Monday, August 8, 2011

Streets of The Punisher's Final Fight

I can't think of any comic book character that so easily makes the translation to video game form than the Punisher. In newer games he's a perfect excuse to do a game about a dude running around and shooting guys, and The Punisher for Xbox/PS2/PC from 2005 did a great job making boring old torture and murder into an exciting sport by using a Tony Hawk Pro Skater-style scoring system. But that is a topic for another day. In 1994, Capcom released a port of their arcade game, also simply titled The Punisher, on the Genesis. The arcade game was programmed by Capcom themselves, but the port was handled by Sculptured Software, the company responsible for Metal Mech and Eliminator Boat Duel.


After the success of Final Fight, Capcom did their best to capitalize on the popularity of beat'em ups by release a whole bunch of them. While they initially did so with original properties, such as Captain Commando, they eventually started doing licensed games. At nearly the same time they released Cadillacs and Dinosaurs and The Punisher, both of which added slightly different ideas on the genre. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs played pretty basic, but it introduced a drastically different setting, as well as the titular caddies and dinos.

The Punisher is a typical beat'em up, but it has an increased emphasis on the use of guns. Probably the most impressive thing about the game is simply the choice of the Punisher in a beat'em up. I mean, the basic premise of almost every beat'em up is that the main character has their girlfriend stolen, and so he goes to the streets and beats the shit out of everyone until he gets her back. By using the Punisher, they didn't even have to go into that much depth. Frank Castle's family is dead, and he's going out into the streets to kill the fuck out of crime. It's genius, and it is probably the only beat'em up that makes sense in context. You're the Punisher, and you're going to kill every gangster in town. I'm not entirely sure why Nick Fury would be helping him, but if you have a grizzled badass 1P, I guess you need a grizzled badass 2P.


The arcade version is a solid game, with flashy action, lots of destructible stuff, and is generally a lot fun. The genesis version is an admirable port, though not as flashy or destructible, it is still fun. The controls are mostly standard fair. There is attack, jump, and special. I was initially annoyed that there wasn't an option to play with the standard Streets of Rage button layout, but fit didn't take long to adjust. The usual attacks are there, the punch combo that ends with a stronger knockdown attack, a jump attack, and a special that clears the crowd but harms the user as well. Less usual is the jumping special attack, which drops a grenade below you and blows everybody up. It doesn't harm the user, but there are limited uses, though more grenades can be picked up through the stages.


There are a lot of different weapons in the game. Some make sense, like machine guns and metal pipes, but others just baffling, like battle axes and kunai. I mean, this does take place in modern day New York City, right? Maybe I'm just not informed on the weapon choices of gang bangers in the 90's, but I guess nobody would start a beef on your corner if you had a battle ax. There are also other fun weapons like flamethrowers and large oil drums, which are occasionally fill with standard things like chicken and pizza. The most interesting weapon is actually something you don't pick up. Whenever an enemy with a firearm shows up on screen, Punisher draws his handgun, and you can hammer on attack to fire in their general direction (though the crosshairs always auto-aim to their junk for some reason). It seems oddly polite to just put away the gun whenever there are just melee enemies on screen though. I guess he's just sporting.


The most important attack in The Punisher is the forward, forward attack, which is completely invincible. Maybe the ability to kick the through any enemy attacks ruined the game and made it too easy, but what was I supposed to do, not abuse a clearly broken system? I was able to complete the game on Normal in a less than an hour without losing more than a couple of lives. That is the problem with beat'em ups. If they are too easy, they feel short and unsatisfying, so most are made difficult in cheap ways, which becomes frustrating. Still, it is a fun game, and if it were the mid-nineties, I'd totally suggest that you rent it.

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