The Best Undiscovered Beat-Em-Ups

Presented by Gamerforlife

See the rest of our Hidden Gems Series

The beat ‘em up genre flourished during the late eighties and into the nineties.  In addition to seeing a constant flow of quarters in the arcades, they would also develop a strong presence on consoles with popular titles like Streets of Rage 2.  The genre also helped big companies like Capcom and Konami further establish themselves with a number of classic and lucrative arcade games from both companies.  Eventually, the genre would be overshadowed by 2D fighters with the coming of Street Figher II.  Fighting games owe a lot to the beat ‘em up genre however, and many people often confuse the two genres since they share a lot of elements.

This article attempts to shine a light on as many quality, 2D beat ‘em ups as possible with an emphasis on lesser known games.  This is why you won’t see well known titles like Double Dragon, River City Ransom, Streets of Rage 2, Final Fight, Konami’s more popular beat ‘em ups, Guardian Heroes, Comix Zone, etc. featured here (though an obscure entry from a popular series may still pop up on the list).  Some may debate the obscurity of certain titles on this list.

Remember that what may not seem obscure to a beat ‘em up fan may not be well known by a more casual fan who is only just discovering classic, 2D beat ‘em ups and didn’t grow up on them.  Ultimately, this article is just about exposing people to lots of great or interesting games within the genre.  Perhaps even knowledgeable beat ‘em up fans will find something interesting here that they had not known about before.  The reason this article doesn’t feature any 3D beat ‘em ups is because there are already so many 2D ones that they need their own article.

Since this genre flourished on consoles and arcade machines, that makes up the bulk of the article (although, we have moved some of the lesser titles to an honorable mentions list and included the console versions in the console section below it).  However, in the interest of exposing people to as many interesting games as possible, there are a small number of PC and Doujin games featured in this article as well.  It should be noted though, that PC games aren’t exactly the focus of this site.  One last note, I don’t often distinguish between beat ‘em ups and hack and slash games here.  They’re mostly the same thing in my eyes.  Enjoy the article and let us know in the comments section if you feel there are any other great games missing from this list.  It’s very hard to cover every notable game in such a large genre.

Arcade Hidden Gems

Denjin Makai series

Winky Soft (1993 – 1995)
The Denjin Makai series features one of the largest movesets of the genre.  You can play through the games without even using every move at your disposal.  The games also feature great combo systems.  You can find Youtube videos of combos in Denjin Makai II going up to triple digits!

Another distinguishing feature is a power bar that you can manually ch

arge up to perform special attacks.  Finding a chance to charge it in combat is part of the strategy.

The first game received a Super Famicom port with a few changes known as Ghost Chaser Densei.  The series really peaked with Denjin Makaii II (Guardians) however, which was never ported.  It features eight playable characters with tons and tons of moves at their disposal.

There is quite a bit of humor in this game.  One boss flexes for his fans and has a camera man filming his fight with you.  Prior to this fight, you’ll also see a guy flip out after you burst into the room and destroy a house of cards he was building! It’s a great series for anyone looking for games with extremely large movesets and combo possibilities.

Golden Axe Revenge of Death Adder

Sega AM1 (1992)
Many people are familiar with the trilogy of Golden Axe games on the Genesis and the various re-releases of the original Golden Axe.  However, this little known gem is the best game in the series.  The game runs on System 32 hardware and  features large sprites, detailed graphics, scaling effects, and impressive animations.

Of note is that some spells show you a close-up of your foes being decimated.  You can take multiple paths through the game, ride a larger number of creatures than Golden Axe, save prisoners, and use catapults and ballistae against your enemies.

You can also mount these on your creatures.  Also, Gilius Thunderhead now rides atop a giant.  To quote something a random youtube user once said about this game, “Is there anything more badass than a dwarf riding on the back of a giant, who is himself riding a giant fire-breathing praying mantis?”

The soundtrack is pretty good with lots of pounding drums and that epic feel that you’d expect from what is basically gaming’s version of Conan.  There are still lots of great voice samples too like the classic, “Oh gaaaawd!!!” and various voice samples from enemies, NPCs, and the prisoners that you rescue.  It all makes the game feel much more alive.  Overall, it’s a bigger, badder version of Golden Axe that every beat ‘em up fan should try.

Battle Circuit

Capcom (1997)
Capcom has a lot of great and well known arcade beat ‘em ups.  This is possibly their most obscure one however.  It’s a rare game only released in Japan and parts of Europe and it has no console ports.  Battle Circuit has the distinction of being Capcom’s last arcade beat ‘em up.  It’s also one of their funniest and most bizarre beat ‘em ups.  It has a pulp, ’50 science fiction inspired, feel that is often compared to Capcom’s Captain Commando and features some bizarre characters to play as.

You have a walking plant, a kid named Pola Abdul (sounds a lot like a certain, former American Idol judge) riding an ostrich, and a character that looks a lot like Felicia from Darkstalkers, just to name three of them.  The enemies are even crazier and you can tell that Capcom was having fun putting this game together.  You’ve got topless, biker women, a boss that looks like Elvis, a villain with a head that looks like a certain planet (his name is Dr. Saturn), and a giant space baboon!

The gameplay has some interesting elements like the ability to purchase extra moves, health upgrades, and move upgrades after each stage.  This gives a certain strategic element to the game.  The game also features tag team attacks if two players perform a special move at the same time.  You also can activate special abilities by pressing both of your action buttons in mid-air.  These will power you up in various ways like making you faster or increasing your damage output.  Lastly, you will need 3200000 points to be given the option of facing the game’s true final boss.  Defeating him will  make him appear on your high score screen.

Battle Circuit is certainly one of the most interesting entries in Capcom’s long line of quality beat ‘em ups and a nice way to end their run of arcade, beat ‘em up classics.

Oriental Legends 2

International Games System (2007)
IGS has been keeping old school, 2D Arcade beat ‘em ups alive in the past few years.  Yes, apparently someone is still making arcade beat ‘em ups these days as this game came out in 2007.  This game features RPG elements similar to something like Dungeons & Dragons Shadow over Mystara.

An interesting tidbit about this game is that there are cards that save your levels when you put them into the machine.  There’s a total of 10 characters and two difficulty settings that actually change up the levels a bit.  They are also multiple paths through the game.

There are some interesting items you can use in the game, different weapons, cool magic spells and special moves.  It has a nice combo system too as I’ve seen a player pull off one with 621 hits.  You’ll get a kick out of Oriental Legends 2 this if you enjoyed Capcom’s D&D beat ‘em ups.

 

Aliens vs. Predator

Capcom (1994)
Here’s another great licensed game from Capcom.  This one actually plays a bit differently from their other games.  You have projectiles always available to you, but have to worry about reloading your gun or having your weapon overheat.  Of course, you can always fall back on good old fashioned melee combat when this happens.

The controls for your characters are a bit different from Capcom’s other beat ‘em up games (there’s even a charge move like Guile’s Sonic Booms from Street Fighter II).  It gives the game a unique feel.  This game also throws a LOT of enemies at you and gets really hectic at times.  In fact, this is easily one of the most fast-paced, intense and adrenaline pumping games in Capcom’s entire catalogue of arcade beat’em ups.

There is great variety to how the different characters play.  Speaking of which, this game introduces Lieutenant Linn Kurosawa.  She would later cameo in other Capcom games and there is a playable character in Capcom’s Cannon Spike who resembles her.  You’ll find lots of ways to combo and juggle enemies in this game if you’re a skilled player.

It’s impressive to see how amazing everything looks in this game with its incredible graphics and tons of action and enemies on the screen with a smooth frame rate.   The soundtrack is pretty epic too, like the whole game in general.

Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara (1996)

This is actually a follow up to Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom.  Both are excellent beat ‘em ups featuring lots of RPG elements.  In fact, Shadow over Mystara is really a culmination of all of Capcom’s previous attempts at incorporating RPG elements into the beat ‘em up genre with games like The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round.  This game features tons of spells with varying effects like damage, healing and status buffs.  There’s even an all powerful one known as Final Strike that requires you find a special staff, hit a certain number of experience points, and have a party of at least three players.

Like a true RPG, you’ll find that some enemies are weak to certain spells.  There’s even a shop to buy items and different weapons for you to equip, each with different properties.  You have a personal inventory you can access while playing to use your items or cast spells.

The combat is great, with lots of combo possibilities, blocks, counters, and OTG attacks.  Much like Aliens vs. Predator, the combos that can be pulled off in this game by skilled players are very, very impressive.  There are youtube videos of this game just focusing on combo exhibitions.  The game also has branching paths throughout the game to encourage you to play it more than once.  Some people argue over whether this or the next entry in this list is the pinnacle of Capcom’s arcade beat ‘em ups.  Frankly though, it’s difficult to pick the best game when Capcom’s arcade beat ‘em ups in general were all of such high quality.

Knights of Valour series

IGS (1999 – 2011)
The Knights of Valour series is something for you fans of Dynasty Warriors or Capcom’s Warriors of Fate.  It’s another series set in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms time period and features more quality beat ‘em up action from IGS.

This actually seems to be their main series as it has more iterations than the Oriental Legends games.  There are lots of secrets, items, specials, and hidden stuff to be found in this series.

One level in Knights of Valor 2 Plus features an escort mission, an odd thing to see in an arcade beat ‘em up.  Knights of Valour 3 runs on the PGM2 hardware and features a shop screen, 10 characters, different paths, widescreen, a boss rush mode, level selection and gameplay that moves at a fast pace.  It’s your go-to game for dishing out some pain as a legendary, Chinese, historical badass.

Battletoads/Super Battletoads

Rare (1994)
This game is being featured because many people are not even aware that a Battletoads arcade game existed.  You’ve all heard of the NES classic, some of you may also know of the SNES sequel known as Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and the Double Dragon crossover game.  This tops them all however.

Owing to its console roots, there is a greater variety of gameplay ideas here than most beat ‘em up arcade games.  One level features slippery, ice on the ground like a platform game and another one has you shooting enemies like a Contra game.

The bosses feel more like console game bosses than the usual big guy with lackeys featured in most arcade beat ‘em ups.  In spite of all this, there is a greater emphasis on beat’em up gameplay here than in the console games.  You’ll find the usual, over the top attacks the series is known for, including one that is, quite literally, a ball breaker.  All of this contributes to making this a more varied and interesting arcade beat ‘em up than you’ll typically find.

It goes without saying that this game looks MUCH better than any of the console Battletoads games.  There are enemy characters who are much bigger than other Battletoads games.  You can kick enemies towards the screen in a similar way to how you throw enemies in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time.  The cartoonish quality of the series comes out here better than ever! The soundtrack is excellent.  The first stage music will get a player amped up to keep playing and is one of the best tracks you’ll hear in a beat ‘em up.

Vendetta/Crime Fighters 2

Konami (1991)
Crime Fighters 2 is a game that places a heavy emphasis on weapons.  There are tons of them everywhere and the game clearly wants you to use them.  Also notable is the game’s goofy, over the top style.

There’s a lot of funny, slapstick comedy and hilarious moments like when you knock someone over a bridge and watch them hang there waiting for you to knock them off or when you destroy a platform and send the enemies on it to the ground.

Adding to the game’s humor is the look of the main characters.  Some players have noted that two of them look like Mr. T and Hulk Hogan! Some of the game’s humor was considered a bit too much apparently.  The versions of the game released outside of Japan removed a character who actually dry humps and licks the players!

