Ahh, the good ol’ beat-em-up.
The joys of punching, chopping, slapping and uppercutting a bunch of thugs to high heaven, the way it’s supposed to be done.
Sometimes, you gotta take matters into your own hands.
Even if you don’t know the beat-em-up genre by name, you’ve more than likely played a few of them. The genre has endured over the years, and for good reason. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Having said that, let’s take a look at the best beat-em-up games from yesteryear.
The Punisher – Sega Genesis (1994)
Frank Castle is a ruthless son of a gun. If you’re a criminal and Frank sets his sights on you, it’s game over. Developed by Sculpted Software, The Punisher has you dealing with an army of baddies as Frank Castle. You’ll go up against a motley crew of bad guys – street ruffians, skinheads with knives, mafia hitmen, acrobatic female ninjas and even some cyborgs for good measure. At the end of each level, you get to go up against a formidable boss. Nick Fury makes an appearance in some stages too. All of it leads up to your climactic battle with Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin.
The controls are basic and that’s a good thing. Standard controls make it easy to attack and unleash devastating special moves.
Double Dragon II: The Revenge – NES (1990)
The original Double Dragon is a classic of the beat-em-up genre, and in the second outing, developers Acclaim Entertainment pushed the bar even further. You still get to kick some ass as badass brothers Jimmy and Billy Lee. The co-op feature meant that you and a friend could now team up and lay down a monstrous beating on the foes that faced you. Plus, both brothers got some new moves to play with, like the Cyclone Spin Kick. An all new set of stages and set-pieces meant that things were always fresh, and anyone who played this game will never forget the helicopter stage. The difficulty level is slightly higher this time around, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist – Sega Genesis (1992)
Coming hot on the heels of the juggernaut success of Street Fighter II, and Konami’s own TMNT: Turtles in Time, The Hyperstone Heist had high expectations when it first released. And while this is basically a port of Turtles in Time, The Hyperstone Heist still mixed things up just enough so that you didn’t feel you were playing a poor imitation of its predecessor.
The plot is fairly standard – Shredder has stolen the Hyperstone, a magical device that he has used to shrink New York City. As the Turtles, it’s your job to restore order to the world and lay the smack down while you’re doing it. This game features an interesting variation on Turtles in Time, because the levels are bigger and the enemies are far nimbler. The game features everything you’d want from a Turtles game. Great combat, colorful graphics, memorable boss fights and yes, a great surfing level.
Knights Of The Round – SNES (1991)
Knights Of The Round takes the traditional beat-em-up formula and wraps it in a nice layer of historical themes and fabled characters. You play as the knights from the Arthurian legends, and the plot and setting make it a nice diversion from other games in the genre. The game features a lot of decent dialogue and overall, the presentation value is pretty high. Basically, if you’ve played Golden Axe, then you know what to expect here.
You can choose between three separate characters – Arthur, Lancelot and Percival – and each of them has their own combat style and special abilities. The game uses an interesting leveling system, based on finding artifacts and the points you gain from combat. As you progress through the game, the unique armor and weapons that your character uses become more powerful. And, you wouldn’t be much of a knight if you couldn’t fight on horseback, right? There’s a lot to like about KOTR – the graphics are stellar, the level design is intricate, and the sound design really makes you feel like you’re part of this medieval heroic tale.
Final Fight – SNES (1989)
If you’re a fan of good games, you need to play Final Fight. This isn’t just one of the best beat-em-ups, it’s one of the best arcades games of all time. It is the perfect distillation of the genre. You’re a gang of heroes out to avenge/save a damsel in distress and you have a license to brawl. Final Fight has a ton of things going for it – the graphics are fantastic, the combat is deep and challenging and the enemies are varied, memorable and interesting.
You can choose from two characters – a pro-wrestler-turned-mayor (because why not?) called Haggard and a hot-shot fighter called Cody. Both Cody and Haggar have unique fighting styles and special moves. You can grab enemies, jump and spin when you’re in a tough situation. However, once you’re facing a gang of different enemies at once, the beauty of this combat system becomes apparent. You’ll come up against challenging bosses and you get to smack around a ton of enemies in every stage, often with a wide variety of weapons. Play this game.
Did we miss some of your favorite beat-em-ups? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you about your brawling, button-mashing adventures.
Here is some Gameplay of Knights of the Round