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The Punisher (NES) artwork

The Punisher (NES) review


""A hitman is just another fighter waiting for The Punisher's knockout punch," says the titular hero, strangely referring to himself in the third person like one of his many eccentric nemises. This would seem to indicate right away that LJN, notorious for exclusively developing horrible licenced titles, is conducting business as usual, this time on Marvel Comics' vigilante demi-god. It's clear they just don't get much out of the material, other than "shoot criminals", just like the makers of Dolp..."



"A hitman is just another fighter waiting for The Punisher's knockout punch," says the titular hero, strangely referring to himself in the third person like one of his many eccentric nemises. This would seem to indicate right away that LJN, notorious for exclusively developing horrible licenced titles, is conducting business as usual, this time on Marvel Comics' vigilante demi-god. It's clear they just don't get much out of the material, other than "shoot criminals", just like the makers of Dolph Lundgren's ill-fated motion picture foray into the boots of Frank Castle, released around the same time as this limp-wristed and feeble attempt at a game.

To be fair to all involved, the Punisher wasn't terribly compelling when first introduced as the quasi-villain in an issue of Spider-Man in 1974. A product of the nihilism of the times and Marvel's response to Vietnam, he became the first "superhero" who willingly and efficiently wiped out the opposition with his M-16; a stark contrast to the noble humanism of Batman and Spidey. The skull on his shirt wasn't just a fashion statement, it represented a jaded and much darker viewpoint (and response) to crime. As a result, the comics could only get increasingly violent as the writers had him wipe out every organized crime organization on the globe with ever more powerful weaponry. The intial run of The Punisher lasted until 1995 -- a solid run by any means -- by then, Nick Castle had permanently killed every criminal on Earth (re-killed in some cases) and a lot of terrorists and Commies too.

This game does not expand upon the clumsy thesis: "We put 'em behind bars, but we still can't keep 'em off the street [sic]." That means exercising those unalienable rights given to you by the 2nd Amendment. Development team Beam Software makes aiming and shooting the only thing old Frank is doing here. That, and listlessly sliding down rails, gunning down the same three or four hoodlums. Occasionally one might pop out from behind a window. The AI is slightly different for each one, but they're all pretty good at running away and plugging your black jumpsuit full of holes. Shooting back is annoying because you can't aim without moving and vice versa, but at least you get to put holes in walls and sometimes shatter a window or decimate a trash can with that M-16.

The graphics on display here are on par with your average second-tier arcade shooter from this era. Everything is seen from over Frank Castle's beefy shoulders, especially the repeating clone enemies repeating their predictable attacks and dodges. If there was just a way to sit still or at least an easier way to dodge bullets, this would stand as a pretty solid, fast-paced and stylish looking action title. Unfortunately for all of Big Pun's fans, their beloved killing machine controls like a spasmo.

Calling the gameplay problematic would be a generalization. When you have to deal with multiple hoods plugging away at you, the only sensible strategy is to strafe back and forth which means spraying in a concentrated area. Sometimes you'll accidentally walk into the path of a bullet when you're trying to aim opposite your position. Purple-suited thugs will randomly emerge from the margins of the screen, shoot and hide without much chance to anticipate their arrival. Equally irritating are the thugs dressed exactly like US Marines (!?) who are able to run quickly (and hilariously, thanks to crap animation) yet still shoot with pinpoint accuracy. Your scant supply of grenades does very little against these cannon fodder thugs unless they're clustered together. Better to save them for bosses.

Each level has its own overlord, such as the Hitman on the first stage. The Punisher cracks off that pithy "just another fighter" line before setting off on his quest. Honestly the Hitman isn't even much of that, just bigger and a little faster than his minions are. A few grenades is enough to take care of him or even the other two bosses deemed worthy of Punishment. There's Jigsaw with the maggot face (and he don't care), and chicken hawk reactionary arms dealer (and possible Nazi) Kolonel Kliegg, with more devoted followers than Colonel Kurtz and even more bloodthirsty and relentless bodyguards. All three of them are scrubs, and don't really seem so fearsome as to be considered threats to society itself. However, this is from the era where he'd take on anyone, not just those ballsy enough to dig up his dead wife's remains and send the newspaper photos of them pissing into the open casket, for example.

This Punisher experience is mercifully brief and the "shoot every fucking thing that moves" gameplay is as shallow as it gets. It's pretty indicative of the lack of depth of the character that for 20 years no one could figure out how to make Frank Castle compelling beyond how he does violence. The film version is infinitely more hilarious than this game; a collection of every 80s action cliche known to mankind, tons of bullet-riddled Japanese dudes, and interracial homoeroticism. It's a badly dated turd but at least it has those other qualities to recommend viewing with a few beers. This game is also a badly dated turd but it commits the sin of merely being boring.

Fortunately for Mr. Castle and his fans, the incredible Punisher arcade brawler would come out a couple of years later, and a few years afer that, Garth Ennis would create an even more jaded and cynical Punisher. He'd also do the completely awesome one-shot Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe where our hero is hired by people injured by Marvel superheroes to eliminate all of them in his signature fashion. And he does. What's more, we're not the least bit surprised that he's capable of doing so.

By comparison, this Punisher is completely neutered.

Rating: 2/10

johnny_cairo's avatar
Community review by johnny_cairo (May 27, 2007)

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