The combat features some cool things like the ability to grab and hold an enemy while another player pummels him! It’ll take some players a while to get used to the lack of a jump function in this game however.

 

Shadow Force

Technos (1992)
You may know Technos for Double Dragon and River City Ransom, but this little gem was also developed by them.  What’s interesting about this game is that it controls a bit like a fighter.

This game has a total of six buttons, as many as a typical fighting game.  This allows for a lot of moves and the game even has low attacks (performing by holding down and an attack button), also like a fighting game.  You also block by holding back on the joystick.  You also have about two special attacks per character.   The most interesting part of the game is that you can possess enemy characters and use their moves.  That’s a pretty unique feature for a beat ‘em up.

For some odd reason, there are also one on one fights after each stage where you control an enemy character.  If you’re playing with a friend, you’ll have to fight each other.  The American version of this game is not recommended as some features of the game were changed.  The Japanese version gives you the full experience.

 

Asterix

Konami (1992)
Asterix is a comic book character that is well known to people in France.  He was a perfect fit for Konami since they had so much success using licensed characters for their arcade beat ‘em ups in the ’90s.  This is one of Konami’s lesser known beat ‘em ups, but it’s every bit as good as their more popular ones, if not better.

Though it only allows for two players, unlike most of their other beat ‘em ups, it does feature some gameplay elements you won’t find in those games.  You can actually pick up enemies after you knock them down and perform different throws on them.  You also have an attack that can be charged up to unleash a powerful uppercut that will knock your enemies upward Mortal Kombat style.

Unlike other Konami beat ‘em ups, you can attack your friend, which can be fun to do if you’re so inclined.  The game features some rather interesting stages that go a bit beyond standard beat ‘em up gameplay.  One has you riding in mine carts while avoiding obstacles.  Another has you leaping across gaps and dodging boulders like a good platform game.  Yet another one has you in a boat fighting off sharks and pirates.  There are interesting challenges between levels (like chariot races) where you must compete against a friend as well.

The game looks as good as you’d expect given the high quality of all Konami arcade beat ‘em ups of the time.  All of the characters are instantly recognizable to fans of the comic and the game is bright and cartoony like Konami’s other titles.  The game also features many great references to the source material with levels based on different books and recognizable characters as bosses.   It’s all very authentic and shows the kind of care Konami often took with licensed games during this time period.

Given the nature of the license and the light-hearted nature of  Konami arcade games in general, there is a lot of humor to be found in this game.  It’s hard not to laugh when seeing a character grab an enemy and slam him back and forth into the ground with one arm or just grab him and slap him repeatedly in the face! Actually, there are so many humorous touches owing to the comic book in this game that it may be the funniest of all of Konami’s arcade brawlers.  Asterix fans will love this game

Bucky O’Hare

Konami (1992)
This is one of Konami’s lesser known licensed games, much like Asterix.  Bucky O’Hare featured in some comic books and an animated TV series.  This is one of Konami’s more interesting beat ‘em ups because you always shoot your enemies.  This might make it sound more like a run and gun game.  However, it still plays largely like Konami’s other beat ‘em ups.

Though weapon power ups and screen clearing bombs do certainly feel like elements borrowed from the run and gun genre.  Other odd bits include the ability to slow your descent after a jump and special attacks that don’t use up your health at all.  There is also a shooter level and one where you can fly

As is typical with Konami beat ‘em ups, the game is bright and colorful and the characters look just like their TV show counterparts.  There are cutscenes between levels that feature a lot of voice work from the actual actors from the show.  If you were a fan, that should bring a smile to your face.  Overall, this is yet another great arcade game from Konami.  The mix of beat ‘em up and run and gun gameplay makes its stand out a bit more than their other titles.

Armored Warriors/Powered Gear

Capcom (1994)
This is one of the more unusual entries in Capcom’s beat ‘em  up catalogue.  You play as a mech, similar to the ones in Captain Commando.  They can move around the screen pretty fast, making this one of Capcom’s faster paced games.

Imagine a game where you’re essentially ALWAYS dashing.  The coolest thing about this game is how you replaces parts of your mech with various parts you can get from defeated enemies.  These parts can drastically affect how your mech fights and gives the game a really nice strategic element.

There are some interesting part combinations you can have too.  It feels sort of like a Mega Man X game, if Mega Man X was a fast paced, beat ‘em up.  Also, three players can merge their mechs together to form a more powerful mech.

This game actually inspired a one on one fighter for the arcade called Cyberbots (also ported to the Sega Saturn and Playstation).

The Combatribes

Technos (1990)
The makers of influential games like Double Dragon, Renegade and River City Ransom also created this cool, little game.

The game has some fun moves like bashing two people’s heads together or swinging someone around and around before throwing him.  This will knock down other enemies, kind of like the slam move in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time.  You can also kick downed enemies in the gut or bash their head into the ground.  There are items you can use against enemies.  The coolest one is the pinball machine! You can even toss a motorcycle at someone!

This is one of the few beat ‘em ups to not have a jump.  That will feel strange to some people.  Another odd quirk of the game is that boss battles continue even after you beat the boss if there are still enemies around.

This game was ported to the Super Nintendo, but a couple of things were change and removed unfortunately.
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Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Sega/Triumph International (1990)
A lot of people are familiar with Moonwalker on the Sega Genesis.  There was an arcade game released as well.  You’ll be saving kids throughout the game just like in the Genesis version.  What’s interesting is the isometric viewpoint, which is seldom seen in the genre and gives the game a different feel.

Like the Genesis version, Michael can defeat enemies by getting them to perform in a dance number with him.  That has to be the coolest thing about BOTH games.  He can also turn into a robot and fire lasers and missiles at enemies if he finds Bubbles the chimp.

By default, Michael attacks with some kind of energy he emits from his hands rather than using melee attacks.  You can hold the button down to charge it up to five levels, increasing its power and range.  There are some cool comic book style panels before each stage fleshing out the story.  It’s a simple, but fun game.  The dance numbers, isometric view, and robot power-up help to give it some unique flavor and you can enjoy listening to some of Michael’s biggest hits as you play through each stage.

Sonic Blast Man

Taito (1990)
This is a very odd game.  It features a super hero who basically goes around super punching the crap out of everything.  The intro shows him saving a woman tied to some train tracks by hitting a moving train with a 100 megaton punch! This is a common theme throughout the game.  Super punch a punk, purse thief!  Super punch a truck before it hits a baby carriage! Super punch a building to take out the armed bad guys on top of it! Super punch a giant, crab robot! Super punch a giant asteroid!

At no point does the game make you question the collateral damage you’re doing as you destroy occupied trains and buildings with your super punch.  Who cares, right? It’s a video game!

The special thing about this game is how you actually play it.  The game features a special glove that you have to put on.  You use this to hit a sensor to knock out whatever crazy thing the game throws at you.  This game has the most unique controls of any other title on this list.  There is also a Super Nintendo game that is a little less interesting, as it plays like a normal side-scrolling beat ‘em up.

Both the arcade game and the SNES game got sequels.  One interesting bit of trivia surrounding Sonic Blast Man is how the original arcade game was recalled after supposedly causing injuries to players.  I guess only real super heroes can punch out trains and buildings.

Captain Commando

Capcom (1991)
Hardcore Capcoms fans know that Captain Commando’s history goes all the way back to the NES, when he was a Capcom mascot.  Modern gamers will recognize him from the Marvel vs. Capcom games where he can be seen beating the crap out of Mega Man for stealing his job as Capcom mascot!

This game is fun for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it has this sort of old, classic Sci Fi feel to its world and characters.  It’s a bit similar to Capcom’s Battle Circuit in that way.  Also, the playable characters are awesome.  You have a ninja, a baby riding a robot (I’m not making that up), and a badass, mummy, alien guy.

You can also play as Captain Commando of course.  What’s really cool about the gameplay is that you can ride mechs.  Plus, the game had support for four players.  The game was ported to the Super Nintendo.  The port is a good game in its own right, but loses some of what made the arcade games stand out.  For example, you can’t ride cool mechs in it.

 

Arabian Fight

Sega-AM2 (1992)
Not to be confused with Arabian Magic by Taito, Arabian Fight is one of Sega’s lesser known arcade games and one of the few beat ‘em ups featuring an Arabian theme.  In terms of gameplay, Arabian Fight may be one of the weaker entries on this list.  It’s certainly playable, but a bit awkward at first.

The game has weird hit detection and can be rather confusing to play with more than one player onscreen.  On gameplay alone, it would be easy to write off this game.  However, it’s the visuals more than anything that you will take away from this game.

Arabian Fight pulls off some interesting visual tricks that are rather unconventional for a beat ‘em up.  Characters appear in the foreground of the screen before jumping onto the actual field of play.  Your character will also jump into the foreground of the screen for a fully animated close up when performing magic attacks.  It looks extremely cool.  The only other beat ‘em up game I know of to do that visual trick is a Sailor Moon arcade game (which just happens to be published by Sega).  This predates that game by three years.  You can also throw enemies towards the screen.

The game loves to really put things right in your face as boss deaths are done with closeups and your character will be knocked forward into the screen when he or she runs out of lives.  This is all done with animated graphics giving these moments a cartoon-like feel reminiscent of something like Dragon’s Lair.   You’ll also see characters get larger or smaller as they move towards or away from the screen.  There are lot of things going on in this game’s visual department.  You have sprite scaling, parallax effects, and animation all working together to give the game a somewhat 3D look.  This was an ambitious effort from Sega.

Suffice it to say, this game has an unusual look to it that has to be seen to be really understood.  Try to find a video on youtube and see how unconventional this game was for its time.  The game certainly has one of the most unique visual presentations you’ll see in the genre.  The gameplay is a bit awkward, but a skilled player can still blow through this on one life after adjusting to it.  It’s a ride worth taking for the sights alone and to take in the seldom used Arabian theme.

Metamorphic Force

Konami (1993)
Now here’s one of the few Konami beat ‘em ups to feature an original IP.  The idea is similar to Altered Beast.  You play as a couple of characters who can morph into a powerful animal form for a limited time.  An odd feature of this game is that your health is always depleting and you’ll see the funny message, “Dead Soon!” when it gets too low.  Otherwise, the game plays similar to other Konami beat ‘em ups.

Combos flow well in this game, and you can also attack downed enemies.  It’s actually quite fun to see two players stomp the living crap out of a boss! The game looks and sounds great.  The beast transformations look cool as your character yells, “Beast!”and the powered up beast attacks look great as well.  There’s not much else to say as the game exudes the level of quality that was typical of so many Konami beat ‘em ups back then.

Night Slashers

Data East (1993)
If you’re looking for a beat ‘em up with a horror theme, this is for you.  Dracula, werewolves, Frankenstein, zombies, it’s all here.  It’s fun seeing the blood and gore in this game.  It also features some hilarious moves like bashing a zombie into the ground before stomping on his head! Or using a boss like a skateboard to ride across the ground!

The game’s humorous nature carries over to other parts of the game, like chasing a moving carriage on foot! This game is great fun, though it seems there may have been some censoring and changes to the game outside of Japan.

If you like this game, there’s an even more impressive OpenBOR version of the game called Night Slashers X.

