Today, a new Punisher film hits the theaters. By my count, that makes three. The latest movie is Dolph Lungren free, but certainly looks nice and violent, as befits the character. Back in the early 90s, the Punisher was quite popular in the comics. Following on the heels of the X-Men arcade game (why isn't that on XBLA and PSN yet, anyway?) came a video game adaptation of Frank Castle, the Punisher himself. Big guns, big explosions, carnage and mayhem on a grand scale, and to top it all off, you could team up with a friend who played as an awesome special guest character. Today, we'll revisit this Marvel comics-based Co-Op Classic.
I was never a huge fan of the Punisher. As far as my super heroes go, I prefer the goody two shoes type: Spider-Man, Captain America, the Silver Surfer, even ROM the Spaceknight. A goody two shoes, the Punisher is not. Frank Castle is a violent, vengeful man, with enough weapons to outfit the army of a small country. And then there's his costume, which is certainly iconic but not exactly friendly and happy. The Punisher is one mean guy who you really don't want to deal with. Especially if you are one of the countless legions of lowlife criminals he wages war against.
So, when you take a tough as nails protagonist, throw in a huge array of weaponry, and throw him against limitless waves of criminals, you have a great recipe for a video game. The first thing that impressed me about the Punisher arcade game was the graphics. The Punisher seemed quite large and well detailed, especially when compared to similar games that came out earlier, like Captain America and the Avengers. His costume seemed to be a bit on the baby blue end of the spectrum, which was jarring, but it's still soke nice sprite work. In the comic book style BLAM! and KABOOM! popped up on the screen often. The gameplay was average, in the tradition of many similar beat em ups of the era. Basic attacks were augmented by a good variety of weapons, from baseball bats to huge machine guns. The enemies were, for the most part, generic, but a few villains from the comics appeared, most notably the Kingpin as the final boss.
This is Co-Optimus, dedicated to co-op gameplay, so I must mention the second playable character. The problem with the Punisher is, he's mostly a loner. He made several guest appearances in other comics, but usually he was a solo act. How do you make another character for the second player? You could take the palette swap route, like the Superman arcade game, but that is about as lame as it gets. Who wants to be red Superman, or, in this games case, the red Punisher? No one does. Thankfully, the game's creators found another character from Marvel's rather large stable who is easily Frank Castle's equal in coolness: Nick Fury. Yes, the war hero, leader of the Howling Commandos, and longtime director of S.H.I.E.L.D. He even has an eye patch, to make up for his lack of a huge skull on his chest. While the Punisher was a good game when played solo, when a buddy plopped in the quarters and joined in as Nick Fury, that's when the real fun began.
You'd be hard pressed to find a comic book character who represented the state of video games in the early 90s better than the Punisher. The whole mythos behind the character is the perfect backdrop for the then popular beat em up. Adding in a second character as cool as Nick Fury was the icing on the cake. If you are a fan of big guns, big explosions, and side-scrolling co-op, the Punisher arcade game is definitely worth a look.