During the lockdown, I was bored. It’s no surprise that this, and I’m sure many other blogs resurfaced during this period, but sadly, a man can only spin the wheels of content production for so long before the endless Twitter following sprees start to remind you that all life is ultimately meaningless and no one will remember you.
Thankfully, there is one other thing I can do to a semi decent standard, and that is build arcade machines. I’m no expert engineer, but I figured out the mysteries of the Raspberry Pie and the riddles of hyperspin and MAME, and slapped it into a box built from what is, quite frankly, an obscene amount of wood glue.
The first thing you realise, after slapping together a system like this, is that there were a lot of quarters and dimes to hoover out of childrens pockets in the 1980’s. Because of this sweaty goldmine, there are a lot of arcade games, and because children are terrible at everything, especially objectively assessing quality, a lot of them are garbage.
There is also a massive amount of shoddily rendered 16 bit Mahjong games focussed primarily on the scantily clad lady on the back of the tiles, but that’s for another time.
Hence the need for reviews like this. The world may have moved on, but there is something about an early nineties sprite animation that fills me with joy that isn’t equalled by Call Of Duties kill cam, or anything in the modern era. It just looks like fun to me. The sprite, not the headshots.
The Punisher, released in 1993, is one of the best arcade games I’ve played (and I will be the first to admit, I am expanding my horizons all the time). The game is a classic slide scrolling Capcom blast, with those big snarly sprites that the era was best for. The graphics have the look of a pulp comic book, which is just perfect, provided you don’t let ideas like “good taste” ruin things for yourself.
As a tasty bit of trivia, it’s the first game Capcom and Marvel produced together, starting the partnership that has delivered the pinnacle of goofy fighting games and gave us a tonne more of those big character beat em ups that exist all the way through to today.
I mean, of course there are fair criticisms that can be levelled at The Punisher. It is basically exactly the same game play wise from countless other side scrolling beat em ups. If you’ve played Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, or TMNT arcade games, you’ll get the deal immediately. It’s not looking to reinvent the wheel, it just wants to build a really nice wheel.
There are some changes, the range of weapons you can pick up is great, from guns, to knives, to stuff you can throw. There were a few times in the later levels where I found myself pinned against a wall of enemies, only to find a weapon on the floor and blowing them away.
The backgrounds and changing levels are also great, in the first few minutes you’ll go from a street, to a moving bus, to the criminals’ compound. The big hyper colourful graphics do a lot to help ease things along, and the constant shift of location help break up the gameplay, which, if we’re being honest, is mostly punching men in different colour jackets in the face.
But that’s what you’re here for right? No one picks up a game made by Capcom starring the Punisher for it’s subtle plot elements.
One other disappointment, and it is incredibly minor and probably not fair for me to mention, is the lack of headline stars in the enemies of the game, there are a few, the KingPin, Jigsaw and others, but you’re not going to see the same big names that you’ll see in the retro X-Men games for example. Obviously, this isn’t a problem so much as a choice, but dammit, sometimes your inner child really wants that cup of nostalgia to runneth over.
Overall, I love it. It’s a wave of childhood nostalgia that plays tightly, looks bananas in the best way, and is still a damn good time. It helps that it’s not designed for the ADHD powered reflexes of children, it’s still a challenge, but it’s a challenge my old 30 year old fingers can rise to.
The Punisher, 1993: 4/5