Monday, April 23, 2012

The Top Ten Best Beat 'Em Ups

Despite being a dying genre, the Beat ‘Em Up is one of my all-time favorite genres of video games. Very few things come even close to being as satisfying as walking down the streets of some run down city and pounding criminal’s faces in with fists, kicks, pile drives and lead pipes. They’re such a product of the ‘90’s, it’s a shame they haven’t been as prominent ever since the arcade went out of style. Since most Beat ‘Em Ups were designed to be as hard as possible to rob kids of their quarters, they were everywhere in the heyday of the arcade and boy, do I miss those days.

The manliest of beat 'em ups.
So, combined with my love of Beat ‘Em Ups, including recently doing a Let’s Play of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and attempting to play through some Japanese Sailor Moon game, I’m doing a list of what I consider to be the ten best Beat ‘Em Ups. These are the games that are the most fun to play and simply bring the most joy when bashing somebody’s head in and eating floor chicken.

Now, since I’m not a professional game journalist and don’t get to just play whatever games I want for free, there are some pretty big games missing from this list (The most prominent being Castle Crashers and the fan-favorite, God Hand) simply because I haven’t played them. I’m sure if I had, I would have put them on this list but since I haven’t, unfortunately they aren’t here. So take it all with a grain of salt, is what I’m saying.
10. Golden Axe

Everything is better with dragons.
Back in the days of the Genesis, Sega had two beat ‘em ups meant to be their answer to games like Final Fight and Double Dragon, one of which was Altered Beast, a classic for sure but doesn’t really hold up well today. The other was a more traditional beat ‘em up, allowing you to walk wherever you want instead of on a platforming style plane. This, was of course, Golden Axe. Unlike most beat ‘em ups at the time that took place in run-down cities or futuristic wastelands, Golden Axe took place in a fantasy, medieval setting and it really made it stand out amongst the crowd. Beating up skeletons and goblins with different types of swords and axes really was something to behold back in those days. But where Golden Axe really had other games of the genre beat was in the use of magic and creatures like dragons you could ride on. Taking out a full screen on enemies with Gillius’s lighting attack or burning down enemies while on top of a dragon simply can’t be touched when it comes to beat ‘em ups.

9. Madworld

Nintendo Wii: It's a family console.
As already mentioned, the beat ‘em up isn’t a very prominent genre in today’s gaming world. The monotony of it all doesn’t really help to carry a game in this type of market and it’s rare to see any game that attempts it get it right. That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by Sega’s Madworld for the Wii. Featuring an extremely attractive black and white, Sin City-esque art style, Madworld puts you in the role of Jack Cayman, a man with a chainsaw attached to his arm who enters a reality show in order to receive a vaccine for a disease the terrorist in charge of the show plan to release upon the world. Each level is filled with bizarre thugs and bosses to beat up in some of the most over the top and gruesome ways possible. Whether it’s throwing them in front of a train, tossing them into a trash compactor or just straight up chopping them in half, Madworld is one of the most cartoonishly violent games ever made and it’s made all the more entertaining with the monotone visuals  and the bright red blood splatters. But the thing that really makes Madworld stand out is it’s incredibly sense of humor. The game never takes it’s self seriously and it’s very apparent once you hear Greg Proops and John DiMaggio as goofy announcers commentating on the whole game. Unfortunately, Madworld didn’t do well on the Wii, so you can likely pick it up for less than 10 dollars these days. Check it out if you’re into this kind of game, it’s a good one.

8. The Simpsons

If only Gears of War was this colorful.
In the ‘90’s, it seemed like Konami’s answer to making a game involving a license was to just slap it on a beat ‘em up and well, it worked. The Simpsons is a perfect example of how to make both a good licenses game and a good beat ‘em up. Up to four players can take the role of The Simpsons family as they patrol the streets of Springfield beating up thugs to try and save Maggie from Mr. Burns. While it was far from deep, the license really makes this one stand out. The locations are all taken from the show, the background features characters from the first few seasons (It was an early Simpsons game so some of the characters, like Moe, look a little funny) and the art style tried to capture the show as best as possible. It’s such a joy to bash people with Bart’s skateboard or tackle zombies with Marge’s vacuum. The characters could also team up to do tag attacks which was uncommon for beat ‘em ups, so that was cool. The Simpsons was recently rereleased on the PSN and X-Box Live Arcade for the first time on a home console in over 15 years, complete with online play. It’s about time one of the best beat ‘em ups, and the best Simpsons game, came to home consoles. 

7. Double Dragon

I’ve already mentioned several times on the blog that I love Double Dragon. The NES version is one of the best games of it’s time and one of the best beat ‘em ups for the console. Taking down the Black Warriors gang as Jimmy and Billy Lee is a treat every single time I play. Whether it’s fighting Abobo or glitching away from the second stage boss, I never tire of this game. While it’s true that games like Double Dragon 2 and Super Double Dragon are technically better games, especially since they include multiplayer which is a big one for beat ‘em ups, I can’t help but give the nod to the original NES version. It’s just such a nostalgic, joyful experience, I can’t not love it. If you’re looking for a beat ‘em up that’s actually enjoyable when playing alone, Double Dragon is the game for you.

