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A Look at My Favorite Beat 'Em Ups

Updated on February 29, 2012

There are very few genres in gaming that I pledge my undying love for more than the classic beat em' ups. Trading in convoluted plots and complicated gameplay, these games make their mark by simply letting you or a group of friends go around and beat the tar out of everything that moves. It's a simple formula that never fails to work, as seen during their boom in the late 80's and early 90's to their triumphant revival this generation. I'm an absolute sucker for these kind of games and here are the titles that do it best.

Streets of Rage 2

If there was ever a brawler that kept my Genesis going it's this one. Like any good beat em up, the characters are a group of "teens with attitude" that somehow manage to take down a city-wide street gang on their own. After all, why have a police force when muscled teens will do the work for free?The baddies are ridiculous from evil Blanka look-alikes, strange alien wall heads, and even a dominatrix complete with chain whip. The other two games in the trilogy are solid in their own right, but they didn't hit the mark Streets of Rage 2 did.

X-Men Arcade Game

Before the awesome 90's X-Men cartoon, there was a pilot in the late 80's for another one. Outside of initial episode, the show never saw the light of day but did manage to have an arcade game based on it. This is also one of the biggest brawlers in terms of playable characters. A whopping six players can battle side by side, as total strangers banded together to take down Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants. This was one of the first X-Men games that really captured makes the X-Men fun: teaming up to use your awesome powers to defeat evil. Dazzler is still a wimp though.

Final Fight

Streets of Rage 2 can send it's thanks straight to Final Fight, as it more or less a completely rips Final Fight off. Though when a game is as good as this, who can blame them for dipping into that well of success. Before crashing the party in Street Fighter games, Guy, Cody, and Haggar were busy defending Metro City from the diabolical Mad Gear gang, who kidnapped Haggar's daughter, Jessica.

Each chacter played completely differently from each other. Guy, as a ninja, was light and agile, Cody was the all-rounder, and Haggar, the wrestler, was slow but powerful. Final Fight also helped me discover that cracking a dude with a pipe was one of the most satisfying acts you can commit in a video game. Mike Haggar is also one of the coolest ideas for a video game character ever. A mayor who's also a crime-fighting professional wrestler complete with the manliest mustache known to man? Now that's a guy I can get behind.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

I'm a big Scott Pilgrim fan and translating that universe into a beat em up is a perfect example of how to properly use a license. Scott and his friends make the perfect cast of heroes and Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends make an ideal boss line up. Like Castle Crashers there are numerous ways to upgrade your character as you battle through movie lots and Japense restaurants-all in beautiful pixel art. Ramona's final ex, Gideon Graves, pays tribute to end boss fights sporting unfair advantages and numerous forms. All of that comes together to create one of the best brawlers of the genre. You don't have to be a fan of the comics or movie to enjoy this one. You just have to enjoy great games.

Viewtiful Joe

The debut game of the now defunct Clover Studios, Viewtiful Joe served as a both a reminder of how fun brawlers are and a example of what they could become. Fighting through Movieland with Joe's abilities to slow, fast forward, or stop time added a fresh coat of paint to the classic brawling formula. Unfortunately, outside of appearances in some of Capcom's fighters, the publisher has let this franchise lay dormant for far too long. Capcom, I don't ask for very much, but in between super arcade editions, would it hurt to make Viewtiful Joe 3?

Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety

Spider-Man is my all-time favorite super hero and this was the first video game based on him I ever played. Two players controlled Spidey and Venom respectively to battle Carnage and his troop of symbiote offspring. Punching and web-swinging through location ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to a tropical jungle was awesome and cameos from the likes of Captain America and Daredevil only sweetened the deal. While it doesn't hold up quite as well as the other games on this list, it's still a blast to play. Excelsior!

Golden Axe

While most games of the genre took place in crime-ridden metropolises, Golden Axe's more fantastical approach was a breath of fresh air. Three playable characters - a barbarian, an amazon, and a dwarf-came with their own individual weapons as well as some pretty badass backstories. In addition to basic melee, you can also cast screen-clearing spells. Gaining more magic required you to punt little Kiebler elf dudes to drop potions, which I always found hilarious. What really makes these games awesome is the ability to ride animals into combat from cockatrice to freaking dragons. After the terrible next gen remake, Golden Axe: Beast Rider, I'd love to see a downloadable HD remakes of this fantastic trilogy.

The Simpson's Arcade Game

There was only one arcade game in the early 90's that could compete with X-Men for my quarters and this was it. I was a huge Simpson's fan back then (when the show was actually funny and not a complete shell of itself like it is now) and a game based on a show I liked was an instant must-play. Thankfully, this was one of the better licensed titles to come around. Players took control of America's first family through an hilarious and challenging journey to rescue Maggie from the clutches of Mr. Burns. The boss fights were appriately ridiculous from a giant clapping Krusty Balloon to Smithers in a robot suit. Like some of the other games on this list, The Simpson's game is (finally) now available on XBLA and PSN.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

There's quite a few TMNT games that could make this list, but Turtles in Time was always my favorite. TMNT was just made for these types of games and battling as your favorite turtles against the Foot Clan never gets old. This game also proves that combining TMNT and time travel can actually be entertaining (something the third turtles film could learn from).Turtles in Time received a fantastic update in the form of an HD re-release, dubbed Turtles in Time Re-Shelled, in 2009. Unfortunately, due to an expired license, that game is no longer available on XBLA or PSN (unless you live in Canada).

Double Dragon

Forget being one of the greatest games ever made. Forget influencing an entire genre. Forget simply being a blast to play. What really drew me into Double Dragon was just how cool Billy and Jimmy were. As a kid, it was like martial arts versions of Slyvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the ultimate team up. Most brawlers feature multiple characters facing a threat, but Double Dragon only had two. Just two guys taking on the world, which I always thought was so badass.

Having a brother myself, the two of us playing as the two most awesome siblings on planet Earth somehow made me relate and enjoy playing the game even more, if that makes sense. Another cool feature was that if you managed to finish the game together, you had to battle each other in order to win the favor of girl you spent the whole game trying to rescue.

Castle Crashers

Developer The Behemoth's love letter to the old-school brawler, Castle Crashers managed to not only kick start the current renaissance of the genre but also perfected it. As four uniquely powered knights you battle to rescue a stolen artifact from your kingdom as well as the occasional princess in distress. The charming graphics and animation are as gorgeous as they are hilarious. The beat em' up genre isn't known to have particularly deep gameplay, but Castle Crashers changed that with a full-on skill-leveling system as well as unlockable combos and magic, not to mention weapon and item shops. There are many great games on this list, but no other has so thoroughly nailed what makes these types of game fun more than Castle Crashers.

What are some of your favorite beat em ups?


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    • DeanSexton profile image

      Geofferson Dean Sexton 5 years ago from Nowhere Land, Ontario, Canada.

      I love all these games profusely . . . minus Separation Anxiety which I think is inferior in terms of quality to its predecessor Maximum Carnage.

      Great hub voted up!