These types of games are pretty derivative and were a bit overdone especially back in the 16-bit days. But even though they lack originality, I like these kinds of games anyway. I guess they’re like gaming comfort food. You pretty much know what to expect from these games. All four characters will either be exactly the same except for color and maybe a move or two. Or the players will be different, but still stereotypical (nimble ninja chick, hulking strong brute, and all around guy). And you always know that if you punch a trash can, you’ll get a floor turkey you can pick up for health. But I think my favorite thing about side scrolling beat ‘em ups is that even though they’re violent games, they’re also co-operative and focus on teamwork. And most aren’t too terribly tough, so players of all skill levels can enjoy them together. So anyway, here are some of my favorite ones:
Actually, Double Dragon really isn’t one of my favorites (Sparkle’s gonna kill me!), but I put it on the list anyway out of respect for being kind of the first in the genre. But even though it’s not as memorable for me, Double Dragon certainly had its moments. Who could forget the hulking yet lovable Abobo?
My favorite memory of Double Dragon is the awful live action movie they made of it back in the day. I found it for 2 bucks at the bargain DVD bin at War-Mart. Like most video game based movies, it’s really bad. But if you view the movie through Mystery Science Theater 3000 eyes, Double Dragon is actually kind of fun to watch in a cheesy B-movie sort of way. But maybe only once! My favorite parts of the movie are when they simulated going fast in a car by pushing back into their seats and saying “whooaaoooaoa!” Or when the Lee brothers joined the medallion and got their special martial arts powers. They whirled around like Power Ranger tornadoes, and suddenly they were wearing shiny red and blue karate gi outfits. But they looked more like pastel bathrobes with sequins on them! That cracked me up so much!
This is actually the first side scrolling beat ‘em up I remember enjoying immensely. I thought it looked and played better than Double Dragon. My best friend and I used to play this game all the time in the arcade together, and even today I still don’t get tired of it! It amazes me how Capcom was able to create such memorable characters from such a uninspired type of game. But the heroes: Mike Haggar (my favorite), Cody, and Guy are recognizable by name. And who could forget some of the enemies like Poison and “ANDORE?” I also like the NES version, called Mighty Final Fight, because all the characters were squished and ‘chibi-ized.’ It was really cute. I never played the SNES only sequels. How are they?
River City Ransom
Speaking of the NES, one fan favorite for many is River City Ransom. But like Double Dragon, I personally don’t have very many fond memories of it. But I put it on this list out of respect because I like the idea of a beat ‘em up with RPG elements in it. I played the GBA update, which wasn’t so good. The graphics were better, but they didn’t update the clunky menu and saving interfaces at all. But there is one thing I like about River City Ransom: the same characters are also in one of my all time favorite sports video games: Super Dodge Ball!
Streets of Rage 2
I never had a Sega Genesis as a kid (I was a SNES man, myself). So I only discovered the Streets of Rage games in the past few years. All three are obvious rip-offs of Final Fight, especially the second one. But they play surprisingly well for not being arcade games. Especially SoR 2. And they all feature great music by famous game compose Yuzo Koshiro. But the music in the second one still sounds the best, so for all these reasons, it’s my favorite one. But I have all three downloaded on the Wii Virtual Console. You know, one Sega beat ‘em up series I never got into was Golden Axe. Though some of the characters are cool, like the dwarf and Tyris Flare. I liked how you could play as the dwarf in Sega Superstars Tennis. I wonder if the new Golden Axe: Beast Riders game will be any good?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I first heard about TMNT from school kids who read the underground comic book, and I thought it was dumb. I then watched the first episodes of the TV cartoon on Sunday nights (yes, that’s when they first showed them), and thought it was dumb as well. And the first NES game? You guessed it: dumb. It really took the four-player TMNT arcade game to get me into the Turtles. I put so many quarters into this game it’s not even funny! Because I didn’t like squeezing between two fat smelly arcade players, I always picked Raphael because his joystick was all the way on the right side. And that’s how Raph ended up being my favorite turtle! I also thought the NES version of the arcade game was much better than the first NES title. And the NES sequel, The Manhattan Project, was technically brilliant (just play it, it looks good for NES).
You can play TMNT: The Arcade Game on Xbox Live, but I don’t think it’s aged very well. I’m not as big of a Digital Eclipse hater as some others I know are, but I think they kind of botched up the 360 version and made it too hard! But it’s still not bad for 400 MS points. I had the Super Nintendo version of the arcade sequel called Turtles in Time, and I think that one’s aged a little better. When my little brother Jeff was very young, we used to love to play Turtles in Time together. But I had to be careful not to take the pizza in the game or Jeff would start crying! (don’t blame him, he was very young) It made the game a whole lot more challenging for me, though! Jeff and I still joke about “Waaahh, Cary took my pizza!” to this day!
The Simpsons Arcade Game
After the success of TMNT, Konami made a ton of arcade cartoony beat ‘em ups, such as Bucky O’ Hare, Sunset Riders, COW Boys of Moo Mesa, etc. But the one license that stood out the most for me was The Simpsons Arcade Game. Of course, since this one came out soon after The Simpsons’ first season, some things about it were kind of weird. It was like the Japanese take on The Simpsons. Since I was so used to playing Raph on the rightmost joystick in the arcade, I also always played as Lisa because that’s where her joystick was. I wish they would put The Simpsons Arcade Game on Xbox Live like they did with TMNT.
