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 (Japanese: パニッシャー Hepburn: Panisshā?) is a 1993 beat 'em up arcade game developed and released by Capcom. It stars the Marvel Comics' anti-hero 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.
Whilst following the same general formula as previous Capcom side-scrolling games, The Punisher has a range of useable weapons and a comic-book style presentation. The game gained significant popularity; several reviews in the 2010s regarded it as one of the best titles in the beat 'em up genre and also 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 marks the beginning of the partnership between Marvel Comics and Capcom, which led to the series Marvel vs. Capcom.
The game follows the same side-scrolling beat'em up formula Capcom established in Final Fight and Captain Commando as the protagonists engage various foes and stage bosses in melee combat. It distinguishes itself by the frequent use of firearms, including an Ingram submachine gun and a M16 rifle. There are several sections of the game when gun-wielding enemies appear to which the characters draw their handguns, enabling the player to shoot them. Players can also throw grenades. Traditional melee and thrown weapons (including knives and shuriken) as well as improvised weapons (such as lead pipes, car tires and a crude flamethrower) can be picked up during regular combat. Weapons can be dropped by enemies, or obtained from smashing various containers throughout the levels. Treasure can also be found in containers, and awards the player with bonus points. Health can be replenished by picking up food, which can also gives bonus points.
Unlike in Final Fight, the Punisher and Nick Fury's size, abilities and tactics are essentially interchangeable; they both use the same basic moves, such as punches, kicks and throws, as well as similar special attacks. Basic attacks can be combined to cause extra damage to enemies. The game is presented in a comic book-like style, including featuring on-screen onomatopoeias such as "BLAM!" for gunshots. The game's enemies include street thugs, ninja women and androids.
The game begins in an illegal casino and the streets of the New York City, with the Punisher (optionally partnered with Nick Fury) in 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 and his arch-enemy, Jigsaw. After the Kingpin and Jigsaw are defeated, the entire tower collapses, but they are not found among the many dead criminals in the rubble.
Development and release
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. This version also contains some content censorship, including removing the most explicit violence as well as the animation of Fury smoking his cigar, and female ninja enemies with skimpy outfits becoming fully clothed.
The arcade version of the game was very well received by post-2000 reviewers. 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. It was also ranked 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." GamePower gave the arcade version a total score of 33 out of 40, with a 10 out of 10 score for the game's "fun factor".
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 Industries included it among the top ten most iconic Marvel video games, calling it "one of the few games that benefits from its cheesiness", 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," stating the game did not sell well as the market was already flooded with beat 'em up games. 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 overall did not reach the quality that the series was 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." AllGame gave the Genesis version a rating of 2½ out of 5.
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