks were an... interesting choice in a profession that's based on being as macho as possible. All I'm saying is those trunks should not be seen outside a Las Vegas cabaret routine celebrating the fourth of July.
So you take your chosen boxer through the mythical "freeweight division" (explaining how human bouncy-castle Biff can be pitted against Carolde "Kitten-weight" First) in a series of three round fights. There is a points system which actually seems quite good, but I never had a fight go beyond the second round. You can knock your opponent down at pretty much any time, especially if you catch them with a good special punch, and if a fighter's health bar is completely drained, then they lose. Simple enough, and pretty good fun too. Once you've beaten all the other characters, all that's left is to fight the world champ. It's Ivan Drago!
Well, the game says he's called Draef Varona, but he's obviously just Ivan Drago. I don't know why Jaleco didn't go the whole hog and just call him Ivan Drago, because I don't think there's anyone who would be fooled by this Draef Varona nonsense.
Unfortunately, you are not like a piece of iron and if you're not careful he'll rip through you quicker than bad vodka through my digestive tract (so that's both quick and extremely unpleasant, then). If you manage to beat this Russian beast, then you're crowned the new World Freeweight Champion in a rather underwhelming ceremony that consists of one shot of your boxer:
Your reward is the knowledge that you're the greatest fighter in the world. That and the no-doubt huge purse that a pay-per-view fight between two boxers that are about six weight classes apart would bring in. Next up: see the new champ defend his title against a Bengal tiger! Caution - front three rows may get wet. Wet with blood.
A couple of interesting points worth mentioning before I wrap this up: first, the win quotes in BBB are rather unusually spoken by the defeated character. I say spoken...
Here's Jyoji after getting flattened by Carolde, whimpering about how his technique needs work. Now, there are two possibilities here. One is that Jyoji is thinking this as he lies, semi-conscious, on the canvas. Okay, that's plausible. A much more amusing alternative is that he's saying it out loud.
Here's the reverse scenario. Now imagine Carolde is saying it in a very matter-of-fact voice, the same voice he'd use when ordering a coffee or inquiring after the health of a distant relative. Far more entertaining, I'm sure you'll agree.
The other thing is that little pictures of the boxer's cornermen appear at the top of the screen during critical moments in the fight. Most of them are fairly sedate-looking, although Biff's seconds do appear to have scrotums for heads:
However, Carolde's seconds are the best by far, as his training staff appears to consist of a villain from a silent film who has hired some Victorian prostitutes to accompany him at ringside.
I don't want to make any unfair accusations, but Carolde's not a very good boxer, and, well, Victorian prostitutes can be pretty distracting. "Cor Blimey, Guv, come an' 'ave a go on me fun-cushions! Only three shillings!" they would shout as Carolde tried to concentrate on his roadwork. It's a better excuse than "oh, he hit me with a lucky punch" at least. Well maybe not better, but certainly more entertaining.
I really like Best Bout Boxing, you know. Sure, it's not perfect: the difficulty level can fluctuate wildly, sometimes your opponent seems to get stuck in a loop of repeating the same punch over and over. Oh, and the music's a bit bland. And it isn't as good as Super Punch Out!!, but then again does it really need to be? They can both exist in harmony, and they play differently enough for it to be worth your time giving them both a go. So if you're looking for big, bold, boxing fun with an arcade feel, you could do a lot worse than BBB.
See Also: Great Boxing Rush Up!