Reviews Archive



The unfairly maligned beat-em-up genre, the usual criticisms towards games which fall into this genre are predictability, unoriginality and repetitiveness, so for this feature I am going to try to concentrate on games that stand out more from the crowd, as well as including the important pioneers of the genre.

  alien storm on genesis Alien Storm
alien storm on megadrive
  2 Player  
  Stand out versions - Mega Drive  
  Here we start out with perhaps not the most notable game, but still I feel an underrated one nonetheless. Alien Storm is a playable beat-em-up which has a solid fighting engine, lots of animation, and a respectable number of moves (there's the usual melee attack, as well as dashes, and leaping overhead shots). The environments are filled with imaginative aliens to fight, ranging from creepy pod people, to multi-headed creatures which can eat a man whole! and there even manages to be slightly more variation than the average beat-em-up too, with some shoot-em-up style chase stages, and shooting range levels thrown into the mix to give the player a nice break from the norm.  
  batman returns on snes Batman Returns
batman returns beat-em-up
  1 Player  
  Stand out versions - SNES  
  With Batman Returns Konami managed to produce a memorable licence game which represented its original source material excellently. The game has some great art design (just like the movie), and really manages to convey the strength and power that you would expect from playing as Batman, with you able to carry enemies around and slam them into the ground, and background elements such as windows. Outside of the very good fighting system the game tries to keep the gameplay fairly varied, throwing in single plain stages, and the odd grappling hook level.  
battletoads on genesis
battletoads on nes
  2 Player  
  Stand out versions - NES, Mega Drive  
  The Battletoads may have been conceived as clones of the Turtles, but Rare managed to bring their own brand of unique personality to the characters, giving them well animated, and over-the-top expressions and attacks, and putting them into a very polished, technically impressive, and original game. There's a lot of ideas and variation going on here, with each level bringing its own ideas to the table (be it the kinetic beat-em-up levels, the exhilarating speederbike sections, or the more platformer flavoured levels), and as such the game never really sinks into monotony. The difficulty is always brutal though, even with the much easier Mega Drive version.  
  comix zone on genesis Comix Zone
comix zone on megadrive
  1 Player  
  Stand out Version - Mega Drive  
  After years of stale releases in the genre, Sega Technical Institute in the US came out of nowhere to show people how a beat-em-up should be done! Comix Zone re-invigorated the tired genre by incorporating puzzle elements, multiple routes, item management, and loads of secrets to try keep the player thinking. Outside of the fairly unique gameplay, Comix Zone has great presentation, with the levels and style themed around the frames of a comic book, and a lot of attention to detail.  
  double dragon on genesis Double Dragon
double dragon on nes
  2 Player (MD) 1 Player (NES)  
  Stand out versions - Mega Drive, NES  
  Definitely one of the most important releases for the genre, Double Dragon was fundamental in popularising beat-em-ups amongst gamers. For all intents and purposes this is the sequel to the highly influential Renegade, but here, like most subsequent beat-em-ups the layouts are linear, with a beginning and an end, and are much longer, and more complex (each stage in Renegade took place over only a handful of screens). Sadly all the home ports of the time were flawed in one way of another, from the NES version's mucked about moves list and 1 player support, to the Master System's awful collision detection and poor fighting engine, to the cheap AI and general buggyness of the Mega Drive version, all had their problems. Out of these the MD version is probably the best and plays closest to the original, but is so expensive that I'd say most people would be better off settling for the NES version.  
  souble dragon ii Double Dragon II
double dragon 2
  2 Player  
  Stand out versions - NES  
  Technos did a huge turn around for their second Double Dragon for NES, this time putting in loads of time and effort to sort out all the flaws which were seen in the original game and doing a tremendous job. Here the game was totally re-designed for NES (and many actually consider this to be the superior game), with a 2-player option, a great new fighting engine resurrected from Renegade, and nice presentation throughout.  
  dungeons and dragons collection Dungeons and Dragons Collection
dungeons and dragons on saturn
2 Player
Stand out versions - Saturn
This is the two superlative arcade D&D Beat-em-ups Shadow over Mystara, and Tower of Doom, released together for the Saturn as a compilation. The games are very polished, have vibrant, impressive graphics, and include some extensive RPG elements which give them more longevity than the average game from the genre. Any Saturn owning beat-em-up fan owes it to themselves to import this gem from Japan.
  final fight Final Fight
final fight on mega cd
2 Player
Stand out versions - Mega CD
Another milestone release for the genre, Final Fight had a huge amount of influence on later games, with many beat-em-ups following its street brawling setting, and including its energy depleting, crowd clearing "desperation move". The game has you playing as one of three heroes out to rescue their kidnapped loved one. The controls are responsive, the enemy sprites in abundance and the action never lets up. The Japanese release of the Mega CD version was the best home port of the time, with no censorship, all three playable characters, good enemy counts, big sprites and some really fantastic music throughout.
  final fight 3 Final Fight 3
final fight 3 on snes
  2 Player  
  Stand out versions - SNES  
  For the 3rd game in their acclaimed series Capcom decided to merge Final Fight with their hugely popular Street Fighter series by adding quarter-turn super moves to the repertoire, they also wisely included a maneuverable dash attack similar to the one found in their earlier beat-em-up Captain Commando. All the new inclusions really helped to liven up the whole experience, making this a huge leap forward after their previously compromised, and disappointing SNES releases.  
  ghost chaser dansei Ghost Chaser Dansei
ghost chaser on snes
  2 Player  
  Stand Out Versions - SNES  
  Ghost Chaser Dansei is an impressive title which gives you some great action, loads of moves (the ever present throws and dash attacks), and a neat, and unique system for delivering special attacks (your character charges up when stationary, allowing you to release a devastating special move by holding the punch button and alternating between left and right). An all-round excellent game, Ghost Chaser Dansei could well be in the running for best beat-em-up on the system, and is definitely one of the most under-appreciated.  
  golden axe Golden Axe
golden axe on genesis
  2 Player  
  Stand out versions - Mega Drive  
  1989 was an important year in the progression of beat-em-ups, it saw the release of three of the most important titles which would come to herald a new wave of influenced games, and popularity for the genre, Final Fight, Turtles, and Golden Axe. Golden Axe is a hack n' slash style beat-em-up that has you controlling fantasy characters on a revenge quest, it was one of the 1st beat-em-ups to include a dash attack, and smart bomb-style magic attacks (both of which would become genre staples), and also has rideable beasts (in this case some very cool dragons which breath fire, or shoot projectiles). The game was definitely a stand out for its time, and the later Mega Drive port ended up being a flagship title for showing the system's superior power early on. Unfortunately with the popularity of their Streets of Rage series taking off Sega shifted priority away from the Golden Axe series, and the sequels were largely disappointing.  
  guardian heroes Guardian Heroes guardian heroes on saturn  
  2 Player (Main Campaign)  
  Stand out versions - Saturn  
  With Guardian Heroes, Treasure decided to try their hand at adding some depth to the genre by creating their own beat-em-up/RPG mixture. The game contains all the hallmarks of classic beat-em-ups (linear level structure, huge numbers of enemies, complicated combo's), as well as many elements which had been just starting to gain popularity, such as quarter-turn style specials, all of this topped off with their own elegant points based experience system. The game breathed new life into the genre, and really should've been the direction for later beat-em-ups to follow.  
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