With The Punisher playing a major role in the second season of Marvel and Netflix’s hit series Daredevil, the character is set to attract a whole army of new fans.
While he’s definitely been a popular figure in the Marvel universe for decades now, he enjoys less recognition and respect as icons like Spider-Man and Captain America. His other appearances in live-action media have been divisive to say the least, with three films trying (and failing) to kick-start a franchise.
Still, The Punisher has made several forays into the world of video games – a couple of which definitely deserve more love …
The Punisher (1990; NES, Game Boy)
Considering this is a NES game, The Punisher is still nice to look at, with bold, colourful graphics and a real comic-book feel.
The Punisher is viewed from an over-the-shoulder perspective, as Frank Castle (AKA The Punisher) scrolls from left to right, aiming a targeting reticule across the screen in any direction. The aim is, unsurprisingly, to waste bad guys in true arcade fashion, collecting power-ups here and there. Villains like Jigsaw and the Kingpin appear, and while the weapons selection is pretty limited, blasting villains with a bazooka never gets old.
The Punisher (1990; DOS, Amiga, Atari ST)
Whereas the NES game released in the same year was a straight shooter, this version involved three different styles of gameplay. The most familiar is a top-down shoot-em-up, with players guiding Frank through various urban environments, collecting weapons and taking down thugs. The Punisher’s battle van is also up for a drive, while scuba diving – not necessarily one of the character’s defining hobbies, it has to be said (though it has appeared in the comics) – is another aspect.
At the time, this received some criticism for its buggy build, and it hasn’t gotten any better with age. Still, its brief comic-book introduction sets the story up nicely, and the presence of Frank’s helper, Microchip, is also sure to satisfy fans.
The Punisher (1993; Arcade / Sega Genesis / Mega Drive)
The Punisher’s arcade outing is a huge, huge improvement on the previous two games.
Viewed by fans as one of the best beat-em-ups of the era, The Punisher is still just as entertaining today. To start with, the visuals are gorgeous, with big chunky sprites, colourful backgrounds, and a nice range of animations. Onomatopoeic text like ‘BLAM!’ appear on screen, helping to make the game play like an interactive comic book.
Frank himself feels like something of a powerhouse to control, and various weapons are free for use including guns and baseball bats.
The gameplay is pretty fast and furious, and the huge range of enemies to punish keeps things fresh. A second player can join the action and play as Nick Fury, who basically controls the same as Frank – a staple of the era’s beat-em-ups, and a refreshing alternative to simply having two Punishers in different colours.
While the arcade version was widely-praised, the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive port received less of a warm welcome. The graphics, gameplay, and controls lost some of their quality in translation, but the port is still an essential experience for fans.
The Punisher (2005; PS2, Xbox, GameCube, PC)
Without doubt, this is the best game based on The Punisher so far.
Written by Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti, the game borrows heavily from the comic-book’s ‘Welcome Back, Frank’ arc. Players control Frank as he wages war against the Gnucci family and assorted mobsters, drug dealers, Bullseye, the Kingpin, the monstrous Russian, and more.
The Punisher is impressively true to the source material, with Frank able to slaughter enemies using a variety of weapons and tools. Shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, grenade launchers, knives, bottles, crowbars, and even the odd television can all be turned against bad guys. Interrogations make for a fun mini-game, giving players the opportunity to rough-up enemies in a quest for information. Perps talk faster and truer with a power drill or a shark lurking nearby, but killing them in these situations actually costs points.
The game is an absolute blast to play from start to finish, with plenty of cameos from other Marvel characters. Daredevil, Iron Man, and Nick Fury all appear, actually serving the plot rather than just being shoehorned in.
The Punisher: No Mercy (2009; PlayStation Network)
This was a different type of Punisher game than any we’d seen before. As an arena-based shooter, it pitted players against each other or AI bots in one of four locations.
The story mode is pretty limited, and the multiplayer offers a small selection of modes. Eight characters are up for grabs, including Jigsaw, Bushwacker, and Barracuda.
There isn’t a huge amount to say about The Punisher: No Mercy. It’s nice to look at and the action itself is fine, but the short story mode and the limited range of modes provide little in the way of diversity. Still, as an exclusive to the PlayStation Network it was available at a budget price, so was worth a look for fans.
As well as the above selection of games, other titles have included welcome appearances by the Punisher. For example, fans of the classic Spider-Man from 2000 will remember the Punisher’s appearance – securing Frank a place in one of the best superhero games ever made.
As the second season of Daredevil is proving popular with old and new fans alike, hopefully the Punisher will go on to star in more of his own games. The character offers developers plenty of potential, with stealth, shooting, and hand-to-hand combat all in Frank’s repertoire.
Which is your favourite game starring The Punisher? Let us know!
2 thoughts on “The Punisher In Video Games: A Brief History”
The Punisher arcade game was brilliant – I loved scrolling beat-em-ups and it was the best one I think I’ve ever played. I remember they had it in the Quasar in Barry (South Wales) and for the young me it was almost as much as a draw as Quasar itself. Unfortunately I never acquired the Mega Drive port (in fact, I wasn’t aware of it until many years after I’d sold my Mega Drive) and it hasn’t been ported to Xbox or Playstation like some other games of that era, so I’ve never owned the game and it looks like I never will.
I still have the original NES game and paperwork in the box. A Marvel Geek from way back.