You wanna know what sucks? Licensed games. Most of the time they just aren't any good and when they are good you ignore them anyway. Back then it seemed like almost all of the decent licensed games were in the arcades. Notable beatemup developer Capcom has put out a fair number of great titles that are also tied to licenses. Problem is I ignored a number of them because I couldn't care less about what they were all about.
The Punisher is one of those games. The protagonist is one of those guys who lost his entire family to mobsters so he snaps and starts eating, drinking, and sleeping vengeance. Rather than worry about morals and ethics this guy figures that a couple hundred wrongs can make a right and kills every low-life and crime-lord he can reach with his gun or fists. His partner is Nick Fury though he doesn't play much of a part in this game unless you have a friend along for the ride. I gotta admit there's something tremendously cool about a guy that can head-butt someone while smoking a cigar.
A man focused on killing should have the move-set to match and this is what sets The Punisher apart from a number of other beatemup heroes. There are no fancy combos, acrobatic flips(okay maybe there's a couple), and complicated command strings for hidden moves. It's a totally no nonsense affair as the Punisher bashes skulls in and then tosses their near-dead bodies around for fun and crowd control. You can call him single-minded but don't call him slow. His most notable move is the ability to roll by tapping in a direction. This is very useful for dodging attacks and can sort of be seen as a precursor to those dodge moves we're always seeing in 3D action games. This helps Punisher and Fury keep up with faster foes as well as providing an effective means of getting hits in and then getting out of the way.
For one reason or another the criminals in this game sometimes bring their guns with them. At this point Punisher and Fury respond in kind and the game sort of becomes a two-dimensional shooter. It's nothing complicated though just point in the general direction and mash the fire button. Melee-based guys will still hound the player so it creates a good dynamic. Weapons are also very plentiful and the game provides incentive for players to grab as many as they can. All of them last for 9 hits at the most and bonus points are awarded for all that are picked up. Again don't expect to perform any ninja flips even if you grab the katana. It's basic sure but showing off just gets in the way of revenge I think.
Progress in the game is nothing new to beatemup players. There's six stages that end with six different bosses though the only one I actually recognize is The Kingpin. Aside from the first boss all of these guys handle a bit differently than the regular thugs. They have different styles of fighting and more specialized moves, making the boss-fights a bit more unique than just having some thug with maybe one or two moves and a very long health meter.
In keeping with the emphasis on getting the fight over with this game doesn't feel bloated like some beatemups. The worst go on seemingly forever and to me that's just stupid. Next to the 2D shooter the beatemup genre suffers from having a ton of games that are kind of similar to each other. Making a game where it just feels like an endless stream of thugs that lasts for 45 minutes or longer is going to get ignored. The Punisher keeps things moving.
One of the many nice touches to this game is that while barrels can be tossed and/or smashed they can be placed gently back on the ground. The usefulness of this feature is questionable until one remembers that roasted chickens and even pizzas have a habit of being hidden inside these things. If you can manage to carry one to a boss-fight it'll certainly be helpful.
One of the only real annoyances I have with this game is something that extends to the entirety of the beatemup genre. While there's seemingly so much of an emphasis on getting into big crowds and messing stuff up the best way to play beatemups(in terms of mastering it and getting the highest scores) is by playing it safe. This means using a lot of safe moves and manipulating crowds as well as enemy AI behaviors to minimize losses. For an example off the top of my head there's Streets of Rage 3. Many of the bosses can be beaten simply by standing at a certain distance so that the boss always performs an easily counter-able move. Course it can be said that this sort of thing extends to practically any genre in a videogame. In my book at least it counts as a complaint. Given the chance I'd push for developing games that emphasized taking risks that aren't calculated. I can't believe I'm making this comparison but it's sort of like in movies where the good guy has a gun pointed at the villain. Rather than take the shot and end the movie the good guy drops the gun for whatever reason and the two of them fight it out. Most of the time it doesn't make any sense but it always makes the finale more thrilling. To me it seems like mastering a game means shooting the bad guy and ignoring the fight altogether. It cuts down on the life-threatening injuries but it's just not as much fun.
In a perfect game I guess there'd be ways of doing things that didn't involve making the safest possible choices in order to attain the best scores. Cause to me at least those moments where it's complete chaos, I'm inches away from death, and I'm still managing to survive and beat down everything in sight, well those are the best parts of the game. A mediocre RPG like Xenogears became an amazing memory for me because the final battle was that one instance where it was down to one last move as I didn't have enough HP to survive another attack. I managed to save up enough energy to perform an ultimate attack one last time and it killed the boss. It's instances such as those that really make the game for me.
But forget about my ramblings and just check out The Punisher if you haven't already. It's a good game that works on multiple levels. Like any beatemup it relieves stress, is more fun with friends, and there's just enough depth for gamers to stick around long after the 30 or so minutes it takes to get through it.