Gaiopolis

Konami (1993)
This is another original IP from Konami.  It may be surprising to some to see that it wasn’t always about the licensed  games with Konami in the ’90s.  This game actually differs from their other beat ‘em ups with its overhead perspective and focus on RPG elements, something Capcom toyed around with in a few of their games.

Due to the games unusual visual perspective, it actually used the kind of vertical screen typically reserved for 2D shooters.  The game is very long and actually features a password system.  Owing to its RPG influence, you will have powerful spells in the vein of Golden Axe at your disposal.

You’ll also find helpers throughout the game, kind of like the helpers in Magic Sword.  You can also block in this game and move while doing so.  The playable characters are interesting.  One is a dragon and another is a fairy.

The game looks excellent with some nice visual effects, including a 3-dimensional one as you drop to lower platforms.  Bosses are big and change form during battle.  It should be noted that the character designer is the same one who worked on Konami’s Twinbee games.  The soundtrack sounds a bit different from other Konami beat ‘em ups and more like a role playing game.  This is a solid effort from Konami and one of most unique beat ‘em ups in their catalogue.

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

Capcom (1993)
This game is based on a comic book that also became an animated series.  The game keeps its comic book influence obvious with words like, “Smack!” popping up as you wail on your enemies.  Another cool visual touch is when one character loses a life she’ll come back onscreen with a word bubble that says, “They’re gonna pay for this.”

As the name implies, the game features a lot of dinosaurs.  They’ll attack both you and your enemies, which adds entertainment value to the game.  There’s tons of weapons in the game, particularly lots of guns to use.  The best has to be the awesome bazooka.  The large amount of guns and comic book influence make the game similar to Capcom’s Punisher.

The game also has a very cool level where you are given the option of calling in a buddy to bring around the Cadillac.  Then you can use it to drive over all of the other enemies in the stage including the motorcycle riding boss!  That’s how you take out the trash in style! The game plays very smoothly and has excellent controls.  It all feels perfectly fine-tuned and polished.  Dash attacks are very useful, giving the combat a fast pace.

The soundtrack is the usual, excellent fare you’d expect from a Capcom game.  This isn’t one of Capcom’s most original entries in the genre.  It feels like an upgraded Final Fight, but the whole game is extremely well put together like the majority of their arcade beat ‘em ups were.  Konami and Capcom really used to own this genre in the arcades.

Violent Storm

Konami (1993)
This is the sequel to Crime Fighters 2.  This game features some of the largest sprites to be seen in the genre.  This game retains some of the humor of  its predecessors.

You can actually throw footballs at people! There’s even a weird moment where you can pick up pigs that also turn into footballs! There’s also a level where you throw people into the water and fish pop out that you can eat for health.  If that isn’t enough, there are also the funny enemies who blow themselves up with their own explosives, a level where enemies get squashed by a giant object, and the rather odd look and fashion sense of many of the game’s characters.

The combat has some cool moves like a wall jump and a Chun Li style lightning kick.  The game actually has more of a Final Fight feel, unlike a lot of Konami’s other beat ‘em ups.  It’s interesting to see a little Capcom influence in a Konami beat ‘em up as their respective games usually had a different feel.  It’s a cool game and another solid original IP from a company that’s more known for its licensed beat ‘em ups.

The Punisher

Capcom (1993)
Well, it’s a Punisher game.  So it goes without saying that there are plenty of guns and lots of violence.  In some parts of the game, he really stops messing around and just pulls out a gun for the whole section.  Who needs melee attacks when you’re the Punisher?

Most of the time, however, it plays like a standard, Capcom beat ‘em up, which is to say that it’s quite good.  Also, how can you not want to play a game where you can play as Nick Fury! He’s the second playable character.

There is a Genesis port of this game that gets covered later in the article.  It’s a fun game, but falls very short of the classic, arcade original.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man

Irem (1993)
Ninjas, baseball and Batman.  Do I really need to say anything else to make you want to play this? These three things really did influence the creation of this game.  The baseball influence is really the most noticeable as you can see in your baseball bat wielding main characters, all of which are named after famous baseball players like Jose Conseco and Darryl Strawberry (the last boss is “The King Babe”).

You’ll also face enemy bats, gloves, and catcher’s mitts.  That’s in addition to other bizarre enemies like an angry looking anthropomorphic airplane, dogs with guns, and dangerous lawnmowers.  All of this contributes to the game’s beautiful, if bizarre, visuals.

It’s a very colorful and cartoony game with great animations.  This is a game that must be seen in motion.  As great as screen shots look, they don’t do the game justice.  The soundtrack is pretty funky

The gameplay is impressive.  There are a lot of specials, moves and combos.  You even gain access to some new moves when you’re near death.  One of the coolest things about the game is the heart pick up, which summons your own personal squad of Ninja Baseball Bat Man cheerleaders!  They’ll either give you some health or wipe out the opposition! This is truly one of the craziest and original beat ‘em ups every made!

 

Sailor Moon Arcade/Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon

Gazelle (1995)
The idea of playing a beat ‘em up where the main characters are dainty, little school girls isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but the Sailor Moon series does seem to have a lot of fans.

There have been a number of video games based on the license.  This is one of the better ones.  For the most part, it plays like a standard Final Fight clone.  It’s one notable feature is a visual trick borrowed from Sega’s Arabian Fight.

The girls have special attacks that will show a close up, animated sequence of them performing the attack that takes up the entire screen.  There seems to be up to five of these per character too.

Gaia Crusaders

Noise Factory (1999)
The same people that created the excellent Sengoku 3 are also responsible for this little gem.  It features an excellent combo system, much like Sengoku 3 does.  There is also an interesting spell system where you can pick up power ups that will give you a powerful attack or a screen clearing move if the power up matches your character’s magical element.  You can also shield yourself from long range attacks and use two types of bombs against your enemies.

The game has an interesting, post apocalyptic setting where your characters are sent to rebuild the world.  This lends itself to some interesting levels like a destroyed New York city.  The character designs are interesting and the soundtrack is decent.  It’s a solid game overall.  Noise Factory didn’t create many beat ‘em ups, yet showed a surprising knack for the genre.

Growl

Taito (1990)
This game features an interesting theme.  You’re fighting against poachers.  That’s right.  It’s a beat ‘em up for all you animal lovers out there.  Growl is a game worth playing for its crazy, bizarre moments.  Right at the beginning of the game you’re given four rocket launchers to use, which makes it pretty clear this isn’t going to be a typical beat ‘em up.

Other bizarre moments include a boss appearing before you in a tank only to be attacked by a giant elephant.  Also, when you die and continue a large, spiked ceiling just drops from the sky and kills all your enemies! All of this you discover is happening because the bad guys are being controlled by a giant caterpillar!

What makes the gameplay fun is seeing various animals helping you out like you’re the freaking Beastmaster!  Eagles will actually drop rocket launchers into your hands to blow bad guys to bits with! Another cool feature is that you can use different attacks on enemies who are on the ground on all fours.  Who says heroes have to fight fair?

There are some nice visual touches.  Defeated enemies tend to linger onscreen for some time.  Given the rather large number of foes the game can throw at you, it’s fun to see all those bodies strewn about. Also, your character will duck and cover when throwing a bomb, which is funny to see.  Lastly, there are comic book inspired words like “SHBROOM!” that come onscreen  when things explode.  Growl is a fun and quirky game.  Unfortunately, it had a rather lacking Sega Genesis port.

Spider-Man: The Video Game

Sega (1991)
This game gets points just for making Black Cat playable.  You can also use Sub-Mariner,  Hawkeye, and the web-slinger himself.  This game features one of the oddest depictions of Spider-Man in video games.

The way he moves around the screen doesn’t seem very Spidey-like.  It’s still a fun beat ‘em up for comic book fans.  One of its more notable features is the zoomed out levels.  In these levels you’ll rely on just web attacks and you will have to crawl on walls and ceilings.

Honorable Mentions w/ Console Ports (Listed Below)

  • Sengoku 3/Sengoku Legends 2001
  • Undercover Cops
  • Captain America and the Avengers
  • Knights of the Round
  • The King of Dragons
  • Pu-Li-Ru-La
  • Warriors of Fate (Tenchi o Kurai 2: Sekiheki no Tatakai)
  • Warrior Blade: Rastan Saga Episode III
  • Alien Storm
  • Dungeon Magic/Light Bringer

Console Hidden Gems

Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Nintendo Wii
Vanillaware (2009)

If there is one thing Vanillaware is known for, it’s making some of the most gorgeous games around.  This is no exception and features the lush, watercolor style that they are known for.  It’s hard to put into words how good Vanillaware games look.  There is an amazing artistic quality to them that few games can match.  It’s in the same league as games like Okami.  You have to see them for yourself.

This game is basically a hack and slash game with flashy combos, fast-paced, ninja combat and intense boss battles.  You can switch between different swords during combat and have to be mindful of how much damage they can take before wearing out.  The game plays very smoothly and also features an interesting story told in Vanillaware’s typically unique fashion.  It can actually be seen through the eyes of two different playable characters and the voices retain their original Japanese voice actors to maintain the Japanese feel of the game.

Fans will want to keep an eye out for the upcoming Dragon’s Crown, another beat’ em up style game from Vanillaware with the same level of amazing visuals we’ve come to expect from them.
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The Dishwasher Vampire Smile

Xbox 360
Ska Studios (2011)

You may have already heard of Castle Crashers, the Shank games, or the Scott Pilgrim game.  They seem to have been quite popular on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network.  Here’s a seemingly lesser known gem of a game on the Xbox Live Arcade service from Ska Studios.  This is actually the second Dishwasher game and it improves upon everything in the first game.

The Dishwasher games can best be described as 2D versions of Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden games.  They’re every bit as bloody, violent and difficult as the original Ninja Gaiden II on the Xbox 360 and feature fast, furious action featuring multiple weapons, combos, magic, and items.   There are also mini-games where you play guitar solos that add a little more flavor to the games for you fans of Guitar Heroes or music games in general.

The whole soundtrack has a very rock and roll feel to it and consists of some of the best songs you’ll ever hear in a beat ‘em up.  The series has a dark, gritty, and stylish look combined with a knowing sense of humor.  When you have achievements making fun of video game reviewers or big industry names like Peter Moore, it’s hard not to smile.

 

Sengoku 3/Sengoku Legends 2001

Neo-Geo MVS/AES
Noise Factory (2001)
Despite being one of the greatest beat’em ups of all time, many people still don’t know about Sengoku 3.  It was featured in the beat ‘em ups 101 article and is being mentioned here again for its deep combo system, wonderful soundtrack, large and well designed character sprites, awesome spells, alternate paths, items you can stock, and just general badassery.

It’s the best beat ‘em up the Neo Geo has to offer and deserves to be called a classic.  The best part is that you can play it at home as well on the Neo Geo AES system, which gives you an essentially arcade perfect home experience.
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Undercover Cops

Arcade / Super Famicom
Irem (1992)
It’s important to note that this game is on this list for its original Japanese arcade version and the Super Famicom release.  The World arcade version is missing many features unless you play the one known as Undercover Cops Alpha: Renewal Version.  Unless you’re playing that version, stick with the Japanese version.

