The Punisher (1993 video game)
North American arcade flyer
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 Capcom's previous beat 'em ups, the game has a range of usable weapons and a comics-style presentation.
The Punisher gained significant popularity in arcades and is widely regarded as one of the best titles in the beat 'em up genre as well as one of the best video game adaptations of comic books. A Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) home port was developed by Sculptured Software and published by Capcom USA and Marvel Entertainment in 1994 to mixed reviews.
The Punisher follows the same side-scrolling beat'em up formula Capcom established in Final Fight and Captain Commando as the protagonists engage foes and stage bosses. As in most beat'em up games of this kind, progression through the game is achieved by systematically eliminating all common enemies and proceeding to the right (or left), and defeating the bosses met at the end of each stage. Unlike in Final Fight, the player characters 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, which can be chained chained into combos, 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.
Various melee (including baseball bats and Japanese swords) 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 stages. Treasure too can be found in containers, awarding the player with bonus score points once collected (jewelry also appears after defeating female enemies). Health can be replenished by picking up food, which can also give bonus points. The game distinguishes itself by the frequent use of firearms, including an Ingram and a M16. 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. Player characters can also pick up and collect hand grenades that can be deployed at a moment of choice.
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 the 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 money 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 an improved Guardroid, the Punisher in turn assaults the King Building skyscraper and fights his way through Jigsaw and other enemies to the final showdown against the Kingpin himself. After the Kingpin is defeated, the entire tower collapses, but he is not found among the many dead criminals in the rubble.
The Punisher for the arcades was released in April 1993, marking the beginning of the partnership between Marvel Comics and Capcom, which led to the series Marvel vs. Capcom. Artworks from the game were featured in the 2012 art book Marvel vs. Capcom: Official Complete Works by Udon Entertainment.
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 an independent American company 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 port also comes with three difficulty settings, but the Easy setting ends after only three stages and the game can be properly completed only on Normal or Hard. The PlayStation version was reported in works by Crystal Dynamics, but was never completed.
Upon its release, GamePower gave the arcade version of The Punisher a 10 out of 10 partial score for the game's "fun factor". Its action was praised by GamePro, who remarked that "this game's outstanding feature is its gorgeous graphics, which capture the dark, somber mood of the Punisher comic books." A 2013 review in Game Stalker opined that The Punisher 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 Streets of Rage was able to achieve.
Reviewing the Genesis conversion, VideoGames called it "a decent exercise in vigilante mayhem" that is "surprisingly fun, yet fairly standard game." A preview by Mean Machines Sega opined it "looks good" and features "fantastic weaponry", but Electronic Gaming Monthly criticized the characters for being too small on the screen, also stating that there was little to no skill involved in defeating the bosses. EGM praised the number of weapons and moves available but nonetheless concluded that "the whole game comes across as routine and bland." GamePro outright panned the port, commenting that the special moves are too difficult to pull off, the sound effects are weak, the gameplay is generic and unimaginative beat 'em up fare, and "the graphics never come close to the coin-op game that this cart is based on." It was also 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." The May 1995 issue of Hyper even had The Punisher as the worst rated game of the month.
Notwithstanding the flawed home port and limited commercial success, the arcade original has achieved a cult game status. Official Sega Saturn Magazine and Official PlayStation Magazine both wished for The Punisher to be included in Capcom's arcade compilation releases for the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation, respectively. Retro Gamer called it "a forgotten gem in Capcom's back catalogue" that "is bursting with character and is extremely enjoyable," surmising the game did not sell well because the market was already flooded with beat 'em up games. GamesTM retorospectively described it and the arcade Alien vs. Predator as old "gaming nuggets" that provided a "nirvana for fight fans" as "back in the mid-Nineties, no-one made scrolling beat-'em-ups like Capcom." Some media outlets also singled out for a special praise the game's particular elements, such as with Complex regarding its arcade cabinet and Cracked.com regarding its game over sequence. Crunchyroll's 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." According to gamesTM, "Capcom's The Punisher was a brutally violent fighter that perfectly captured the anti-hero it was based on. Featuring buckets of blood, some nasty moves and hordes of enemies, action came thick and fast, and so did the excitement." The magazine too expressed a wish for it to be included in a compilation re-release for a more modern gaming system, in this case the PlayStation Portable, but noted that the chances of this are slim due to a long-expired license.
Some critics regard The Punisher as among the best of the beat 'em up genre, as well as among the best video game adaptations of comic books, especially of Marvel titles. In 2010, it was ranked as the tenth top greatest superhero game by IGN's News & Features Team, who noted it "was pretty brutal for its time," and as the fifth top Marvel arcade game by iFanboy's Josh Richardson. Nerdist Industries included it among the top ten most iconic Marvel video games in 2013, calling it "one of the few games that benefits from its cheesiness" and stating that in 1993 the two-player experience "was pretty much what Army of Two wishes it was today." That same year, it was also listed as one of top beat 'em up games of all time by Heavy.com's Elton Jones, as well as being included amongst the best looking beat 'em up games from the 16-bit era by Kotaku Australia's Gergo Vas. David Hawkins of WhatCulture! declared it number one best comics-based arcade game in a 2011 ranking, being "above and beyond all other arcade adaptations of comic books and their heroes," and Jon Ledford of Arcade Sushi opined that "in terms of pure enjoyment, ingenuity, control, and graphics, The Punisher is the Best Retro Beat 'Em Up of all time."
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