Review by steamliner88

Reviewed: 05/12/11

Question: How do you define illegal? Answer: A sick bird. The PUNisher strikes again!

Imagine if Marvel anti-hero Punisher had a bit of humor? Instead of simply killing criminals, he could crack witty one-liners like “monorail” before shooting the crooks. Even better, he might have been able to realize that the title The Punisher – The Ultimate Payback is a pun itself, reflecting the rate at which sold copies of this ill-conceived light gun-less light gun game were returned to stores, thus forcing the managers to ultimately pay their money back to the customers unfortunate enough to buy the game.

Poor jokes aside, it should be noted that one can hardly blame the Punisher for hating drug dealers and mobsters. Not only was his family killed by the mob, being mad at criminals was all the rage back in 1991 when the Ultimate Payback was released. A brave but foolish attempt at creating a quasi-light gun game for the light gun-less Game Boy, the game is about as good as you would expect a licensed game in a genre that simply doesn't work all that well on the system to be. In other words, pretty bad.

While playing the game, you soon get the feeling that the Punisher was a late addition to the development since the only aspect of the game that have anything to do with Frank Castle and his violent battle to extinguish crime and the lives of criminals are the shooting itself. None of the nondescript characters or generic settings reminds me even the slightest of the comics, a fact more puzzling when you consider that the character had been around for almost 20 years when the game was released and had more than his share of memorable foes that could easily have been included.
I don't have any facts to back this up, but from the way the short cut scenes between levels are seemingly bolted onto a game that doesn't have anything to do with them, my best guess is that the publishers looked at a somewhat flawed game and decided that they needed a way to sell it, so they went to look for a suitable license to stick to it. It's not that the choice of license is bad, it's just inconsequential. Since the game is viewed from an first person perspective and you never see your character during the levels, it could have starred any generic gun-tooting freak without loosing anything other than the admittedly awesome label on the cart and the nice but ultimately pointless cameo Spider-man makes on the first level. Hilariously, the publishers seems to have decided that his hostage saving efforts (read “recognizable name”) are so important that they deserve a special mention on the box.

Considering the overall quality of the effort, one can't really blame Acclaim for resorting to such straw-clutching moves in trying to shift some more copies. As in every other light gun shooter sans light gun on the market, The Punisher is played by moving a set of cross-hairs around the slowly scrolling screen in a vain attempt at killing the hordes of baddies before they take you out. Since the cursor moves rather slowly and you don't have any way of avoiding attacks once an enemy have fired his weapon, you have to memorize where every baddie will appear if you want to stand a chance. Aside from killing enemies, you also have to make sure to avoid shooting bystanders as each errant shot that hits an innocent person will cost you a good chunk of your life bar. This might sound like a reasonably good idea, but while the hostage scenario on the first level is a fun touch that adds some challenge to the game, things soon take a turn for the worse. By the time you reach the jungle level (level four) you'll find yourself trying hard not to shoot what looks like rubber ducks... Despite a generous helping of extra lives, ammunition and health, you will likely have to play every new level several times before you are able to beat it. With no continues or difficulty settings and a rapidly dwindling number of extra lives at your disposal, this means that you will have grown tired of the first few levels long before you are even close to beating the game.

Graphically, The Punisher looks a bit like a monochrome Commodore 64 game with small, poorly animated sprites and backgrounds that, while reasonably detailed, are drawn without the slightest sense of perspective. For example, the first level has escalators that are drawn in a way that makes them look like they are pouring straight down from the roof with the villains riding them being slowly flushed into battle. Later levels have similar problems with objects that should be placed in front of each other simply drawn side by side in what may be the worst attempt at creating depth I've ever seen in a videogame. Add to this a migraine-inducing tune that relentlessly loops its way through the entire game and you have what seems like a blueprint for disaster. All is not bad though, the graphics are functional and distinguishable, making sure that despite the relatively small sprites there's rarely any doubt about what you are supposed to shoot at. The overall clean look also helps make the game playable and reasonably enjoyable for a little while, more than one could say about T2 – The Arcade Game, the only other wannabe light gun game for the Game Boy that I've ever heard of. Still, The Punisher is far from a good game and should only be played for a minute or two every six days. Why? Because seven days without The Punisher makes one weak!

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Product Release: The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback (US, 07/31/91)

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