The Punisher (1993 video game)
U.S. flyer for the arcade game
Sculptured Software (port)
Marvel Entertainment and Capcom USA (port)
April 22, 1993
|Genre(s)||Beat 'em up|
|Arcade system||CPS-1 + QSound|
|Display||Raster, 384 x 224 pixels (horizontal), 4096 colors|
The Punisher (パニッシャー) is a 1993 beat 'em up arcade game developed and released by Capcom. It stars the Marvel Comics' anti-hero and ruthless vigilante the Punisher and co-stars S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury as the second player's character as they embark on a mission to kill the crime lord the Kingpin and bring down his organization.
The Punisher gained a significant popularity and was acclaimed by critics, being often regarded as one of the best titles in the beat 'em genre and one of the best video game comic book adaptations of all time. A Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) port was developed by Sculptured Software and published by Capcom USA and Marvel Entertainment in 1994, but is widely regarded as inferior to the original arcade version.
The game follows the same side-scrolling beat'em up formula Capcom established in Final Fight as the protagonists engage on various foes and stage bosses in brutal melee combat. Much in the same way that Capcom's Cadillacs and Dinosaurs did when released that same month (April 1993), the game distinguishes itself by the frequent use of several firearms (an Ingram submachine gun, an M16 rifle and an improvised flamethrower), along with the traditional melee and thrown weapons (including baseball bats, hammers, knives, Japanese swords and shuriken), as well as improvised weapons (such as lead pipes and car tires).
Unlike in Final Fight, the Punisher and Nick Fury's size, abilities and tactics are essentially interchangeable; they both use the same punch, kick, throw, and special piledriver and "megacrush" attacks. There are also several sections of the game in which the characters draw their handguns enabling the player to shoot the enemies. The game is presented in a comic book-like style, including featuring on-screen onomatopoeias such as "BLAM!" for gunshots.
Plot and characters
The game begins in an illegal casino and the streets of the New York City, with the Punisher (optionally partnered with Nick Fury) in a pursuit of the Mafia enforcer Bruno Costa; the chase ends with a fight against Chester Scully (a minor villain from the comics). Still on track of Bruno, the Punisher infiltrates the mob's Pantaberde resort via a water duct and breaks into a hotel where he finally corners Bruno, who is then killed during a boss battle with Doctor Doom-provided robot Guardroid.
The Punisher then conducts a raid on a major drug smuggling ring at a harbor, which ends in a fight against Bonebreaker in a waterfront warehouse. After that, the Punisher attacks the Kingpin's poppy field in an underground cave in Arizona, where he boards and destroys the freight train that is commanded by Bushwhacker.
At that point, the Kingpin decides that he has lost enough of his henchmen and "businesses" to the Punisher's actions. He issues a big price for the Punisher's head, who then needs to escape from his hideout through a forest, pursued by assassins. After defeating another Guardroid, the Punisher in turn assaults the King Building skyscraper and fights his way to the final showdown against the Kingpin himself. After the Kingpin is defeated, the entire tower collapses, but his body is not found among the many dead criminals in the rubble.
Common villains the players confront during the course of the game range from street punk thugs, to the Tommygun-wielding mobsters and machinegun-toting mercenaries, to voluptuous kunoichi ninja-women with palette swap-coded special powers. Marvel Universe characters Pretty Boy and Jigsaw are included among the strong regular enemies (as a cyborg and a gunman). The Punisher's aide in the game is Microchip, while Nick Fury is aided by Alexander Pierce and Kate Neville.
Development and release
The Punisher was directed by Noritaka Funamizu (credited as "Poo") and co-designed by Akira Yasuda, better known as "Akiman". Yoko Shimomura wrote the majority of its music score, with contributions from Isao Abe. The game was released in the Japanese arcades in April 1993. Its ROM contains an unfinished bonus stage aboard an airplane, along with some other unused resources such as Bruno's fight sprites. Music from the game was included on the soundtrack CD Tenchi wo Kurau II -The Battle of Red Wall- ~ G.S.M. Capcom 7, released by Pony Canyon in 1993.
A home port of The Punisher was released for the gaming console Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) in North America in 1994 and for the PAL region Mega Drive in April 1995. This version, while published by Capcom, was developed by Sculptured Software. In addition to the worse graphics and sound, lesser variety of enemies, and a smaller amount of objects on screen than in the original, many of the previously breakable background objects were rendered unbreakable due to the limitations of the Genesis' hardware. There is also some content censorship in this version (it includes the animation of cigar smoking by Fury being removed from the game, female ninja enemies with skimpy outfits becoming fully clothed, and a removal of the scene where the Punisher shoots the defeated first level's boss character Scully after his interrogation).
The arcade version of the game was very well received. For instance, it was listed as one of top beat 'em up games of all time by Heavy.com's Elton Jones in 2013, as well as being included amongst the best looking beat 'em up games from the 16-bit era by Kotaku Australia's Gergo Vas that same year. This "ridiculously over the top brawler" was also ranked as the fifth best 1980s/1990s coin-op classic arcade beat 'em up by Barrie Wilmot of RetroCollect, as well as number one retro beat 'em up game by Jon Ledford of Arcade Sushi, who opined that "in terms of pure enjoyment, ingenuity, control, and graphics, The Punisher is the Best Retro Beat 'Em Up of all time."
The Punisher was ranked as the tenth top greatest superhero game ever by IGN's News & Features Team in 2010, who noted it "was pretty brutal for its time," and as the fifth top Marvel arcade game by iFanboy's Josh Richardson that same year. In 2011, David Hawkins of WhatCulture! declared it number one best comic book arcade game, calling it "above and beyond all other arcade adaptations of comic books and their heroes." In 2013, it was ranked as the 21st best Marvel video game by Geek Magazine, while Nerdist included it among the top ten most iconic Marvel video games, calling it "one of the few games that benefits from its cheesiness" of "an intentionally over-the-top co-op adventure," and adding that in 1993 the two-player experience "was pretty much what Army of Two wishes it was today."
Retro Gamer called it "a forgotten gem in Capcom's back catalogue" that "is bursting with character and is extremely enjoyable." According to HonestGamers, "packing an extraordinary amount of cheesy, comic book flair, The Punisher is brimming with brutality, exuding of machismo, and yet quirky enough to keep everything from reaching too serious a note." A more critical review in Game Stalker opined that the game managed to surpass the Streets of Rage series in some aspects, like diversity of items and some boss battles, but overally did not reached the quality that the series be able to achieve. Reacting to the news of it being included in the 2012 art book Marvel vs. Capcom: Official Complete Works, Patrick Macias wrote: "I’ll confess my heart skipped a beat when I read 'The Punisher arcade game', the legacy of a misspent youth and countless tokens whittled away at Chuck E. Cheese."
Reviewing the Genesis conversion, VideoGames called it "a decent exercise in vigilante mayhem" that is "surprisingly fun, yet fairly standard game." The Genesis version was lambasted by Next Generation, who stated that "not much good can be found" in the game and "the person responsible for putting out The Punisher deserves a good spanking." Retro Game Age opined that "Capcom did a decent job of porting the game," but nevertheless "could have done better, especially considering the work done on Super Street Fighter 2."
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