The Punisher (Mega Drive) Review

Uh-oh, here we go again! I’m afraid in order to have an actual “Then and Now” thoughts section I have to review a far inferior home version of a great Arcade game once more, in this case the 1993 Punisher game’s Mega Drive port. Maybe when “Scrolling Sundays” comes to its planned end I’ll do some bonus weeks of reviewing the actual good original versions of some of these games… With all that being said, let’s take a look!

Background:

Who needs guns? Not the Punisher! … He’ll still use them all the time, mind you…

The Punisher was released into Arcades in 1993, with the heavily censored and downgraded Mega Drive port appearing in the US in December 1994 and in PAL territories April 1995.

To put it in proper perspective, the Arcade game received universal praise by critics and was among the most played machines of the year, while the Mega Drive port flopped, being critically panned and not selling many copies… Let’s find out why!

Gameplay:

Damn, aiming for the groin… That’s some unpleasant punishing!

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that this game is a CAPCOM scrolling beat ‘em up, and as such follows the nice and satisfying gameplay seen in their previous efforts. Punch/kick combos, jumping, grappling (where you can hit and throw) plus a health-draining special move, all combined with health and weapon pick-ups (plus other pick-ups for just score). Unusually for a game of the era (though as covered last week, not THAT unusual!) you can pick up guns as well as melee weapons, though in the home version there is no violence beyond a comic book “BLAM!” as you fire the gun, and an equally comic book “KRAK!” when you take a hit. No blood or anything. Oddly both playable characters, The Punisher and Nick Fury, play pretty much exactly same moveset-wise…

Beyond the guns and the comic book aesthetic there isn’t anything else to talk about with The Punisher, it’s just a solid CAPCOM beat ‘em up with a fun license… well, the original anyway. It has to be said that due to smaller, less detailed sprites, slower animations and far fewer enemies on-screen, the Mega Drive version isn’t anywhere near as solid as the original, from what I can tell from footage anyway (I could download a MAME ROM and test for myself, but I want to make sure my opinions are only on the one version at the moment…)

As for clichés? Well it lacks overweight enemies (apart from Kingpin as a boss, obviously!), though it does have tall enemies that running tackle you, they pretty much act the same.. It has female enemies that have been censored by having more clothes put on, that’s definitely a classic! Level wise it pretty much has every cliché in the book, from streets to sewers to a lift level and a final stage in a red-carpeted sky-scraper. Hooray!

Graphics and Sound:

Ugh… those barrels. They should’ve just remade them from scratch rather than… whatever that is!

As already mentioned, the Mega Drive version takes the nice detailed sprites and varied backgrounds of the Arcade game and scales it back… allll the way back. The sprites are far smaller and less detailed, the backgrounds muddy and boring, and generally the game looks and runs slower and uglier. It’s far from the worse looking Mega Drive game, but when compared to the original, or even games like Streets of Rage, it comes off poorly.

Sound is … okay? The Mega Drive chiptune set is notoriously … off-sounding, so once again the Arcade original outshines it here, but it’s not TOO bad. The soundeffects are fine, though the voice samples? Not so much…

Story:

The Punisher punches a half-man, half-tank person until his human half flies off. “Just another day at the office.”

It’s you basic Punisher story: Frank Castle is on the hunt for the mob head honcho whose men killed his family. He goes through several of his rogues gallery, including the likes of Bushwhacker and Jigsaw, until he reaches Kingpin. He defeats him and levels his large tower to end the game.

If you’ve selected 2-Player then SHIELD head Nick Fury follows Punisher around with no explanation as to why he’d just stand next to this violent vigilante and let him kill a bunch of people… or not kill them, just beat them up a bit if you’re playing the censored Mega Drive version…

Thoughts Then:

Swing and a miss! … Is a good sum up of this game.

This is one of those games I played around a friend’s house and enjoyed it, but never really played it again. I enjoyed the Marvel setting and the comic book effects and stuff, but it didn’t stick with me as a great gaming experience… and that was before I knew about the superior Arcade version…

Thoughts Now:

A lift level taking place on top of a lift! That’s at least something different!

Now? After so many solid-to-great scrolling beat ‘em ups its harder to look away from this game’s flaws… it’s slow and looks a bit crap, and given it shares the same console as the Streets of Rage series I find it hard to just say it was “of the time”. It’s not… it’s just, poor. Not awful or anything, there are worse examples, but certainly not worth going out of your way to play…

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