Aliens vs. Predator
Even though I don’t think Konami’s beat ‘em ups back then have aged as well, I think Capcom’s have aged a little better. Case in point: Aliens vs. Predator, which featured varied stages, special moves, and very different playable fighters. Another fun one was Capcom’s Dungeons and Dragons game, but I don’t remember that one as well because I didn’t see it in as many arcades for some reason.
Captain America and the Avengers
Back in the 16-bit days on the consoles and in the arcade when these types of games were big and overdone, there were a lot of these titles based on superhero and comic book properties. Since I’m not into comic books, none of them were that memorable to me. Though some were neat, like the wide screen six-player X-men game. But my favorite super hero arcade beat ‘em up was one that came out a year or two prior: Captain America and the Avengers. It didn’t look quite as good, but I liked how you could pick up really heavy stuff to throw, like vending machines. And many of the quotes were hilarious. “I CAN’T MOOOOVE!”
Sonic Blast Man
I never really played much of the SNES Sonic Blast Man or its sequel. But I do like the idea of a comic super hero who is so strong and clueless that he ends up doing more damage than helping. Sonic Blast Man was actually first an arcade game where you tried to punch a bag as hard as you could. Which, in turn, would make our hero punch something hard on screen, like a thug or asteroid heading for Earth. I wish the Sonic Blast Man games would come to Virtual Console!
The Ninja Kids
A lot of beat ‘em ups have gone forgotten because there were just way too many of them. Case in point: Bad Dudes, whose only memorable moments include fighting Karnov and getting a burger with the rescued President. Another forgotten one is The Ninja Kids. It’s like Taito was trying to cash in on the TMNT craze, though I never saw The Ninja Kids in arcades. I only read about it on Web sites featuring wacky unknown games (those kinds of sites are less commonplace nowadays). I finally got to play it on Taito Legends 2. You play as one of four different colored ninjas, though they look more like Muppets. And even though it was very cartoony, the game was also surprisingly violent, as you could punch holes in enemies and cut them into two clean pieces. The Ninja Kids was definitely quirky in a Japanesey sort of way, and even had some great ‘Engrish” quotes like “Here is a graveyard of you!” I finally saw a Ninja Kids arcade cabinet at an arcade auction a few months ago, but I don’t know if it was working.
When I first played this game on the SNK NEO GEO arcade machines back in the day, I didn’t think much of it. Might’ve been the limited quarters I had to use, or the fact I wasn’t as familiar with Japanese folklore back then. But after playing it recently on SNK Arcade Classics vol. 1, I have a newfound love for Sengoku. It starts off as your typical beat em up through slums and back alleys, but then an ancient Japanese temple appears to threaten things. And then periodically you’re whisked away to another dimension where you fight Japanese mythical monsters and ghosts. It’s like a video game version of Big Trouble in Little China (OK, bad comparison). And sometimes these spirits will join you on your battles. Use strategy to switch between characters, but don’t overuse your heavenly helpers or you’ll lose them for good! I liked Sengoku so much I’m tempted to try GameTap so I can play Sengoku 2 and 3!
Since it’s not exactly co-op, I thought about not putting it on my list. But I did. The games do have a lot of style and clever gameplay. Heck, the game even got its own cartoon (though it wasn’t very good). Too bad Capcom shut down Clover after making my Game of the Year for 2006: Okami
This is actually a fairly new beat ‘em up I played at an arcade auction a year or two ago. This game is really wacky and I like it. You can heft CARS over your head and throw them. Enemies include giant babies. A bonus stage has you punching moving forklifts. And a boss is a Hummer! Lots of fun. DemolishFist uses Sammy’s AtomisWave arcade hardware. Another game that uses that hardware is Dolphin Blue. It’s like Metal Slug, but with dolphins! And the girl player has pink hair and a pink dolphin! I wish they would port DemolishFist and Dolphin Blue to a home console!
And finally, Castle Crashers was recently released on Xbox Live, from the makers of Alien Hominid. It certainly has the same style and humor. When Braid was released on Xbox Live, a lot of people complained about the 1200 point price, me included. Don’t get me wrong, Braid’s a fun game, but I don’t know if it’s really worth that much. But I can say for certain that Castle Crashers is worth that same amount, no questions or doubts. Most beat ‘em ups cam be finished in an hour or so, but Castle Crashers is much longer. Plus, it has RPG elements in that you level up your knights (my favorite’s the green knight). And with all sorts of secrets and weapons to collect, it really ups the replay value. Castle Crashers is a little more violent than most of these other games on my list, with blood, beheadings, and poop humor (but you can turn the gore off in the option screen). But the game is still pretty cartoony otherwise. I WOULD say that Castle Crashers is one of the best beat ‘em ups I’ve ever played!
Notice I said “WOULD” on that last statement. That’s because after a marathon four player local Castle Crashers game with Jeff’s friends this weekend, I figured out why the game is called Castle CRASHERS. It’s because the game CRASHES all the time! It’s so buggy! Every time we would try to buy an animal orb from a shop, the game would freeze. When we’d dig up the chicken helper, it would always freeze. The final blow was when we were playing and noticed ALL our gold, animal orbs, and items were gone, and one player was reset back to level one! But he still kept all his secret characters somehow and the map progress data was still saved. You’d think if the game was in development for three years, they’d take the time to do some quality control and game testing. But they didn’t learn their lesson, because when I reviewed the GameCube Alien Hominid game, I had to slam it because it also froze up on me a lot. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to slam Castle Crashers as well. Such a shame, since it’s otherwise a fantastic game. Behemoth’s game testers just suck!
And that’s all for now. What are your favorite 2-D side scrolling beat ‘em up games?