The Japanese version features a great soundtrack (the first level music alone impresses), some of the craziest weapons you’ll see in a beat ‘em up (like heavy cement columns and a Humvee), interesting enemy character designs, wacky bosses (like a crying dominatrix and a boss that tries to crush you in a metal compactor), odd health items (like a snail), a visual style similar to other Irem games like In the Hunt and Gunforce 2, and a decent moveset that includes airborne special attacks.
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Ghost Chaser Densei

Super Famicom
WinkySoft (1994)
This game is a port of the Denjin Makai arcade game.  It’s not arcade perfect as various changes were made to account for less powerful hardware.  It’s still an impressive game and one of the best available on the Super Famicom.

This game features a large moveset, something that is typical of the series.  It has a nice combo system as well that allows for air juggles..  It features some really cool looking tag team attacks should you choose to play with a friend.  There’s something incredibly fun about throwing an enemy and seeing your buddy grab him in mid-air and slam him to the ground.

Other nice features include a manually, rechargeable power bar that lets you use special attacks without using up your health, and the ability to knock down enemies when you get up off the ground.  You have a lot of offensive options here, as mentioned previously.  That’s what makes the Denjin Makai series really stand out.  This was never released in the US, but is worth seeking out if you can play imports.
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Splatterhouse 3

Sega Genesis/Megadrive
Now Productions (1993)
The Splatterhouse series enjoyed some success in its time, but it rarely comes up when people discuss great beat ‘em ups.  That’s a shame.  This particular entry was the best one.  It featured nonlinear gameplay and gave Rick some new moves like a headbutt, a roundhouse kick and others.  Rick also had a power bar that would transform him into a powerful, bulked up state when it’s filled.  There were new tools of death as well.  There was a cinder block, bat, and cleaver amongst others.  You had to be careful about dropping a weapon or you’d run the risk of losing it.

The story was handled in an interesting way.  You had to beat each stage within a certain time limit to prevent something bad from happening, which would affect what type of ending you got when you beat the game.  Beating time limits was also required to access the game’s bonus levels.

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Bare Knuckle III

Sega Megadrive
Sega (1994)
No, not Streets of Rage III. That’s the butchered American game that’s not as good as Bare Knuckle III. I’ll get to that in a second. Bare Knuckle III features more moves, characters, weapons, techniques, and endings than Streets of Rage II, yet doesn’t get as much love as that game does from beat ‘em up fans. It supports the six button controller, has hidden characters, has super powered versions of Axel and Skate, features upgraded “blitz” attacks(available when you score enough points), lets characters run (much like Final Fight 3), incorporates a new vertical roll move, and has crowd control moves that don’t use health.

The game’s only real flaw is that the music is quite different from Streets of Rage II. Most people consider the soundtrack to be a real step down from the legendary music of the first two games. Beyond that, any flaws that the game has are due to the crappy, localized American version. That version of the game features a much more annoying difficulty level, removes the character of Ash from the game (meaning that players miss out on a boss AND a playable character), removes a shot of Axel from the game’s intro, changes the story and has some other odd changes like palette swaps.

The Japanese version is the way to go. If you don’t mind the different flavored soundtrack, this is arguably better than Streets of Rage II.  This game seems to be the lesser known, black sheep of the series, but it really doesn’t deserve that as it’s a very, very good game.
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Three Dirty Dwarves

Sega Saturn / Windows PC
Appaloosa Interactive Corp (1997)

 This was featured in the 101 article on this genre, but it is still a relatively unknown Saturn game that often gets overshadowed by Guardian Heroes.  The game has a wonderful cartoon look to it and some nice animation.  The story was an interesting one about some characters from a pen and paper role playing game being summoned to the real world to save some kids.  They do this by using items taken from a sporting goods store and have to fight off enemies that also came from their world.  The most noteworthy feature of this game is that you control three characters at all times.  Switching between them to use their individual attacks or combining them together for one, powerful one is a key element to getting through the game.  The game is full of wonderful humor and features some of the most creative boss fights in the genre.  Aside from the great graphics, there is a very good soundtrack in this game.  In fact, I’d say it’s one of the best soundtracks in the genre.

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Panzer Bandit

Playstation / PS3
Fill-In Cafe (1997, 2011)

 This is basically another take on Treasure’s Guardian Heroes.  It’s not quite as impressive since it only features two planes of movement and lacks the RPG elements.  However, it plays similarly enough to be of interest for anyone who has played Guardian Heroes to death.

It’s also notable for being a title that proves that the Playstation could actually do 2D quite well in the hands of the right developer as it features well animated, good looking 2D sprites with interesting character designs.  It would be easy to call this a poor man’s Guardian Heroes for anyone who doesn’t have a Saturn.

However, there are not many games that play similarly to Treasure’s masterpiece, making this well worth your time.  The game was released in Japan in 1997, but received another release under the PSOne Classics label in 2011.

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Dungeons & Dragons Collection

Sega Saturn
Capcom (1999)

 The Saturn ports of these two games are very accurate and close to the original arcade games (Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara).  They even have galleries to help you keep track of the items you’ve found.  There are only two flaws with D&D Collection.  The load times are bit too long and you can only play with two players.  The arcade games supported four players.  Also, copies of the collection are a bit pricey should you find one.  You’ll need to make sure you have the 4MB ram cart too.

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Ninja Warriors Again

Super Nintendo/Super Famicom
Natsume (1994)

 Known as just Ninja Warriors in the US, this was a remake of the Ninja Warriors arcade game.  That game had an unusual setup featuring multiple screens.  This is kind of like what Konami did with the 6-player version of X-Men Arcade.  Aside from that little detail, the remake is much better than that game.

You can choose between three cyborg characters who play much more differently than a lot of other three character beat ‘em ups. What’s interesting about this game is that you can only move from left to right unlike most beat ‘em ups (similar to games like Bad Dudes or Two Crude Dudes).  This makes keeping yourself from being surrounded a bit more challenging.

Ninja Warriors Again is a rather unconventional beat ‘em up.  You have no extra lives.  Fortunately, you’re given a much longer health bar than most beat ‘em ups since you are a cyborg.  You also have to ability to block melee attacks and even bullets as you will run into guys with guns frequently.  It’s nice to play a beat ‘em up where your enemies are not the only ones who can block attacks.  You also have a power bar that automatically recharges over time.  This allows you to perform a powerful attack in one direction, which uses a portion of the bar.

You can also perform a powerful attack hitting everyone onscreen by fully emptying your power bar, no health required.  This encourages you to not rush ahead whenever you finish a batch of enemies when you can wait for your power bar to fill up.  Lastly, in addition to your standard jump you can perform a higher jump from a block stance in order to avoid getting surrounded.  The game also features some rather interesting moves like a special jump attack that Kunoichi can use to repeatedly bounce back and forth between enemies.

The graphics are very good and feature rather large character sprites and a good soundtrack that is similar to the excellent music featured in Natsume’s other game Wild Guns.
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Shin Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun – Kunio Tachi No Banka

Super Famicom
Almanic Corp (1994)
This is a very strong entry in the series that gave us River City Ransom.  The story follows the events of Renegade and features many returning characters from that game.  The graphics here are interesting.  The characters are more realistically proportioned than other games in the series.

The game features a system where you’ll play with a party of characters and can switch between each of them.  The combat is similar to Double Dragon and other games in the Kunio-kun series.

One cool bonus though is that you can actually ride your motorcycle in parts of the game! This is fun with two players as one of you controls the bike while the other attacks enemies.  The game features a very strong soundtrack.  Some consider this the best game in the Kunio-kun series.
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Mighty Final Fight

NES
Capcom (1993)
This is basically Final Fight chibi edition for you anime fans.  The characters are all small and super-deformed.  Obviously, you’re getting a funnier version of Final Fight here, but also of note, is the RPG element it introduces.

Your characters can gain levels and new moves.  So, if you’ve played River City Ransom and want another NES beat ‘em up with a little RPG flair, try this little obscure entry in the Final Fight series.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist

Genesis / SNES
Konami (1992)
This one tends to get overshadowed by the excellent Turtles in Time available on the Super Nintendo.  That game was an enhanced port of the popular arcade game that retained much of what people loved about that game.  Hyperstone Heist uses certain elements from the arcade game, but in many ways is a completely different game and doesn’t feature graphics and music quite as impressive as the Super Nintendo port of Turtles in Time.  It’s still a very good game.

The graphics and music are certainly not bad for a Genesis game at all and they retain the same style as Turtles in Time.  The gameplay is also very similar and is a bit more challenging than the SNES version of Turtles in Time.

You’ll find some great elements that are unique to this game.  It has its own unique areas and parts of  the game seem inspired by levels and bosses from the TMNT games on the NES.  So it’s worth checking out even if you’ve played both the arcade and Super Nintendo versions of Turtles in Time just to experience something a little different.  Taking into account the little things that are exclusive to this game, it’s just as good a game overall as Turtles in Time and is certainly better than the Turtles in Time remake (known as Turtles in Time Re-Shelled) that’s on XBLA/PSN.
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Rushing Beat series

Super Famicom
Jaleco (1992-1993)
This is one of those series that suffered a lot from localization, which was a common problem back in those days.  A lot of things were changed as the series went overseas, including giving them stupid new names like Rival Turf and Brawl Brothers.  So if you want to try them, you really need to play the Japanese versions.  You definitely don’t want to see the abysmal American box art for the games either.

There are some interesting elements to these games like the angry mode.  Basically, a character near death could become super powerful and invincible.  One of the games even featured a funny low blow attack that was removed due to the horrid localization.

The first entry in the series may not impress some people, but it got pretty good with its second installment.  The third and final game (called The Peace Keepers outside of Japan) had branching level paths, hidden characters (there’s a total of six playable characters), a secret transformation for one character that seems very Dragonball Z inspired, taunts, double jumps, a four player versus mode, multiple endings and different dialog based on the character you used(the game had a lot of story to it).
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Knights of the Round

Arcade / Super Nintendo
Capcom (1994)

 This is a nice take on the old King Arthur legend.  Your characters are legendary figures like Lancelot, Perceval, and Arthur himself.  Characters here can level up, which actually changes their appearance.

You have the ability to block attacks, but it’s tricky to do in the arcade version.  This was made easier in the excellent Super Nintendo port. (This is definitely a must have for any Super Nintendo beat ‘em up library.)  You can see Capcom laying the groundwork for their Dungeons & Dragons games in this title and King of Dragons.
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Venom and Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage

Sega Genesis / Super Nintendo
Software Creations (1994)
This game was pretty faithful to the original comic book story.  You play as Spider-Man or Venom.  The gameplay has some rather noteworthy features.  You can actually summon other heroes to aid you in combat.  Interestingly, they attack differently based on what character you’re using.  You’ll also find hidden rooms that require you to scale buildings or use your web swing to give the gameplay some variety.  Combat consists of some cool abilities like super attacks, tying up enemies in webbing, bashing two people’s skulls together, creating a shield made of webbing, attacking from a web swing, and pulling enemies towards you with a web line.  This game was released on the Sega Genesis, but the Super Nintendo version features a better soundtrack.  Lucky gamers might be able to find one of the limited red SNES carts this game originally came in.
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X-Men Mutant Apocalypse

Super Nintendo
Capcom (1994)
This and X-Men 2: Clone Wars are probably the best X-Men games of the 16-bit era.  Mutant Apocalypse has much more of a beat ‘em up flavor to it though, with a little bit of platforming thrown in.

