Frank Castle’s got a reason to be pissed off. He’s an ex-Marine whose wife and children were murdered by the mob, and he’s surrounded by hardcore criminals who the police seem powerless to stop. So, like any other grudge-holding antisocial American, he picks up an arsenal of pain and fights back.
The Punisher is an “on rails” scrolling shooter, a genre that’s a little rare for the NES. The camera scrolls along a predetermined path while you shoot the assortment of baddies that appear. However, most of these games are strictly first person, while this one has you glaring over the shoulder of The Punisher as he fires his weapons. So is it a first person or a third person shooter? And what’s the deal with corn nuts? Are they corn, or are they nuts?
Well it’s really a bit of both and it works very, very well. You aim your crosshairs exactly as you would in a first person shooter, but moving the crosshairs to one side of the screen has your third person Punisher shift to that side. So you’re able to direct his movements as well as aim, and this allows you to dodge any bullets shot by your enemies. It’s a pretty neat system, though you’ll have to juggle between shooting and dodging – whenever you’re firing, you’re locked in place so you can aim your crosshairs around the screen without having Castle fly around too.
No review of this game could get away without mentioning the interactive backgrounds. Though relatively common now, the massive amount of environment damage you can perform here was impressive for its time. Nearly every single thing you see on the screen can be deformed in some way, from shooting out windows to marking the walls and streets with bullet holes. Your enemies use these backgrounds to their advantage as well, popping out of windows, rolling out from alleys, hiding behind boxes – it all means you won’t often have a clean shot at your enemies, and a lot of these destructible backgrounds are gonna get torn up by the time the Punisher finishes his rampage.
The graphics are really pretty impressive and the lighting almost atmospheric. It’s no comic book, but it uses some of the same ideas. Shades of blues and purples give the idea of neon and city streets at night. The indoor and sewer areas look a bit worse and suffer from basic walls that lack much detail, but you can still understand what is being represented and there’s still plenty to shoot.
The game takes you through six missions of about two levels a piece. You can take the first three in any order, and once you beat them you’re taken through the last three, right up to the final office areas of arch-villian Kingpin. Fans of the series will recognize a few of the faces such as Kingpin and Jigsaw, but you don’t have to be familiar with the comics to enjoy the show. There are varying enemy types but you’ll find nearly all of them right away, and the the same group populates all the levels. Each enemy has a couple definite patterns that will be the same for every type you see. The different combinations of enemies and patterns will likely get repetitive by the end of the game, but keep things interesting and unpredictable at least for the first few missions.
Boss fights also appear at the end of each mission, but these are pretty simple dodge and shoot affairs. The regular missions are what can surprise you, and a group of regular enemies can drop you pretty quickly. Generous powerups (hidden in those destructible environments, of course) keep the difficulty fair, but don’t underestimate the need for dodging, and for shooting enemies quickly so they don’t gang up.
Sound is an interesting point here, as there is virtually none. There are a few themes at the beginning and during boss fights, but in the levels all you will hear are the sounds of gunfire. Punisher’s weapons – a standard uzi, an assault rife pickup, and a “super gun” given as a bonus for killing all enemies in a level – all do sound different and more menacing as they increase in power. The explosions of grenades and rockets are much less impressive however, and all the enemy weapons sound like cap guns. There are no noises when you hit or destroy objects either, so the entire soundtrack for the game is a combination of the scratch scratch scratch of enemy fire followed by the chug chug chug of your weapons. It’s pretty dull dull dull.
Overall, if you’re looking for NES shooters of this style, The Punisher is one of the best. The great backgrounds, plenty of intelligently-placed enemies, and “just right” amount of levels make it one worth playing.
Destructible backgrounds, challenging difficulty, plenty to shoot
Lack of real sound, smart controls but only if you take the time to get used to them.