By Eric Drumm
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it—warts and all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
Unlike some other heroes, the Punisher has never really had a misstep in his video game forays. From the over-the-shoulder ninja shooting escapades on the NES to his PS2 bloodbath, he has always delivered the goods. But my personal favorite has always been his one and only arcade outing, coincidentally enough titled simply: "The Punisher." It's been 14 years, but I can still smell the blood from Frank Castle's six stages of mayhem.
The classic beat-'em-up style brawler was a common offering from arcades in 1993. Games such as "Double Dragon" and "Final Fight" paved the way for other punk-bashing titles, and Marvel (via Capcom) weighed in with the one character who would truly deserve such computerized chaos—Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher. Around that time, I had been frying my Sega Genesis by playing "Streets of Rage 2" over and over again. I couldn't get enough of tossing dudes around while roundhouse kicking my foes in the neck. If I wasn't crushing criminals with my six-button controller I was reading comics. So imagine my surprise when I came upon this titan of an arcade machine at a Trumball, Conn. mall.
As a tyke, the image of the Punisher (and a pistol brandishing Nick Fury, controlled by the second player) busting caps across the cabinet more than piqued my interest. The familiar Capcom banner let me know that I was in safe territory. "Final Fight" and "Street Fighter 2" were favorites, so there was no way this could suck, thought my nine year old self. I ordered my older brother to give me all the money in his pocket so I could mash some buttons and honor the violent legacy of one of my favorite Marvel characters (What culture of violence?).
The Punisher arcade
As I pumped in every available quarter, what I found was much more than I bargained for. The game starts out like a typical Punisher comic—family dead, lots of guns, real bad attitude, tons of bad guys to kill. However, as soon as I crashed through a ceiling window onto some unsuspecting punks, I knew this wasn't going to be anything like I thought.
What I found was six levels of absolute insanity. In just the first level, I had beaten several dudes to death with a baseball bat, gunned down a few others and then dove off a speeding Battle Van onto a runaway school bus and shot the boss in the face. As I hacked my way through the next level, I was becoming consumed with bloodlust.
"The Punisher" offered the same stock assortment of wieldable weapons strewn about the environments that you'd see in most beat-'em-ups. You had your pipes, bats and knives, so no surprises there. But once the first guy with a battle-axe came at me, I was sort of scratching my head. Since when does the Punisher use a battle-axe? Where are all the guns
? But I was having so much fun, I didn't care. I knocked the guy over and then dispatched him with it, the pixelated blood spraying across the screen. Between the axe, sword, flame-throwing fire extinguisher and giant ninja star, I was no longer disappointed that the game didn't just give me an M-16 to mow them all down. This was way
cooler. Sure, sure, occasionally a broken steel drum would yield an Uzi with a limited magazine, but slashing up wiseguys certainly had a charm to it.
At the end of the second level, things got a little weird. The boss of the first level was an oversized lunk named Scully. This time I was met with a giant robot who claims to have been sent by Kingpin. I punched at his knees which didn't do too much damage, so I decided to use some the grenades that I had been saving up all level. When the fire and explosions cleared, the giant robot fried me with a death beam from its electronic eye. Great, I'm dead. Cut to the Punisher laying dead the floor, an EEG meter flat lining below his lifeless body. As the counter started its way down, we see Microchip, Punisher's trusty accomplice furiously applying CPR. I jammed in some more quarters and the Punisher sprang back to life, pulling out his pistol and firing off some joy rounds. Back in the game, I killed the giant deathbot by karate kicking it. That's right, I killed it with a karate kick while the bombs did almost nothing. Ah, video games.
The next few levels were more of the same. I fought knife-wielding punks, weird robot men with cheap Mr. Fantastic stretchy arm attacks and sword slinging ninja ladies who had magic powers. I killed them in packs, dropping grenades and any other ridiculous weapon I could find. I saw some familiar faces along the way as well. Bone Breaker shot some missiles at me and I killed Bushwacker with a knight's lance. It was sharp and his flesh was squishy, so it made sense, at least to my adolescent self.
Eventually I reached my destination: Kingpin's tower. Blowing a hole in the side of it with a bazooka, everything became a haze of blood and fury. Speaking of fury, at this point my brother jumped in and joined me as super-spy badass Nick Fury. Fury could do everything the Punisher could, except he smoked a cigar while he did it. [Editor's note: Remember kids, smoking is wrong. But Fury is cool and he can do whatever the heck he wants.]
After shooting a machine-gunned Jigsaw to death in an elevator shaft, I came up onto the penthouse and met a very displeased Kingpin.
The Punisher arcade
Surrounded by suited goons, Kingpin launched his attack. I broke a sofa over him, but it didn't do much. He tossed me across the room and then zapped me with a death beam from the jewel on his cane. What a cheater! I bested a few more goons before Kingpin came after me once again. This time I got caught in a cloud of toxic breath from the Kingpin's fat face. Sure I was only nine years old, but I don't remember the Kingpin ever
being able to do that. No matter, though. I had five grenades left, and I dropped them in firestorm that charred the Kingpin and his men to kingdom come.
The war was won and the taste of vengeance was sweet and savory. As Punisher and Fury marched out to the Battle Van in victory, I couldn't help but be a little sad that there weren't any more guys to kill. As the words "Vengeance Burns Eternal" flashed across the ending screen, I knew that all my quarters were well spent. Lucky for us, the game was ported over to the Sega Genesis a year later, so if you can find a copy, you can play whenever you want—for free!
The Punisher game
The game was a weird, violent and often ridiculous cartoon peek into a day in the life of the Punisher. He put his guns down and put up his dukes, cleaning up New York the only way he knew how. For me, Punisher's leap off the pages and into a coin-op machine was mind-blowingly cool. Frank and I killed a whole of gaggle of bad-guys that day and The Punisher
is still one of my favorite games. Best of all, you got a fun look at Punisher's rouges gallery and got to kill them in a variety of ways, just like in the comics.
The arcade beat 'em up may have just about gone the way of the dodo, but as Marvel fans, we should all be glad that the Punisher left a few dead bodies on the landscape before it went out of style.
Big thanks to Adam from The Punisher Archive for providing us with some of these images!