The game lets you play as five of the X-Men, each with unique moves and special attacks that are performed in similar fashion to the special moves in Street Fighter II.  Each has their own pool of lives that players need to keep track of.  Losing all of them will put that particular X-Man out of action.

The game also allows you to choose what order to play levels in.  At first, you have to use whichever X-Man the game chooses for you.  These levels are meant to give you a feel for the characters.  Later in the game, you gain the ability to pick whichever character you want for the game’s remaining stages.  This allows every player to play the game differently as each stage will play differently based on a character’s strengths and weakness.

The graphics are great with wonderful colors and big sprites.  The X-Men and the villains they face are easily recognizable to comic book fans.  The soundtrack is excellent.  The songs playing in Psylocke, Cyclops and Wolverine’s first levels are especially memorable.  Each track fits the character and the stage as well with Cyclops and Wolverine’s being energetic, adrenaline pumping action music and Psylocke’s being a more subdued, ninja sounding track for a stage that appropriately takes place at night.  Overall, it’s a very solid X-Men game

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Captain America and the Avengers

Arcade / Sega Genesis / Super Nintendo
Data East (1991)
This game lets you play as Captain America, Iron Man, Vision, and Hawkeye.  Other Avengers will also pop in to help you out in various ways like dropping a health item or attacking your enemies.

The combat is mostly standard fare, but you do have long range attacks (like Cap’s shield).  You have all of the powers the characters are known for at your disposal, and they don’t cost health to use.  One fun element of combat includes being able to walk around carrying an enemy.

There are also levels where you get to fly around and shoot enemies, including a memorable encounter with a robot that looks like a Sentinel.  Another nice feature is being able to go over your max health when you collect a health item.  One of the strangest things about this arcade game is that it actually had a pause button!

The graphics are a bit odd in that the characters are rather small for a beat ‘em up, but you’ll still recognize all your favorite Marvel characters.  The game is actually full of cameos from the Marvel universe as they all show up to help you out as mentioned earlier.  One nice touch is the on-screen facial, portraits that react to whatever is happening.  Another nice touch is that the cutscenes are all presented as comic book panels.  The game’s audio stands out for its memorably cheesy dialog.  There’s a lot of voice work throughout the game.  This game was ported to some consoles, but the Genesis one is the one to get.  The SNES version was poorly ported by another developer.
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Cyborg Justice

Sega Genesis/Megadrive
Novatrade (1993)
Now here’s a game that feels like a sibling to Capcom’s Armored Warriors.  You play as a cyborg and face other robotic enemies throughout the game.

You’ll be given a chance to actually put your cyborg together at the beginning of the game and choose what parts you want to use.  As you go through the game, you will find yourself ripping parts off of your enemies and attaching them to yourself to aid you.  This is similar to how you attach parts of defeated enemies to yourself in Capcom’s Armored Warriors, another game built around robot on robot violence.

The parts you attach to your cyborg will give you useful abilities like a high jump, or handy new attacks.  It’s fun dismantling your opponents.  You can rip off an arm and throw it back at them.  You can also remove limbs with the saw arm, which looks brutal.  There are also fun beat ‘em up moves like body slams or jumping on your opponent and pummeling him.
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Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter

Sega Genesis/Megadrive
Almanic Corporation – (1993)
This game is based on a Japanese manga.  You play as a neat looking, armored, blue knight who fights off monsters throughout the game.  There’s a cool, spinning, jump attack you have at your disposal and you can also knock enemies into pits.

What’s really impressive is the larger enemies who will attack or chase you in the game leading to some epic moments.  It’s pretty amazing to be just strolling through the first stage and suddenly see a gigantic foot come out of the sky and repeatedly try and squish you like an ant.

When you finally get to the end of the stage, you’ll see the head of this freakish thing starting at you over the top of a building as he tries to grab you with his enormous hands.  After avoiding his attacks, you’ll morph into a giant-sized version of yourself and face this creature in one on one combat.

It certainly feels very Japanese and might remind you of those old Power Rangers shows or the giant-sized battles in Voltron.  Due to your larger size, you become a bit slower.  It’s interesting how much the gameplay shifts.  At this point, Mazin Saga becomes a fighting game.  It seems fitting, given how beat ‘em ups and fighting games are like siblings and share certain gameplay elements.  This game is a real marriage of the two genres.  It’s really cool when the bosses try to kill you while you’re normal sized.  One stage has you running from one of these gigantic enemies.  Seeing its head and arm fill up a good chunk of the screen as you run from it is pretty memorable.
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Batman Returns

Super Nintendo
Konami (1993)
There’s always been this silly myth that Batman games were always bad before Rocksteady put out Batman Arkham Asylum.  Educated gamers know that there have actually been a few great Batman games before that during the 8-bit and 16-bit era.  This is one of them.  If features gorgeous graphics with large sprites and captures the look of the movie very well.  The music is excellent, as mentioned in the beat’em ups 101 article.  It really sounds like the great score from the movie.  This feels like a big budget game.

The gameplay is interesting because this game gives us a rather brutal version of Batman.  He can grab two guys and bash their heads together, throw people into objects in the background, or slam some sap right into a motorcycle riding clown.  There are some levels that break away from the beat’em up formula.  One is a driving level with impressive mode 7 effects.  Other stages require you to make use of the grappling hook.  This usually takes place in sections of the game where you must fight your enemies with only batarangs and are placed in a limited playing field where you can only move from left to right and not up and down.

Konami treated the Batman license with respect back then.  They also made the amazing game The Adventures of Batman and Robin.  Not to be confused with the Clockwork Tortoise developed Sega Genesis version (which was an excellent run and gun game), this featured some beat ‘em up gameplay as well as some action oriented platform gaming.  That particular game is probably the truest representation of Batman: the Animated series you’ll ever see in a video game.
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Nekettsu Oyako (Hot Blooded Family)

Playstation/Saturn
Technosoft – (1994, 1995)

This is a fairly standard beat ‘em up that doesn’t really reinvent the wheel.  However, it was an early Playstation title before being ported to the Saturn in 1995.

As a PS1 title, it actually kind of stands out as you couldn’t really find a lot of 2D beat’em ups on the Playstation.  Meanwhile, the Saturn had high quality stuff like Guardian Heroes, Three Dirty Dwarves, and Dungeons & Dragons collection, not to mention great 3D beat ‘em ups like Dynamite Deka.

It’s a solid enough game despite not being remarkable in any way.  The game does have some nice quirks to it though.  There is something entertaining about seeing the female character use a pogo stick attack against her enemies.

The game also features a weird level where you end up inside a whale, right after fighting a boss while a helicopter tries to fire at you from the background.  You’ll face off against weird, squid enemies in this stage.  You eventually end up fighting on top of this whale! Another cool feature is that you can pick up Playstations within the game for points, or Saturn consoles in that version of the game! Overall, it’s a decent title.  Not amazing by any stretch, but enjoyable enough if you’re a fan of the genre.
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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

Super Nintendo
Natsume (1994)

Laugh all you want, it’s actually not a bad game.  It’s got some decent combat (the characters all have different weapons and you can even pull off super attacks), a little bit of platforming (and a swimming level) and you get to use your Megazord in the last two levels for something closer to Street Fighter II inspired gameplay.  The game doesn’t look too bad and the controls are good.  The music isn’t too offensive either.  There are a few cool touches like being able to raise your health over the maximum, wall jumps, climbing on ceilings, being able to smash up cars (because we all know good guys like to destroy other people’s property), and special attacks in the Megazord fights.  Plus, the characters have little differences to them (the pink ranger can actually shoot arrows).

On the negative side, there’s no co-op and where the heck is the Green Ranger? He was the coolest one.   It’s actually a pretty solid game that’s worth looking into if you remember being a fan of the show when you were younger.  This particular license was actually handled well on the SNES.  Another game, known as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition, is featured in our hidden gems article for 2D fighters.  Both of these games were made by Natsume, a complany responsible for some other great SNES games like Ninja Warriors Again and Wild Guns.  The music and sound effects actually sound a bit similar to those games.

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The King of Dragons

Arcade / Super Nintendo/Playstation 2/Xbox
Capcom (1994, 2006)
Some people like to think of the popular Magic Sword as a sword and sorcery, beat ‘em up/hack and slash game.  It doesn’t really play like one though, but this game does.  Think of it as another precursor to the great Dungeons & Dragons games Capcom would put out later.

You play as a wizard, an elf, a cleric, a fighter, and a dwarf.  You can level up as you play through the game, which gives you more health.  There are spells for you to use and you can block attacks as well.

It’s rather simple compared to other Capcom beat ‘em ups, but it’s still fun to play.  The game has some particularly impressive boss fights (you face a memorable, large, red dragon as a final boss) and a very good soundtrack.

The Super Nintendo version replicates the game’s great soundtrack easily and is a wonderful port overall..  The King of Dragons is also part of Capcom’s Classic Collections Vol. 2 on the PS2 and Xbox.

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Pu-Li-Ru-La

Arcade / FM Towns Marty / Playstation / Saturn / Playstation 2
Taito (1991, 1994, 1997, 2005)
The first thing you’ll notice about this game is its gorgeous, cutesy, pastel, Japanese look.  The next thing you’ll quickly realize is that this is quite simply one of the most bizarre beat ‘em ups ever made.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that you have to question the mental state the developers were in when they made this game.  There are some bizarre sights to see in this game like a woman moving in the wind on a flagpole.  The woman in question is an actual, real person.  It’s not a sprite from within the game.  There are actually a couple moments in the game where you see real people onscreen in contrast to the cartoony look of the rest of the game.  It’s like playing a Konami game like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the digitized actors from Mortal Kombat spliced in.  Weird.

There are a ton of other bizarre things to see in the game like fish with legs, a room full of eyes staring at you, frowning sunflowers, and other strange things.  There’s even a rather odd moment in the Japanese version of the game where you’ll see a door that is set between a giant pair of seemingly female legs.  Not hard to see why this was removed from the international version of the game.  This part of the game is particularly surprising given how cutesy many other things in the game are like the little animals your enemies turn into or the two innocent looking kids you play as.  It’s amazing how the game can go from cute to rather suggestive without skipping a beat.  When you open the door a pink elephant comes out and you see black space and a picture of the planet earth within.  This game is like one big, acid trip.  It is easily the most bizarre game in this entire article.  Even the playable characters are rather odd.  You play as two innocent looking kids with magic sticks.  How many beat ‘em ups can you say that about?

The weirdness alone make this game worth checking out.  Even when it’s not throwing visual oddities at you, the lovely pastel color style will keep your attention.  It also plays and controls well.  You have a magic stick and can increase its range of attack by pushing the joystick in the proper direction and you can even attack behind you.  You also have magic spells you can use, though the game chooses them randomly.  They are just as bizarre as everything else in the game.  One of them is a guy in a microwave who cooks your enemies! If you want a game that feels very, very Japanese and is very, very weird, this is the game for you.  You really have to play it yourself to see just how odd and crazy it is.

Pu-Li-Ru-La was first ported to the FM Towns Marty in 1994. You can also find it on the Saturn and Playstation as Pu-Li-Ru-La Arcade Gears (1997), or as part of the Taito Memories (Volume 1) compilation on  the Playstation 2 (2005).  Interestingly, it is not available on the Taitos Legends compilation released in North America and Europe.

