Too many games go unnoticed, solid titles missed or forgotten. So, my goal is to pique some interest and let you know what is worth going back to revisit or possibly even add to your collection.
I have spent a lot of time raving about how great the 2005 Xbox Punisher title is and what it can teach about violence, or defending the LJN NES Punisher that gets so much flack, because I think it can be fun. This means I haven’t been giving enough love to Marvel’s best known antihero’s adventures at the arcade. How? I’m not sure, as the Punisher’s 1993 arcade game is considered a hidden gem and a bit of a cult classic in the beat ‘em up genre. Still a lot of fans have never played the game or forgotten about it.
The machine starts up and shows a pretty concise origin story and introduction for Frank Castle to his Punisher persona, born in a hail of bullets and driven by the thought of his dead family. Welcome to Punisher.
“If you’re guilty, you’re dead.”
Punisher isn’t alone on his mission to take down Bruno and the Kingpin. He is joined by his old buddy and Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, complete with eye patch and giant cigar. They play exactly the same but have different character animations and dialogues between stages. The dialogue also changes a bit if two players are going through the story together. There isn’t a ton of plot here, but it is certainly more than a lot of games offered at the time. Be warned though as playing with a friend will result in having more enemies to defeat in each stage, so it is easy to blame that friend who wanted to tag along if you die a lot.
It seems simple at first, a two button brawler with jump and attack commands, but Capcom made sure to give their control scheme some versatility. Players can evade backwards and forwards by double tapping the direction, or turn the dodge into an offensive maneuver with the attack button to help close the distance. Frank also mimics Guile from Street Fighter with a not too impressive looking flash kick by pressing down then up and attack. He also has some grenades for crowd control. It took me a moment to realize that the character has to jump and then press both buttons in the air to distribute this exploding justice. Both characters have a special attack if things get too heavy, used by pressing both buttons together. They will perform a spinning attack on the ground, but if this move is performed while grabbing an enemy, the antihero will use them as an improvised weapon. That’s a lot to remember but it all comes easily after one good playthrough.
Characters have sidearms they can use that seem to be pretty effective, but these can only be pulled out when the bad guys have firearms as well, or there are robots present (guess they are just naturally evil). That doesn’t seem like the Punisher I know, but whatever. There is a large assortment of other weapons that can be found in boxes or taken from fallen foes. These items range from classic weapons present in most beat ‘em ups to some major ones like M16s and flamethrowers, but for some reason there are silly things like bags of cement and a lance. Really, a lance. Like with other games in this genre there are food items that replenish the player’s health and money/jewelry that help add to the score, which is there for someone to think it’s worth bragging about I guess.
The graphics are damn good and hold up well, having a color pallet that resembles some of Capcom’s other arcade titles. There are some violent parts with burned bodies and blood as well as an execution of one of the bosses. I like it, but the colors could have been darker and some of the character models tweaked to fit the feel in the comics more. The enemies are fine and not too repetitive, but the designs of a few push the limits of what fits in the world they’ve created here—also, what’s up with some of the robot bosses attack animations? However, Frank and Nick have been through so much at this point that almost anything could be argued to fit. There are a lot of cameos of characters from the comics, like Microchip who revives the player, as well as enemies like Pretty Boy, Bonebreaker, Bushwhacker, and of course the awesome big boss, Kingpin.
The music in the game is not terrible, but certainly less than memorable. It is drowned out by some quality sound effects, but the onomatopoeia seals it with the gun noises actually causing the word “BLAM” to appear, bringing it closer to that comic book feel. Though I’m still not sure what Punisher is yelling so often. Someone online tried to convince me it was “tiger bomb”, but I think that’s a lip cream or something, so I doubt it.
This is one of Capcom and Marvel’s first joint ventures together for arcade games, a good title that foreshadowed a lot of greatness to come. This one was tough but fair. There are seven stages that get progressively harder with difficult bosses, but thankfully they avoided them having multiple phases or ridiculous life bars and there isn’t a boss rush, so that is something to be thankful for. Each stage is divided into sections, some of which feel very short. There is only one bonus stage, where the player shoots twenty barrels (30 on two player) that feels a little tacked on. There is some definite replay value in here though, as I have already beaten it three times this week.
“Vengeance burns eternal.”
The story ends with a building falling on the ‘fat boy’ as Fury calls him, but some close reading afterwards reveals that the Kingpin’s body was never found. This screams sequel, but that was something fans never received. There was a Sega Genesis port that did not live up to its big brother, but even the arcade cabinet had its problems with two suicide batteries and a CPS1 system board. This just means it had the potential to break a lot. Punisher had a wide release but was still considered to underperform, and many fans constantly compare and critique it against Final Fight for some reason. I don’t think anyone is claiming this game is perfect, but it is damn good and worth playing for anyone who hasn’t or may not have had the chance to beat it in a traditional arcade. I wish I could say this game was in the Wilds Collection, but I don’t have the room for an arcade cabinet and sadly emulation seems to be the only other way to play it (because we don’t talk about the Genesis game…).