perjantai 12. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - The Punisher | NES | 1990

GENRE(S): Rail shooter
RELEASED: November 1990
DEVELOPER(S): Beam Software

Created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru, and debuting as the main villain of an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in early 1974, Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, is one of the most popular cult characters of the Marvel universe. Armed with no special powers except incredible willpower fueled by pure hatred, Frank thinks that death, perhaps spiced up with a little bit of torture from time to time - if he's in the holiday spirit - is the only true form of justice. Especially after the huge critical and commercial failure of a 1989 feature film starring Dolph Lundgren, The Punisher was one guy you never thought to star in an NES game; enter LJN with their absurd ideas. Absurd and oozing with the usual stupidity or not, The Punisher for the NES is honestly one of LJN's best and positively innovative games.

Punish 'em fools

Driven by the violent deaths of his wife and children, Frank Castle delivers his own brand of shotgun justice on the streets of New York City under the alias of The Punisher, Hitman, Jigsaw, Colonel Kliegg, Sijo Kanaka and Assassin team up with the crime lord Kingpin to drive the city to the ground and take down the dark vigilante in the process.

From a guy who's into contrast and brutality such as me, it should come as no surprise that The Punisher is one of my favourite Marvel characters, and even though the few Punisher games I've got lined up ain't that promising, it's great to have Frank Castle as the last true star of this year and a half long marathon. The character himself and alone paves the way for a good exit before the few ensemble games that'll wrap it all up. Frank firmly believes in justice just as any superhero does - he just has his very own vision of justice, which usually involves a lethal hail of bullets. He's like the polar opposite of just about every other costumed freak out there - doesn't even use a mask, just that black spandex overall with a huge skull on it. It's like he wants his face to be the last thing scumbags see before dying. Poetic. Pointless, but poetic.

Copy-pasted graffiti. Real expressionism.
So, here we have an 8-bit video game called The Punisher, with a fairly large LJN logo in the lower left corner of the front of the box. It reminds me of the days when I was still living in the backwoods burg I once called home, where video games were sold at very few, random stores, and they were considered so valuable they kept 'em in locked glass cabinets, with only the front showing. You couldn't even hold the game in your hand, if you didn't pay for it first. A game like Super Mario Bros. 3 was guaranteed to blow your mind, you saw it up there and paid for it, no questions asked. But, let's pretend that kids of that time were wise when it came to video games. Let's also pretend games were actually reviewed back then, rather than just advertised with more or less volume. That LJN logo would've either been a pulsating warning sign, or a kind of an invisibility necklace. Sure, the cover art was neat and it looked the part - probably ripped straight off the comics. But that logo would've told you the real story. Right? Wrong, actually. Instead of being a stupid platformer, The Punisher is a stupid rail shooter, one of the only ones ever seen on the NES... and it's fairly good at being one!

The graphics are quite good for an NES game, there's enough variety between backgrounds although not that much when it comes to enemies. There's hardly any music at all; just a high-pitched theme song, a boss theme and a... saxophone solo. I'll get to it.

So there's really not much I can say about The Punisher. It's a left-to-right rail shooter with a total of six levels, with two stages and a boss battle each. Your goal is to kill (almost) everything that moves, with your primary weapon assigned to A and a secondary, very limited weapon for boss fights and gang-ups assigned to B. If you get a 100% kill ratio in one stage, you gain a gun upgrade for the next stage, which makes your progress a bit faster and comfier. Enemy bullets are slow and easy to dodge by simply strafing to the opposite direction on the screen. If you get careless and lose all of your lives, it's back to the beginning of the whole game, in the vintage arcade style this whole genre derives from.

Back at the docks!
OK, so first of all, the Nintendo Zapper is not supported, which is kinda weird, and it's generally uncomfortable to use a standard controller for aiming, but then again, the Zapper would eliminate the possibility of a secondary weapon. Besides, the field is quite limited, so there's not that much pain involved with moving the crosshair; it's just that you have to beat the game in one single session and the levels are very lengthy. And boring. I just had to fit that in somewhere. Take away the changing backgrounds and besides the boss fights, you'll feel like you're doing the exact same thing over and over again. But well, that's the usual problem with these sorts of games, especially the early ones - not really LJN's fault. ...But adding in the few civilians is. There are nearly always civilians in these games, usually meant to distract you by running across the screen at the worst possible moment, as if to hand out an invitation to a stray bullet and make you suffer a health penalty. Well, these civilians just stand or sit around; one's playing a saxophone on the street. All that chaos and mayhem around him, bullets flying and people dying, and he just sits on the stairs and plays the fuck out of that sax. Gotta hand it to the man.

The Punisher is not really that difficult, it just takes a lot of dedication I'm guessing only kids can spare - although I can't really see myself allowing a seven-year old to play The Punisher. Of course it's got no blood or any other excessities, it's a very tame game, but they might get so excited they'll go after the 2005 game, which is known to gross out even some adults, there's no telling what it'll do to a kid. That game ain't on the list, though, in case you're wondering - but I might go for it at a later date, it sounds quite interesting in terms of brutality. Now for the final judgement on this one: a surprisingly decent game in a very stale genre, published by a whorehouse that hardly ever got anything right. Deciding on whether that was an insult or a compliment is hard even for myself, but I guess the insulting part's just a reflex. Mild entertainment for the bored masses, which is more than I can say about 99% of LJN's catalog.

+ The Punisher!
+ It's a rail shooter (simplicity)

- It's a rail shooter (level design)
- There's no point in having civilians just sitting around, plus it's dumb
- Running out of ammo in boss fights forces you to suicide

< 7.0 >

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