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Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems

Super Nintendo
Capcom (1996) 

 The same engine as X-Men Mutant Apocalypse would be used again for this game.  As the title suggests, this one makes greater use of the Marvel license and lets you play as popular characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk.  Equipping gems gives you various advantages like speed and health boosts, similar to how gems work in Capcom’s Marvel Super Heroes arcade game.   Also, this game adds super attacks and air combos to the gameplay.  There’s a cool level where you ride beams of light created by Dr Strange across a volcano while facing Silver Surfer in this game as well.

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Warriors of Fate (Tenchi o Kurai 2: Sekiheki no Tatakai)

Arcade / Playstation / Saturn / PS3
Capcom (1992)
This game is based on the Three Kingdoms era of China, much like the Dynasty Warriors series or the Knights of Valour series.

It’s notable for throwing large amounts of enemies at you and for giving players a large number of weapons to use.  A few of those weapons are even hidden.  The combat system also allows for air throws and you can even ride horses.

The arcade game’s international version is a bit disappointing.  It features a number of changes.  The Romance of the Three Kingdoms theme was lost and a few weapons were removed.  Plus, there is an ending that is missing and some missing story bits

Fortunately, there are ports on the Saturn and the Playstation that are based on the Japanese version.  They were never localized for release outside that country.  The game would be released again as part of Sony’s PSOne Classics in 2011.

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Dungeon Magic/Light Bringer

Arcade / PS2 / Xbox / Microsoft Windows
Taito (1994)
Taito had dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons, sword and sorcery stuff with games like Rastan and Cadash.  This one is a bit more interesting though.  It goes against the grain by having an isometric play field.

There’s a lot of cool RPG elements in this game.  Your character can level up. You can find weapons with magic enhancements that only work for a certain character.  You can also get ranged weapons like a crossbow, and you can use a shield to defend yourself.  There’s lots of treasures to be found, which help you level up.  There are magic spells you can pull off too, but they are limited unless you find more.

The game is not linear.  There are different ways to exit areas.  You even need to move objects around and jump on them to get to certain areas and there are hidden areas to find as well.  The nonlinear nature of the game and the different things each character says as you go through the game give it some replay value.  This game is likely to appeal to fans of Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara or Konami’s Gaiopolis.

In addition to the arcade version, the game can be found on Taitos Legends 2.
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Warrior Blade: Rastan Saga Episode III

Arcade / PS2
Taito – (1991 / 2007)

In some ways, this seems like a rather generic, Golden Axe clone.  The combat is not particularly special and the bosses are pushovers.  However, the game has some memorable moments and interesting quirks that make it worth checking out.

The game features some cool, action sequences throughout the game.  One section has you sliding down a mountainside while hacking and slashing away at enemies.  That’s just plain epic right there.  Another cool moment takes place when you start a stage on horseback and find yourself doing battle with other enemies who are on horses as well.  The sound of hooves on the ground and the whinnying of the horses really help make for one of the coolest examples of horse mounted combat in a 2D game.

Lastly, there is an awesome stage called Wind Canyon.  Here’s you find yourself atop a big, green dragon.  As you make your way to the top of the stage, enemies will attack you on dragons of their own.  It’s truly awesome whacking one of them off their mount with your sword and listening to them scream as they plummet to their doom!

Aside from these memorable action sequences, there is one very cool gameplay element worth mentioning.  There is an old wizard who pops up at certain points in the game.  He will follow you around and cast random spells.  Sometimes he’ll use an offensive spell and you’ll see its name pop up in the middle of the screen in large letters for dramatic effect.  Other times he’ll turn your enemies into frogs so you can stomp on them! Or he might just freeze everyone on the screen so you can smash them to bits! He may even put your enemies to sleep or turn them to stone with the badass Medusa spell! Imagine watching Conan fighting hordes of evil with Gandalf backing him up!

Visually, the game has one cool feature that will sadly be lost on those of you playing the game through emulation or its console port.  The original arcade game’s action took place on more than one screen.   The game really makes ample use of its audio.  The main character will provide a narration in the game’s intro where he says he’s going to tell you the story of how he became king.  There’s a fair amount of voice work in the game.  You’ll hear things being spoken by characters in a strange language.  In some parts of the game, a lovely lady’s voice will prompt you to move forward after defeating a group of enemies by saying, “Go, follow this path.”  A voice can be also be heard at times saying, “May power be with you.” Lastly, the audio really makes some of the boss fights more interesting.  One boss is a decaying skeleton sitting on a throne.  As he summons skeletons to attack you, an eerie music plays and you will hear, “Help me” over and over until he is defeated.  Another boss greets you with some rather strange dialog by saying, “I’m sad, you want to be a hero too.  You’ll suffer the same fate as I.” A lot of these lines give the game a bit of mystery.

The game has some other cool quirks too, like the characters materializing onscreen, weapons in hand, at the beginning of a stage.  There’s also a funny moment at the beginning of one stage where you can toss an enemy towards the stairs you just climbed up, and watch him humorously tumble down to his demise.  Lastly, there are the hidden “Bad Fortune” levels that some players may not even see (one has you fighting enemies while riding a raft and gives you an attack power-up for beating it), and the upgrades that you are given at the end of a level.  This is a fun game for fans of the original Golden Axe.  It’s arguably even better, yet seems to be rather obscure.

You can find this excellent and underappreciated title that was covered in the above arcade section on Taito Memories Gekan II.  That collection is worth picking up for this game alone.

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Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Nintendo Wii
(2010)
This is an excellent entry in the Beatemup genre  by Wayforward.  The game really captures the look and feel of the show perfectly.  The levels play out like episodes from the show.  In fact, the game features some original stories and uses the same kind of humor you’d expect from the show.

The combat is solid and you have lots of “toys” at your disposal, which can be upgraded.  This includes classic stuff like Batarangs and really cool things like a light sword.  You’ll go into battle with a partner character much like the team ups in the show.  That character can be computer controlled or played by a friend.  There are some very interesting boss fights and environments in the game.

Since this a Wayforward game, it looks gorgeous.  The animation is excellent and everything looks very impressive.

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Alien Storm

Arcade / Sega Genesis/Megadrive
Sega (AM1) (1990) / Sega AM7 (1991)
This game doesn’t seem quite as well known as other Sega beat ‘em ups like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and Altered Beast.  Alien Storm is a bit of an unconventional beat ‘em up.  It has a rather fast pace as your characters can move around the screen much faster than characters in other beat ‘em ups do.  Plus, you can dash.

Each character carries an interesting weapon.  One has a flame thrower and another one carries an electric whip.  You have an energy bar that you can drain for some pretty amazing special attacks that will hit everything on the screen.  One of these specials consists of dropping a nuclear missile and another one has you summoning an aircaft to bomb your enemies!

The game doesn’t feature a ton of moves, but that’s normal given the time when it came out.  There is one cool little move where you vault over an enemy and watch your character aim her flamethrower down towards the enemy for a mid-air attack.

At the end of a beat ‘em up section, the game will actually switch to a first-person, shooting segment.  The amount of stuff you can destroy in the environment while playing these sections is impressive.  Also, there are levels where you’re running at high speed and you have to avoid obstacles and blast enemies.

The Genesis version is an excellent port, as it should be since Sega worked on it.
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Portable/Handheld/Mobile Hidden Gems

Astro Boy: Omega Factor

Game Boy Advance
Treasure (2003)

From the some company that gave us Guardian Heroes, comes this excellent title.  It’s based on a Japanese manga and anime from Osamu Tezuka.

Fans will get a lot more out of this title as it uses the license well.  Some might view this as an action oriented platform game as you move from left to right, hopping on platforms while fighting enemies.  However, the game throws a lot of enemies at you that get dispatched through punches and kicks in true beat ‘em up fashion.  So it’s worthy of consideration for this article.

The game varies things up from time to time with flying, shooting levels.  Also, there are some great boss fights, as if you’d expect less from a Treasure game.  Visually, it’s one of the most impressive games on the Game Boy Advance.  Again, would you expect anything less from Treasure?

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Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble

Nintendo DS
Clover Studio (2005)

This plays a lot like the console versions of Viewtiful Joe, which is a very good thing.  This one may not be as well known as they are however.  The biggest change here is the addition of new powers that make use of the stylus controls.  Other than that, it’s about what you’d expect from a Viewtiful Joe game.  Amazing, cartoon graphics, great spoken lines from Joe, a little puzzle solving, smacking down thugs in style with movie-like, VX powers, and an upbeat soundtrack

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Justice League Heroes: The Flash

Game Boy Advance
Wayforward Technologies (2006)

Here’s something for you comic book fans.  It’s design by Wayforward, who are already responsible for one or two other great games on this list.  This game features colorful, well animated sprites and really makes good use of Flash’s speed.  It does so by slowing enemies down when you activate Flash’s speed.  You can also use his speed to quickly dash from one enemy to the next in this game.  Especially cool is being able to call in a fellow Justice League member to attack your enemies.

There are some funny voice clips too.  Flash will say, “Hey, watch it!” when he gets hit and, “Hey, little help” when he summons another League member.  The League members will have something cool to say when they join the fray too like, “For Themyscira!” from Wonder Woman.

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Thor: God of Thunder

Nintendo DS
Wayforward (2011)

Here’s another quality portable game from Wayforward based on the Thor movie.  This features fantastic animation and sprite work.  There are some cool touches.  For example, it’s really awesome to be fighting some bad guys and see an epic battle taking place in the background of the screen at the same time.  There are huge bosses that take up both screens too.

The combat features a good combo system and you can really do some fun stuff like sending enemies flying backwards,  knocking them off walls, hitting them with air combos, and slamming them to the ground.  The air combo system works really well.  You can attack your enemies with all of his cool powers like thunder, wind and his hammer.  It’s very easy to redirect Thor to attack enemies behind him.  You can even use stuff in the environment against your enemies like big columns that can be knocked over.  Also, you can find runes to make Thor stronger too.  Between this game, Batman: The Brave and the Bold on the Nintendo Wii, and Justice League Heroes: The Flash, Wayforward seems quite capable at pumping out quality, 2D beat ‘em ups based on comic book properties.

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Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Gameboy Advance/Nintendo DS
Ubisoft (2005)

It’s interesting to note the number of times a movie will produce a number of bad games on the main consoles, but a hand held title that’s good because it features classic, 2-d beat ‘em up gameplay.  There’s something to be said for that.  Being a Star Wars game, this game features a bunch of cool force powers and the ability to deflect enemy blasts back at them with your lightsaber.  That’s in addition to the various attacks and combos you can pull off.  There’s a cool ranking system that encourages you to fight well in order to upgrade your character.

The character animation is smooth and the music consists of the quality Star Wars music you’d expect.  The Nintendo DS version features some cool, 3D, flying levels if the solid beat ‘em up action isn’t enough to sell you on the game.

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Guilty Gear Judgment

Sony PSP
Arc System Works (2006)

Fighting fans should be very familiar with the Guilty Gear series.  Basically, this series is known for its awesome character designs and excellent, rock soundtrack.  It can’t be stressed enough.  Guilty Gear games look amazing, especially if you’re into stylized anime.  The rock music featured in them is not typical of the fighter genre, so they get a lot of love for that.