6. River City Ransom

While I’m sure many of my fellow Adamant Ditto cast members think I’m putting this game too low, I can safely say I had a hard time decided the order of this list at all let alone this particular game. River City Ransom is notable because of it’s unique take and innovation on the genre. Instead of just walking from place to place bashing people’s brains out, instead, you gained experience and money which could be used to power up your strength and buy weapons and food for healing yourself. It added an extra level of strategy to the game that few other beat ‘em ups ever tried to emulate. Not to mention, it’s just a silly game. The art style is cute and chibi, the gang names are goofy with things like “The Generic Dudes” and “The Jokes” and every time you hit or kill somebody, they say things like “barf.” It’s such a strange game but man is it fun to play.

5. Streets of Rage 2

The 90's incarnate.
Sega’s answer to Final Fight, Streets of Rage 2 is one of the best console beat ‘em ups of the early ‘90’s. The evil Mr. X is back and it’s up to Axel, Blaze and Skate to stop him. While the game maintained the same characters and similar settings to the original, it introduced so many improves, there’s really no reason to play the first one over this one. Characters all have their own unique moves and special attacks, instead of just the same basic moves and a shared special, enemies now have health bars and many new weapons were added to the game to pick up and attack enemies with, including the ever deadly katana. But the most important thing the game added was Skate. Seriously, you get to go around kicking people in the dead with roller blades. How cool is that? Also he can dash, which was something the other characters couldn’t do until the third game. Sure, Streets of Rage 3 had a kangaroo but this game had Skate. Sounds like a winner to me.

4. X-Men

No one can move the Blob but Cyclops apparently.
Much like The Simpsons, Konami took the X-Men license and slapped it on a beat ‘em up and you know what? It’s awesome. With a franchise as big and as filled with characters as the X-Men, Konami made the very first six player beat ‘em up with a double panoramic screen to support all those people and it was great. Ripping Sentinels apart as Wolverine or blasting them with Cyclops optic blast is only ever better in the Marvel vs. Capcom games but those games didn’t have Dazzler, so who really has the upper hand? The levels were fun, the enemies were unique and the boss battles were always a treat because of the cheesy voice samples. Everybody who knows anything about video games has heard “WELCOME TO DIE!” at least once but my personal favorite is when you fight the Blob and he says “No one can move the Blob!” Classic, 90’s cheese at it’s finest. X-Men was released on the PSN and X-Box Live Arcade for the first time ever on a home console in 2010 with 6 player online play. Buy it.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4: Turtles in Time

"Chevy Nova?"
Turtles in Time is considered by many to be the best beat ‘em up of all time and it’s easy to see why. It makes sense to make the Ninja Turtles star in a beat ‘em up because there’s four of them and they often kick the crap out of bad guys and that’s what makes it so entertaining. Everybody has a favorite turtle and it’s always a joy to see who picks who when you play at the arcade. Taking on familiar faces like Shredder, Krang, Tokka and Rahzar only helped to enhance the feel of the game, especially when a giant Krang is blasting you with a laser on an unfinished skyscraper. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Turtles in Time is that the SNES version of the game, which only allows for two players instead of four, is largely a better game. It features more stages, more bosses and more characters and enemies from the show. Sure, it’s more fun to play with three friends instead of just one, the SNES version is a more complete game and that rarely happened with beat ‘em ups. Still, no matter which version you play, you’re in for a shell of a good time.

2. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Video Game

Also Knives is DLC.
Take the four player action of Turtles in Time, the level-up and shopping mechanics of River City Ransom, combine them with the colorful characters of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels and a ton of video game references and you get one of the best beat ‘em ups of all time. Scott Pilgrim is desperate to earn the heart of the love of his life, Ramona Flowers and in order to do it, he has to defeat her 7 evil exes. With the help of his friends Kim Pine, Stephen Stills and Ramona herself, Scott makes his way through Toronto, Canada and tons of other colorful locales, beating the crap out of anybody that crosses his path. Scott Pilgrim is such a joy to play because not only is a great amalgamation of every great beat ‘em up ever made but also because the classic 16-bit approach they took with the game. They wanted it to be so true to the comics as well as classic video games that it pays off in spades. I absolutely love references like the Medusa heads in Gideon’s stage or simply watching Kim ride off on a Warpstar as she exits a stage, Scott Pilgrim is a game made for gamers by gamers and it’s one of the absolute best of the genre.

1. Final Fight

Predictable? Sure but I honestly couldn’t put anything else in the number one spot. Final Fight paved the way for every other beat ‘em up that came after it and the arcade version is one of the best because of it’s simplicity. Sure, it doesn’t include leveling up like River City Ransom, four players like Scott Pilgrim or even a large amount of special moves like Golden Axe or Streets of Rage 2 but what it does have is raw, beat ‘em up fun. Mowing down enemies in Metro City as Guy, Cody and Mike Haggar is one of the best experiences anybody can have at an arcade. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is quite as satisfying as beating people over the head with a lead pipe and then pile driving them into the ground as Haggar. It may not be the most advanced or even the longest on this list, but it has so much character and had so much of an affected on the genre, I can’t help but love it. Than you, Final Fight. We owe a lot to you. Now don’t ever try that Street Wise shit again.

As with any of my lists, I know there are several games I left out besides the two mentioned in the intro. Games like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, Splatterhouse, Battletoads, Captain Commando and several others are all great and you should definitely give them a look. And let me know if you think I missed anything else in the comments below.

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