|First game||Super Punch-Out!! (arcades)|
|Designed by||Makoto Wada (Punch-Out!!, 1987)
Eddie Viser (Punch-Out!!, 2009)
|Voiced by||Ihor Mota (Punch-Out!! (Wii))|
Soda Popinski (ソーダ・ポピンスキー Sōda Popinsukī?), originally known as Vodka Drunkenski (ウォッカ・ドランケンスキー Wokka Dorankensukī?), is a fictional boxer from Nintendo's Punch-Out!! series. Soda Popinski first appeared in the Arcade game Super Punch-Out!!, featuring the above mentioned Vodka Drunkenski name. He was designed by Makoto Wada for the NES video game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! in 1987, and by Eddie Viser for the Wii video game Punch-Out!! in 2009, his most recent appearance. Ihor Mota portrays him in the 2009 Punch-Out!! release.
Nintendo changed his name from Vodka Drunkenski to Soda Popinski in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! in order to avoid controversy, replacing his affinity for vodka with soda. However, other Soviet stereotypes, such as his wearing red, his ability to handle cold weather, his use of the Song of the Volga Boatmen as his entrance music, and scenes depicting him doing the Kozachok remained throughout the series. While his country of origin was originally the USSR, this was changed to Russia in the 2009 Punch-Out!! due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union after the release of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!.
Since his appearance in Super Punch-Out!!, he has received both criticism and praise for his racial stereotyping; 1UP.com used Soda Popinski as an example of the racism in Punch-Out!!. The challenge involved in defeating him has been a notable aspect, with Destructoid editor Colette Bennett expressing her disposition for the character, considering him one of her most frustrating encounters. He has also appeared in some merchandise related to Punch-Out!!, which includes being a part of a series of Topps trading cards.
Concept and appearances
Soda Popinski was designed for the NES Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! by Makoto Wada, with his most recent design being made by Eddie Viser in the Wii Punch-Out!!. He is voiced by Ihor Mota in the Wii Punch-Out!!. Soda Popinski is a Russian boxer from Moscow, and the #1 boxer in his country. He is both tall and muscular, featuring redder skin than other boxers, a moustache, and no hair. He is the only left-handed fighter in the game. He is physically capable of handling extremely cold weather, and has a propensity to soda pop. He is noted as being powerful, using a Russian fighting style. In the Wii Punch-Out!!, he can utilize his soda to gain energy or to become more powerful. He first appeared in the arcade game Super Punch-Out!! in 1985, and again in the NES game Punch-Out!! in 1987.
A version of the game called Frank Bruno's Boxing was released for the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum, where Popinski was renamed "Andra Puncharedov". He would not appear again until the Wii video game titled Punch-Out!!. In the original Super Punch-Out!! arcade game, he is referred to as Vodka Drunkenski, a stereotype of the people of the USSR at the time. To avoid controversy, his name was changed to Soda Popinski in the NES Punch-Out!!, changing his vice from vodka to soda. However, other stereotypes persisted, such as his ability to handle cold weather and his tendency to do the Kozachok.
Since appearing in Punch-Out!!, Soda Popinski has received mostly positive reception. He has been referred to by many sources as being a notable character to the series as well as a fan favourite. He has appeared in several pieces of merchandise, including being included in a series of Punch-Out!! Topps trading cards. He was chosen as the favourite character by one of the producers of Punch-Out!! for the Wii. As a part of the "Obscure Character of the Day" series, IGN editor Christopher Monfette discussed Popinski, describing him as "the USSR's meanest heavyweight contender ever to grace the NES." They also listed Popinski as one of Punch-Out!!'s top fighters. Both IGN and G4TV described him as being a comical character. GamePro listed him as one of the boxers they hope to return, stating that the US is on good enough terms with Russia to allow it. Sarcastic Gamer editor Havoc Saunders, before Popinski was revealed, commented that if they added Soda Popinski, he would buy the Wii Punch-Out!!.
In spite of the positive reception, Destructoid editor Colette Bennett referred to Popinski as being a frustrating battle, stating that while others find him easy, she found him very difficult. She specifically cited his taunt as part of her frustration, suggesting that the taunt was as if to say "You will never beat me, you pathetic weiner!" GameZone editor jkdmedia commented that while he may have the "power of cola on his side," he comments that it's his "super-fast attacks that make him deadly." Kotaku editor Michael McWhertor criticized Punch-Out!! for the Wii, stating that some of the boxers' cues feel cheap. He specifically cited Soda Popinski, asking the readers if they want to see his notes on how to beat him. However, Operation Sports editor Christian McLeod commented that he was "surprisingly easy", considering that it was late in the game. Humour web site The Onion wrote an article about a series of interviews with Mike Tyson and other Punch-Out!! characters, including Soda Popinski. Complex also ranked him as the eighteenth most annoying character in video games.
Soda Popinski has been a component in racial discussion in video games since his appearance in Super Punch-Out!! for the arcades. 1UP.com listed Punch-Out!! as the fourth most racist video game, citing Soda's "Soviet roughneck" stereotype as one of the contributing factors. GameSpy listed Punch-Out!! as the sixth greatest console video game of the 80s, with GameSpy Villoria discussing the various stereotypes, specifically mentioning Popinski as a "Russian booze enthusiast who kept missing his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in favor of boxing matches." Kotaku editor Michael McWhertor joked that a petition exists to change Popinski's name back to Vodka Drunkenski.
GamesRadar editor Dave Meikleham included him in his "top seven biggest drunks in games" article, describing him as the "drink to feel invincible drunk". He also calls him a "true pioneer of 8-bit drunks". Fellow GamesRadar editor Brett Elston discussed Soda Popinski in his "Fun with Stereotypes: Starring Punch-Out!!" article. He discussed how the stereotypes he featured, which includes vodka drinking, an affinity for red clothing, and resistance to very cold temperatures, had to have been intentional, considering that he originated in 1984, which was when Russians were painted as "anti-American villains". It should be noted, however, that the Punch Out series is actually developed in Japan, not the United States. In his "Nintendo: Banned in the USA" article, Chris Antista of GamesRadar listed an example of Nintendo's censorship of alcohol in video games. He also pointed out that even after the change, Soda's mid-fight quotes are still alcohol references, such as "I drink to prepare for a fight. Tonight I am very prepared!". In discussing the Wii remake, freelance journalist Sumatra Lahiri suggested that despite the inherent nostalgic value, the stereotypes exhibited by the characters that seemed harmless in the 1980s had not aged well when early 21st century attitudes towards cultural and racial sensitivity were taken into account. In discussing Popinski, he stated that he seems far less innocent when players realize that his soda used to be vodka.
The Guardian editor Aleks Krotoski described the change from Vodka Drunkenski to Soda Popinski as one of Nintendo's "most dramatic additions/subtractions". In another Guardian.co.uk article, they discussed what they described as the "shamelessly politically incorrect characters," citing Soda Popinski. While they comment that his name was changed from Vodka Drunkenski to avoid being unfair to Russians, they noted that his mid-match quotes don't make sense, using "I drink to prepare for a fight. Tonight I am very prepared!" as an example. AskMen, in discussing Punch-Out!!, described the stereotyping as being "decidedly in poor taste". GamePro Germany called Soda Popinski a "cliché," describing him as an "eternally drunk Russian."
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