The series is not known for beat ‘em up gameplay, but makes the transition rather well here.  This game has 20 playable characters, special attacks, super attacks, smooth animation, original bosses (new for the series that is), and 2-player co-op.  As a bonus, you also get the fighter Guilty Gear X2 #Reload as part of the package.  So there’s something here for both fighting fans and beat ‘em up fans.

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TMNT

Gameboy Advance
Ubisoft Montreal (2007)
Taking a different approach from other TMNT games released on other consoles at the time (due to the new movie that had come out), this game feels very much inspired by the classic ninja turtle arcade games by Konami.  Aside from not having the dash attacks from Turtles in Time and the beat ‘em up standard, health stealing, special attacks, it plays a lot like those games.  There are some notable differences though.  You can juggle enemies and the game even has a combo counter.  Plus, you can pick up and throw enemies.  There’s plenty of weapons to use and a cool, little special meter that allows you to summon a fellow turtle onscreen to pummel some bad guys for you or leave you some food.  Also, your turtle grows stronger over the course of the game like in a role playing game.  The game also has a built-in achievement system, mini-games, and shops.  You can also replay levels.

The sprites look good and move fluidly. The story features an interesting mix of comic artwork and images from the movie.  The soundtrack is good and the game features good sound effects and voices.  Given that Turtles in Time: Re-Shelled wasn’t quite what some fans were hoping for, this is another 2D turtles games worth looking into.

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Jackie Chan Adventures: Legend of the Dark Hand

Game Boy Advance
Torus Games (2001)
This game really captures the look of the show quite well and features some nice animation.  The combat is good.  It controls well and you pick up new moves as you go through the game.  There’s combos, counters, back flips, a back kick, rolls and blocks.  It’s a nice variety of moves.  The enemy AI gets better as the game progresses.  There’s also a lot of weapons and items to break or interact with.  You can actually kill some enemies in one hit by throwing a weapon at them and then picking that same weapon right up off the ground.  The game also has some big bosses, but you have multiple health bars to help deal with them.  The game also features a little bit of platforming.  It’s a very well put together title.

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Gekido Advance: Kintaro’s Revenge

Game Boy Advance
Naps Team (2002)

This is a very anime influenced sequel to Gekido on the Playstation.  The cutscenes look fantastic and really show off the anime flair.  The sprites are quite large for a Gameboy Advance game and look like something out of an SNK fighting game.  One of your moves also looks like a Dragon Punch from the Street Fighter series (the cool, flaming version from Ken of course).

It is interesting how you move through the game as you don’t just move to the right like every other beat ‘em up.  You’ll go left, right, through doors, over gaps, and up ladders as you move through the game.  This is because you need to find keys to progress.  There are a couple power-ups to pick up, though a few will work against you.  They can reverse your controls or keep you from striking anything.

Your moves consist of pretty standard beat ‘em up fare.  You can also juggle enemies, which is fun.  Combat gets interesting as enemies get tougher and you find yourself also dealing with environmental traps while fighting them.  There’s actually a lot of traps you’ll have to watch for throughout the game.  It’s a decent game that feels a lot like a fan made game by someone who likes beat ‘em ups and has a fondness for character designs from the King of Fighter series

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Dragonball GT: Transformation

Game Boy Advance
Webfoot Technologies – (2005)
It seems crazy to think that a combat heavy anime/manga series like Dragonball wouldn’t pump out a beat ‘em up game.  This one features a fast, responsive, and fluid combat system.  You can actually switch back and forth between three characters.  Whoever is on the sidelines will regain energy like the popular Marvel vs Capcom fighting games.  You can unlock more characters to add to your team as you go through the game.  Actually, There are a decent number of unlockables in this game.  The characters are also detailed and animate well.

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Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

Nintendo DS
Amaze Entertainment (2008)
This game has a very Metroid and Castlevania influenced design.  You gain new abilities throughout the game that allow you to get to new areas.  So it’s not a completely linear game.  The combat is what puts this game squarely into beat ‘em up territory.  You can pummel enemies, pop them up into the air, and pull of an air combo! In fact, the game’s combo system allows for some variety in your attacks.  You can get more moves as you keep playing and this makes the combat keep getting more fun and interesting.

The game looks nice.  The characters look 3D, but the gameplay is still pure 2D.  The game has a nice amount of voice clips.  You can’t have a proper Spider-Man game without some witty quips.

Mixing Metroidvania and beat ‘em up gameplay is brilliant, and this is another case of a portable game being better than its big brother, console counterparts.

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Twin Blades: The Reaping Vanguard

Xbox 360/PSP/iPhone/Windows Phone 7
Press Start Studio (2009)
This is a gorgeous looking game featuring a scythe wielding, pistol packing, zombie hunting nun! She looks like a character who would fit just right in a Darkstalkers game.  The characters in this game are rather large and the game has a cartoonish look that is very appealing, much like something like Shank, Bloodrayne Betrayal, or Castle Crashers.  Those zombies look as funny as what you might see in a game like Plants vs Zombies.  Some wear pots on their head.  Others wear Hawaiian shirts and some even look like mummies.  The backgrounds are simply beautiful and take place in spots like a cemetery, a ruined church, and a forest.  There’s lots of blood and gore as you bring holy righteousness to the undead.  You’ll even see blood splatter on your screen as you kill the zombies.

Gameplay is mostly just about shooting and slashing zombies, with the occasional boss fight.  However, you can get different weapons and upgrades as you go through the game, which you’ll need as it gets tougher and tougher as larger numbers of increasingly strong zombies try and grab hold of you or stab you.  Those weapons consist of fun stuff like a flame thrower, an ice gun, and the instrument of divine justice that is the Holy Beam! As for the upgrades, one of them gives you a cool looking aerial attack that has you slam to ground to kill any zombies below.  All in all though, the combat is pretty simplistic, but it’s to be expected from a game that originated as a cheap, windows phone game.  It’s fun in short spurts though, if for no other reason than just to see the beautiful, bloody graphics and zombie dismemberment.  If you ever wanted to jump onto that lawn in Plants vs Zombies and just starting blasting and slashing the zombie horde, check this game out.

 

PC Hidden Gems

Streets or Rage Remake v5.0

BomberGames (2011)
This is the ultimate tribute to the SOR series featuring elements of all three games rolled into one title with many extras and improvements.  The final version of the game is the result of eight years of work and features an engine built from the ground up for this game.

It features tons of content and unlockables, which include 19 playable characters, remixes of the classic tunes the series is known for, a boss rush mode, an option for a computer controlled AI partner (similar to Final Fight 3), lots of customization options, an image gallery,  a cutscene viewer, various editors and much more.

While not an official part of the series, this is hands down the best Streets of Rage game there is.  It’s superior to the originals in every way.  You can’t find this on the developer’s site anymore due to copyright claims by Sega after the game was completed (despite every effort being made to let Sega know what they were doing as they worked on this).  Savvy internet users can probably still find it floating around online somewhere though.

Dungeon Fighter Online

NeoPle Inc. (2005)
Now massively multi-player online role-playing games are not something one usually associates with beat ‘em ups.  However, mix those with 2D beat’em up gameplay and you end up with Dungeon Fighter Online.

Like a typical RPG, you have character classes, you can buy weapons/armor, use potions, etc.  Your character will also get stronger and stronger the more you play in true RPG fashion.

Since it is an MMORPG, you have a global community of people to play with.  Combat is what you’d expect from a beat ‘em up as you defeat your enemies with a variety of moves, which can be done via special commands or just the touch of a hot key.  You’ll acquire more moves and skills as you keep playing.

Dungeon Fighter Online is free to try.  So if you like MMORPGs and beat ‘em ups, it’s a no-brainer.  It has somewhere around 200 million (if not more) registered users worldwide.

 

Dad ‘n Me

Tom Fulp/Dan Paladdin (of The Behemoth fame) – (2005)
This is a fun, little flash game from Newgrounds with that signature art style also seen in Castle Crashers.  So naturally, the game looks great.  It’s full of fun little details and has a bit of a sadistic side.  For example, you can smash a kid’s sand castle and watch him cry.  You can even throw kids in front of cars.  This all sounds horrible, but your character is a bully and the game’s cartoon-like visuals and humorous nature keep this game from being too disturbing.

You’ll understand the twisted humor if you’ve played Castle Crashers or especially Alien Hominid.  The game doesn’t hide its influences, as many of the characters are named after Newground artists.  The combat is simple, but fun.

You can enter a rage mode after doing a certain amount of damage and you’ll become more powerful and gain access to some different attacks.  With the interactive terrain and combo system, this all adds up to a fun, little title.

Dark Judgement

Frankenstein Studio (1997)
This is a pretty solid beat ‘em up that looks and sounds like something Capcom could have put out on the Super Nintendo years ago, or maybe the Neo Geo considering how big and impressive the sprites are.  It has your standard melee combo attack, jump attacks, special attack and various weapons like knifes, katanas, bombs, chains and even guns.

The gameplay feels fast due to the dash, which you can even do while moving up and down the screen.  Your crowd control attack comes out pretty fast too and you can do a rolling recover when knocked to the ground.  This is an obscure title worth looking into.

There’s not much info on the net for this game.  It seems to be abandonware and may not run properly on modern PCs.  However, there is a lone youtube video at the time of this article being written that you can see if you’re curious about the game.  Just search for Dark Judgement PC, or just click on this (hopefully, still-working) Youtube link.

Eojjeonji Joheun Il-i Saenggil Geot Gateun Jeonyeok

TG Entertainment (1997)
Yeah, I don’t know how to pronounce that either or what it translates to.  This is a Korean game.  I’ve heard it also goes by the english name The Fight.  Released only in South Korea and based off of a popular Korean comic book by Myung Jin Lee, this obscure game has a lot going for it.  It starts off as a fairly unimpressive brawler, but you can level up and acquire more moves as you progress through the game.  The amount of moves you can get gets pretty extensive and includes dash attacks, ground attacks, counterattacks, grab attacks, attacks from the ground, and even a crouch.  You can also upgrade health, attack power, speed, health regeneration, and get extra credits.  Health upgrades matter, because there are no health items in the game at all.

The soundtrack is pretty good and the sprites look good too.  The game’s only real flaw is a very high level of difficulty.

 

Storm: Eojjeonji Joheun II-i Saenggil Geot Gateun Jeonyeok 2

(2001)
The spiritual successor to the difficult to pronounce Eojjeonji Joheun II-i Saenggil Geot Gateun, ditches the story elements and add some new gameplay features.  There is now a two-player mode and a three-player mode.  There’s a new special bar that you can use to perform many of your moves.  There are also new super moves that can be performed.  There are an insane number of enemies that the game will throw at you now, though many are easily defeated.  You can upgrade your health bar to incredible proportions now as well to deal with everything the game throws at you.  You can decide what order to play the stages in and they become more difficult after you play through them once.  The game still suffers a bit from too high a difficulty level like its predecessors.  So you may have to grind for experience points to upgrade your character.

The game also features an interesting new visual style.  It uses pre-rendered graphics, unusual for a classic styled beat ‘em up.

 

Beats of Rage

Senile Team (2003)

 This game played like a Streets of Rage game and features sprites resembling characters from SNK’s King of Figher series.  It was a fun beat ‘em up in its right, but its real legacy may be the fact that this game’s engine was made freely available on the internet and people used it to create all sorts of fan created beat ‘em ups.

