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Greatest hits! The 19 most satisfying punches in games

Johnny Cage's crotch punching in Mortal Kombat

Hitting below the belt is illegal in basically every real life contact sport, but so is decapitation. Mortal Kombat seems to be cool with both those things. There are no rules in MK (save for breaks between rounds, which the fighters are oddly respectful of), and Johnny Cage uses the lack of rules to his advantage for one of his signature signature strikes: the nut punch. Johnny is a charismatic S.O.B, so he does his trademark groin punch with panache, dropping into the splits before leaving his opponent bent over in incredible pain.

Like much of Johnny's character, the move is a straight rip-off from Jean-Claude Van Damme's film Bloodsport, but that doesn't lessen how great it feels to pull off the comedic jab. It's as fun as today as it was in the early '90s. And the Mortal Kombat X roster demonstrates this painfully funny attack has been passed on to the next generation, as new fighter Cassie Cage seems to be even more adept at this move than her old man was. Seriously, the x-ray version of her attack literally makes the testicles of her unfortunate victim explode. And you get to see it all happen in slow motion. Have fun with that.

Commander Shepard has had enough of your disingenuous assertions in Mass Effect

Im Commander Shepard, and this is my fist! is what Commander Shepard seems to say to an obnoxious reporter. With his fist. Thanks to Mass Effects signature branching dialogue, this sequence with Westerlund News Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani can play out several ways. You can dismiss her agenda-pushing jabs as she tries to paint Shepard as a shill for the council. You can charm her audience by recounting tales of heroics. Or you can choose the ultimate dialogue option--punching.

All three games in the series feature this most excellent example of space-hero-on-nosey-reporter violence (the next time you see her shell even sport a black eye), but the third one does it best. Now wise to your right hook, Khalisah ducks, but you can catch her with a vicious headbutt. Miss the button prompt, though, and shell knock you on your ass with an uppercut of her own. Revenge!

Punching a shark in the face in Batman: Arkham City

In Batman: Arkham City, Batman punches a great white shark in the face. Let me repeat that. The Dark Knight punches a great white shark /in the face/. It lurks beneath ice (widely known to be its favourite habitat), and walking too gingerly across it causes the doll-eyed sea beast to burst through and gulp you.

"One of the ideas we originally had is the shark comes out and grabs the raft," says Sefton Hill, game designer at Rocksteady. "And then Batman pulls out shark repellent and he opens it up, and inside the shark repellent was a massive knuckle duster. And he just smashes the shark on the nose. And then we thought: maybe the tone is going a bit wrong then we thought we'd slip it in for New Game Plus. We decided not to." Whatever--Arkham City is a better game thanks to all the shark punching.

XCOM: Enemy Within's Kinetic Module sends aliens flying

In the original release of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it appeared that nothing could be more satisfying than pulling off a brain-exploding critical headshot on an alien from half a map away. That all changed with the expansion Enemy Within, where battles got a lot more up close and personal. Enemy Within added the Kinetic Strike Module to your armory, allowing operatives from around the world to hit extraterrestrials into next week.

Enemy Within adds a cybersuit to your strike team's armory, and the mech can be enhanced with the Kinetic Strike Module--or, as I like to call it, a ridiculously huge fist. Its rocket-powered strikes can hit any adjacent target for ruinous damage, knocking opponents through any environmental items in the way. Bashing aliens with this robo-punch always feels badass, but it's especially great against Berserkers. You spend much of the game watching those aliens bash in your head, so it feels incredible to finally return the favor.

Giving Eric Sparrow lasting brain damage in Tony Hawk Underground

Eric Sparrow (note the whimsical wordplay) is your hated rival in Tony Hawks Underground. Hes a right dick. When you film yourself jumping from a hotel roof in Hawaii over a freaking helicopter, he not only fails to give your sick skills some mad props, but steals the tape along with the limelight. Only by bossing him in a skate-off around your home town of New Jersey can you get the tape back (ahh, physical media--remember that?).

