Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: The Punisher (NES)

with one comment

punisher_nes_boxConsole: NES
Released: 1990
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: LJN
Difficulty: Moderate
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played as a child? Yes
Price: $5.88 (used)  $27.47 (complete) $130.00 (new)  pricecharting.com
Famicom Version? No, this was Nintendo only
Ports: Gameboy (differences, see below)
Digital Release? No

In probably one of the most doomed to fail ideas, I have to admit that in my childhood The Punisher was my first taste of what would later establish a love for light gun and first-person shooters alike.  Ironically, this title is neither.  It takes the crosshair light gun motif we first saw in Operation Wolf and adapts it into a third-person shooter (without light gun) that integrated upgrades and even brawler elements to an otherwise rote shooter title.  Released in 1990, and despite the common license and title that holds no similarity to other games, The Punisher was a licensed LJN game that proved you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  In short, I loved this flawed, aggressive shooter.

punisher_2Your task is to take down some of the biggest criminals the city has to offer, including longtime Punisher nemesis Jigsaw, in a series of levels.  Interestingly enough, you aren’t forced into linear progression; the game allows you to choose any of the three initial targets to go after.  As you take out each one, the remaining two targets become available levels until your final option, Kingpin, becomes the only level and boss.  With each target you are given two levels to conquer, each containing power-ups, ammo, and grenades to help build up your arsenal, and a final encounter with the target themself.  Unfortunately the power of choice, at least for me, is tarnished by the fact that doing the levels in their obvious order (from left to right) seems to be the only viable way to complete the game.  Along the way you will take out a massive army of the game’s three or four enemy types and eventually make your way to a boss.  The biggest hurdle is that if you run out of lives, it’s game over.  No continues, no second chances.  This isn’t really a deal breaker, it just establishes long bouts between attempts to finish the game.

punisher_3I was quite impressed with the graphical prowess, the amount of enemies on screen, and the apparent depth of an NES game that premiered at the end of the console’s life.  Sure, the NES would hang on for several more years, but most of us graduated into the 16-bit generation the year following The Punisher‘s release.  You are tasked not only with the point-and-sho0t mentality but also the placement of your character on screen, an interesting addition to the traditional light gun format that I haven’t seen since.  There’s also the brawler element, key to completing two of the boss battles, that requires you to have more than crack shot skills.  Unfortunately the music is what takes the greatest hit.  All of the levels seem eerily quiet and the saxophone player that shows up in the most odd of times and location provides the only break from the action, but his song is neither interesting enough nor is there any incentive to keep him alive.  The last battle with Kingpin is also somewhat dis jarring – I promise that the first time you get to him you will lose, and die, and be livid with the nearly 90 minutes trek back to one single battle that stands in the way of completion.  Either way, I was impressed back then and I’m equally amused now to play what I consider a gem from the deep archives of Nintendo’s initial console.

Gameboy Version

Aside from my impressive nods to those that managed to reprogram this title to the dot matrix portable, The Punisher (now renamed with an Ultimate Payback sub-title) is just as good and addicting on the Gameboy.  An odd change swapped Jigsaw to the final boss, a more appropriate plot point from any Marvel fan’s perspective, but otherwise the game is entirely the same.

Written by Fred Rojas

April 14, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Posted in NES, Reviews, Videos

Tagged with , , ,

One Response

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  1. Fantastic game. Forgot about it for years! It’s a shame that it never got a digital release! I guess that’s what emulation is for.

    NeoJake

    April 15, 2013 at 8:49 am


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