maanantai 15. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - The Punisher | GEN | 1994

GENRE(S): Beat 'em up
DEVELOPER(S): Capcom, Sculptured Software (GEN)

One of the first games in Capcom's long and successful line of Marvel comic book adaptations was another game simply called The Punisher. Unlike the DOS game which was a mess of an action-adventure game and the NES game which was a rail shooter, The Punisher was designed in the vein of Capcom's very own Final Fight. The original arcade game was praised by critics as one of the best comic book licenses of the time, however the Sega Genesis port was shunned, mostly due to its highly inferior audiovisuals and international censorship issues. Let's take a look; it's the last one on the list before the few Marvel ensemble games I've got lined up, so let's hope that there's at least something to it.

Frank 'n Fury

Frank teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Nick Fury to take down mafia enforcer Bruno Costa, who turns out to be Wilson Fisk's right-hand man. Two flies, two guys, so let's go kill us some scum,

You know, I often talk side-scrolling beat 'em ups down, but I at least try to bring up their best qualities as well. In non-money-related reality, they can be really entertaining, they're so simple and casual. The worst thing with these games is that they're usually copies of each other; back in the time, you could buy a whole bulk of these games and the next one was always worse than the last in your head. You might've even considered Batman Returns and Maximum Carnage on the SNES awful wastes of time and money, just because you had owned a copy of Final Fight or TMNT IV since day one, and before that, a copy of TMNT II. Thus, you had paid full prices for a few identical copies of those age-old favourites. Nothing changed with these games except the coating, especially when it came to licensed games. No matter who the developers were, they were ultimately counting on the license to sell itself. And it did. We've got to remember one thing, though. Most of these games were made by Capcom and Konami, two of the best in the field of video games in general. (Please, let's not go into who unleashed Maximum Carnage.)

Take that, pool boy!
Konami's Batman Returns on the SNES was one of the best Final Fight clones ever made, mildly ruined by a forceful surge of something it was not, and never meant to be. Capcom's greatest challenge with The Punisher was the license they had on their hands itself. Since The Punisher's all about guns and killing, you can't immediately imagine Frank beating up guys left and right on the streets of New York. That is exactly why there's a lot more to it, and there's a feeling Capcom might've tried to make the game something it's not just like Konami did. It's not a conventional beat 'em up, that's for sure, but Capcom modified their own concept like champs here and managed to make a game with nothing to actually throw you off the ball like Batman Returns had, in the slightest. The Punisher is a very good, even unique game in its genre, and behind the curtain, it is very faithful to its cause. You haven't the need to play the arcade game to see the flaws here, though.

So, I've no experience of the arcade game. I browsed through a few screenshots and watched a video or two to cup a feel of the game, though, and sure, it was a pretty damn good-looking game in its time. When an arcade beat 'em up was ported to a 16-bit console, the graphical compromises were very often minimal, but The Punisher was obviously a disappointment. It's much less detailed, very little can happen on the screen at a time in comparison (to merely allow a co-op game at this capacity, I guess), and the censorship's a real drag. The violence that is an obvious part, if not a calling card of the Punisher franchise is downplayed and not just by the total absence of blood - there's some orange goo that looks like mucus in its stead - but by the non-existent division between a victim of a shooting and a well-placed kick to the head, and totally needless, "family-friendly" modifications to some cutscenes which were apparently much closer to home in the original arcade title.

You can choose between The Punisher and Nick Fury, but the difference between them is purely cosmetic unlike in Final Fight where you had two (or three) completely different characters to suit different needs and playing styles. You attack with A, jump with B, and that's essentially it - A+B once again triggers a powerful special move which drains your own health, and then there's a very limited stock of kill 'em all items in your inventory for a last resort, just like in Batman Returns. The main draw of the game is the huge amount of different weapons, both melee and ranged - combat knives, baseball bats, different guns, a flamethrower and a ridiculously huge battleaxe straight from the medieval times, just to name a few favourites to dish out some (unfortunately blood-less) punishment. Using these weapons to your advantage doesn't take anything away from the game unlike the grappling sequences in Batman Returns; they're added in for the exact same, apparent reason, to establish a more exciting game more faithful to the cause, only this solution works. It's smooth, it's fun, it's high-impact, it's tense. I like it.

It's obvious the developers never served... hold
an assault rifle like that and see what happens
when you fire. At the docks, by the way.
The Punisher is punishing in its difficulty from time to time. Some enemies, you just can't find their number, a fight with them is impossible to survive unscathed especially if there's another enemy involved. You have no means to defend yourself, if you don't happen to be in luck and stumble onto a useful power-up at the exact right time several times in a row, or a weapon the enemy has no chance against, such as the flamethrower. Although it's easy to get lost in a mashfest in these games, it would still be nice to have the mere knowledge of a block button's existence. There's a dodge manouver, but it's not too easy to manage.

The Punisher's another clone, but it's a good one. You thought I'd bash it, I sure as hell believed I'd be in for another total mess, but probably since I've never experienced the arcade game, I was actually in for one of the most entertaining games I've played in this context in a long time - I almost feel sad that it's the last one. Wait... no, I don't. Anyway, thank you all for bearing with me on this Marvel marathon. It's been a long year and a half. A few Marvel ensemble games later, I'll be doing a short summary of the whole wretched thing, and we're finally off to a new path. I hope the short chapter with the ensemble games leaves me with a similar aftertaste as this game, so that it would all end on a moderately high note.

+ Smooth mixture of melee and ranged action makes for a somewhat different beat 'em up...
+ ...Without anything that would not belong, or anything that would take away from the action
+ Still good graphics, no matter how downgraded...

- ...It's the lessened interaction and the censorship that bother me
- The differences between the two playable characters are purely cosmetic
- Suffers some huge, occasional spikes in difficulty throughout
- The usual: we've seen most of it before, and you just can't beat the classics

< 8.0 >

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