In your first playthrough Eric reluctantly hands it over. In the alternate ending, however, unlocked during your second run through the game, your custom skater skips the contest and instead opts to smash Eric in the jaw. Sure, youve probably killed him, but the story ends before we know that for sure. Death dont matter if you dont see it happen: FACT. The moral of the story? Punches settle everything.

Alis cheek-ripplers in Fight Night Champion

Lets get our feet back on solid ground. Or more accurately, canvas. You wont find sound-barrier breaking punches or multi-armed attacks in Fight Night Champion, but you will find the ripple-ridden effects of a balled-up fist to the face, rendered in gratuitous detail. Theres nothing better than winding up Muhammad Alis cocky signature punch, catching your opponent square on the chin, and watching spit and blood spew from his jiggling, off-centre mouth in glorious slow motion. For bloodier effects, try Champions bare-knuckle prison brawls in the oddball campaign mode.

Full Spectrum Punch Control (trademarked by EA Sports) replaces the convoluted Total Punch Control and enables players to unleash awesome punches with simple flicks of the right stick. Dynamic bruising, swelling and scarring are par for the course (wait, thats golf), and if the damage mounts up the ref will even step in. Booooo!

Mega Man 3's Hard Knuckle bashes robot masters

From 1950s comic book to last year's underrated film Pacific Rim, rocket-assisted punches have been around as long as humans have imagined really cool robots. You've no doubt seen dozens of bosses use this same move, but one of the first memorable times gamers got to feel the thrill of a rocket punch was in Mega Man 3. After beating the robot master Hard Man (don't be immature, gentle reader), Mega takes on the boss's mighty punching power with the Hard Knuckle ability.

The flying fist is a slow but powerful force in-game, particularly useful against the boss Top Man, though I don't really see the logic in its increased effectiveness in that encounter. It's also quite good against Wood Man and Metal Man, and Mega Man's Hard Knuckle has made a surprising number of appearances in other media. The mighty fist has beaten up baddies in the Mega's own short lived 1990s cartoon, as well as in the god awful Captain N show, where it was used to take out Top Man in one of the few accurate moments the misinformed series ever saw.

Laying the Smackdown in WWF: No Mercy

It figures that the theatrical and flamboyant world of professional wrestling is home to all manner of glorious punches. 1998's WWF War Zone was the first wrestling game to render these moves in glorious (read: shit) 3D, but it was WWF: No Mercy two years later that gave them bespoke animations.

There's the Kane uppercut, the Stone Cold beat down (the Lou Thesz Press, fact fans), the whatever Mr. Ass does. All delightfully unpractical and liable to get you laughed out of an actual street confrontation. But there's nothing more ridiculous than laying the smacketh down as The Rock. After two punches, The Great One holds his hand up the light as if to gaze upon its majesty before bringing it to bear on his opponent's brow.

Infinite punches in Gunpoint

In indie stealth hacking game Gunpoint, after grappling a guard and going full mount, you have three choices. 1) You can get off them. 2) You can punch them once to knock them out. Or, 3) you can keep punching. And punching. 'Alright, have one! Just stop!' pleads the game when the achievement pops.

"I wanted you to be able to manipulate the environment in more interesting ways than just shooting the occasional exploding barrel," says the game's creator Tom Francis. "I also hacked in a quick and dirty way to record people's actions when they play--if they're up for it When I watched the replays back, almost every single tester punched the first enemy in the face over 100 times. The game keeps count, and gives you increasingly distressed tutorial messages every 20 punches or so."

Boxing a bosss ballbag in Duke Nukem Forever

In one of the only half-good bits in this 12-years-in-the-making shooter (besides the rubbish jabs at Halo and the whole using something fished out of a toilet to write on a whiteboard bits), Duke dispatches a boss in the most humiliating way possible. No, not by thrashing him in a debate on abortion at Cambridge University or writing a biting column about him in The Guardian, but by punching him in the balls!

Watch as ballbag becomes speedbag, marvel as Duke batters it like an unhealthy boxer. Just the sort of excitement we waited 12 years for not! (Wow, that's a modern, nuanced bit of satire--someone should put that in the next Duke game.) While its only funny if youre a moron, its definitely memorable, like being mauled by a fox as a child. This is one boss who clearly doesnt have balls of steel.