A few of the adaptations, like Nightslashers X, are quite good.  The game’s popularity led to it and its engine being modified to work on different consoles, most notably the Sega Dreamcast.  The Beats of Rage engine would eventually lead to the improved OpenBOR.engine.

 

Yainsidae (Age of Wanderer)

Joymax (2003)

 This is a South Korean game based on a tv drama series.  The sprites are large and beautiful.  They look like something ripped right out of a Japanese anime.  They are very well detailed and polished.

The soundtrack is really good.  The combat is rather simple.  It’s roughly on par with Final Fight in the number of moves you have.

Overall, this game is decent.  Here’s a link to the developer site with info and screen shots.

 

Doujin Hidden Gems

Grief Syndrome

Twilight Frontier (2011)

 This game is based on the Puella Magi Madoka Magica anime.  It’s pretty faithful to the show and has a nice visual style mixing anime and hand drawn, pastel art.  There are five playable characters with different play styles and they can level up in RPG fashion (up to level 99).

The abilities and moves in the game are fun and true to the characters from the anime.  The game features something called soul limit.  It’s used to regenerate health and can resurrect a character if that character dies.  Soul limit plays a role in special moves as well.  Passing a certain finishes a “lap”, at which point the game gets harder and boss levels rise, eventually to absurdly high numbers far beyond level 99.

The game’s combat is fun because the girls have different moves and abilities ranging from melee attacks, to gun play, to even freezing time.  The game features multiple endings depending on which of your characters make it to the end of the game alive. The game also has trophies for players to attain.

Ragnarok Battle Offline

French-Bread (2004)

 This game seems to be a parody of the MMORPG Ragnarok Online.  The makers of that game must have liked it because they gave it an official release outside of Japan.  The game is a cool mix of beat ‘em up and RPG gameplay featuring seven character classes (one hidden) and fourteen characters.  The classes are all a little different.

There are actually male and female versions of the different classes.  After making a character you can play through the game and upgrade your stats.  Upgrading stats actually makes more moves available.  There are some nice combos and air combos in this game.  So it still feels like a beat ‘em up even with so many RPG influences.

The game has a cutesy, chibi style.  It’s a very bright, colorful game.  The backgrounds are particularly interesting as you can sometimes see other characters there doing various things like opening shops or being attacked by monsters.

51 Comments

  1. Nando says:

    Worth a mention IGS Gladiator: Road of Sword – pretty undiscovered but well worth looking into

  2. Just a flat-out thorough piece. Lot of titles I haven’t seen before. Can’t imagine the work that went into this. kudos.

  3. rid says:

    wow… this brings back a lot of memories! gotta try those titles i never heard of before.

  4. Sky_Shark says:

    Just wanted to mention the screenshot you have for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is actually from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie for SNES. I would say you’re trying to describe “The Movie” since you picked the screenshot, but I’ve only played the regular game and the description is just about the same haha.

  5. Alex Vanderklipp says:

    A thorough and stunning article. This is one of the ones that I’m going to keep coming back to. Nice work.

  6. Matthew says:

    One of the best Fighters I’ve played amazingly dark and original I think people should play this I come across it just by accident

    http://theblackheart.com.ar/ << The Black Heart

  7. GWB says:

    A curious note about Ragnarok Battle Offline: I had my PS2 controllers hooked up to my computer (via a recently-imported EMS USB2, R.I.P. Lik-Sang), and the game recognized them right away. Playing it with a controller far surpassed the keyboard, especially in 2P mode.

  8. BurningDoom says:

    Absolutely amazing article guys! So inclusive of so many different games! I’m bookmarking this one!

  9. XxKomebackKidxX says:

    The Power Rangers game featured is actually Power Rangers: The Movie. The reason the Green Ranger is not present is because the White Ranger is playable in the game who is the same person. The Green Ranger was replaced by this point in the series.

  10. Gamerforlife says:

    Yeah, it looks like we got the wrong screen shot for the Power Rangers game. The article entry is about the Natsume game that was based on the show . We can get that fixed. Thanks for the positive and helpful feedback everyone!

  11. Zolko says:

    One of the best articles yet!!!! Really good work!!

  12. mgtroyas says:

    Absolutely incredible article. Threr are many of my favourites and many I didn’t know about. I have work for some weeks, now. Great work!

  13. Another PC Hidden Gem is Little Fighter II:
    http://lf2.net/

    Gather some friends and go play it, it’s awesome!

    Great compilation man, had luck to play a big bunch of them…!

  14. Secret Admirer says:

    This is a great and extensive list, I love. But I would like to point out a game I also quite love, DragonBall Advance Adventure for the GBA. Way better than Dragonball GT: Transformation.

  15. Gamerforlife says:

    I’m not too familiar with Little Figher II and DragonBall Advance Adventure. So thanks to Diego Machado and Secret Admirer for the suggestions. I will have to check those out.

    @Nando
    IGS Gladiator: Road of Sword is a pretty cool game. When I was looking at IGS games to add to the article though, it was already pretty long and I thought Oriental Legends 2 and the Knights of Valour games were a bit more noteworthy.

    @Matthew
    The Black Heart would be a more fitting suggestion for Ack’s Hidden Gems article on 2d fighters.

  16. andsuchisdeath says:

    Nekketsu Oyako is far from standard fair. It has an amazing engine that is very juggle, special, cancel based.

    Thanks for keeping the misinformation alive.

  17. andsuchisdeath says:

    Actually, Nekketsu Oyako, gets as close as you can when it comes to reinventing the wheel.. along with the Denjin Makai games.

    Nekketsu has Street Fighter like command moves, juggling, cancelling off of normals or specials, on the ground attacks, volleying enemies back and forth with a partner with juggles (or throws!)

    These are not standard features within the genre.

    However, in your defense, the Saturn version is tweaked, and has much more of these features than the Playstation version. Assuming you have actually played the game, your comments could be excusable regarding the Playstation release.

  18. fighter99 says:

    you should add the pretty unknown Super Famicom gem “Shounen Ninja Sasuke” to the list. i found a longplay video of it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_RGpx1b7gs

  19. Mr.James says:

    I only seen about two of these titles in the wild.

  20. Evanogre says:

    I see Maximum Carnage, but where’s Separation Anxiety…?

    Best co-op beat ‘em up ever!

  21. Gamerforlife says:

    I thought about adding Separation Anxiety, but it seems like a lot of people prefer Maximum Carnage to its sequel. Maybe if we revise the article at some point I’ll update the entry for Maximum Carnage and mention that it had a sequel so that people who like MC can check it out and make up their own minds.

    @Mr.James
    Thank god for emulators and ebay. There are a few games in this article that can be tough to find even on ebay though. Took me a good while to get a complete copy of the Super Famicom version of Ninja Warriors Again. It was a bit pricey too, totally worth it though

  22. Luis H. Garcia says:

    Check out Streets of Fury in the Indie section on XBox Live. Definitely worth mentioning.

  23. Gamerforlife says:

    @Luis H. Garcia
    That actually looks pretty cool. I think I may actually download this and try it. Actually, I think I might go and do that right now.

    Thanks for the suggestions everyone! it’s fun discovering new things. That’s really the point of this whole article, exposing people to new games. It’s great that you guys are showing me some stuff too.

  24. FedExin says:

    Wait, no mention of C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa? You get to shoot everything up, big bright colors, lots of fun!

  25. Gamerforlife says:

    Moo Mesa is really more of a run n gun game like Sunset Riders, Gunstar Heroes, Metal Slug, Contra, etc.

  26. Holy fricking crap this was a fantastically exhaustive listing. Excellent work here!

  27. Antimonitor says:

    Hey racketboy, downtown has awesome:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcL05s_x2iA

  28. Odira says:

    You forgot Bio-mechanical Toy

  29. Foggen says:

    Ikari Warriors 3

  30. allisonaxe says:

    I’d also like to recommend a beatem-up that gets overlooked very often: Sega’s Spikeout: Battle Street on the original xbox. (and in arcades, in japan, before that..)

    its a 3d over the shoulder game, but it has the feel of a classic arcade beatemup. here’s a gameplay video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeUCydiETD0 (there are tons of other videos on youtube featuring multiplayer, but they’re all sort of chaotic, so I chose this one.)

    I feel its kind of a shame this game got overlooked (its title didn’t help: when I bought it at gamestop, the clerk thought I was asking for a Volleyball game and tried to sell me Beach Spikers when he couldn’t find a copy right away.) I also don’t think we’ll ever see a remake, because interest in the original was so limited.. which is also a shame.

  31. DrVaughn says:

    Damn, I’d give my left nut for Dark Judgement but it’s nowhere to be found on the internet, sadly.

  32. DrVaughn says:

    And, personally, I think Double Dragon Iphone, Double Dragon Advance, and Super Double Dragon are all good enough and overlooked enough to fit on a list like this but that would be too much DD.

    You could probably do without mediocre stuff like Twin Blades. That one had two good bosses and that’s it. Combat was such a drag.

  33. An intriguing discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you should write more on this subject, it may not be a taboo subject but usually people do not talk about these topics. To the next! Cheers!!

  34. El-Bangador says:

    Gamerforlife => I won’t even be able to express the joy of finding this article and hunting down all the future poundings to be delivered in this great genre. I grew up with really only the stateside classics such as Final Fight, Double Dragon, etc… but if only I knew some of the Japanese/non-American awesomeness that was out there!

    Also, just read your beat em ups 101 and through both stories/comments, did not notice anyone mention an old PS2 game that I put countless hours into. 3D brawling (beat ‘em ups) is one of the hardest nuts to crack in the genre without making it a Devil May Cry adventure game or clunky un-fun software, but I think Urban Reign by Namco is THE best standard-bearer out there. Derised by critics for almost no storyline and pure wall-to-wall fighting, I could always pick this game up and try any 60+ characters to play all the stages. Other than the new Arkham Asylum-style fighting of one-button-does-everything attack, this game employed a more manual feel to your actions and real challenge which felt like the retro 2D core of my childhood. Hit up my PSN ID (El-Bangador) if you are online. Anyways, sorry for the long comment, but was inspired by all this great info. Thanks and salud!

  35. Kool Aid Man says:

    Fantastic article! A few other arcade gems are Knuckle Bash, The Gladiator (PGM), and Zero Team

  36. Griever says:

    How about Kill Bill game (PC fan-made)?

  37. CptGuapo says:

    Wow! Supreme list!

    Many thanks for the PC and Doujin options!

  38. Grimmochov says:

    i’ve managed to find a download of Dark Judgement, but can’t get it to work, even on something as far back as Windows XP. has anyone managed to get this gem working?

  39. loempiavreter says:

    Big Fight: Big Trouble in the Atlantic Ocean by Tatsumi needs to be in this list! Sprites are large, there’s an average of 6 grunts appearing on screen making it a true arcade beat’em up with plenty of crowd control game, intial 3 character can be expanded by defeated bosses who will join you to fight for the good guys, not quite bigg but decently sized movelist with my favorite being the Dragon that flies trhough the screen from the chinese boss, Chen. Also Chen’s arena the disco stage is very cool wit hsome nice effects. This game needs to be on this list!

    Same goes for Zero Team USA with the destructable armors of bosses, which you then can pick up again to use against them.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-bP0lkpajo

  40. loempiavreter says:

    Btw here is the movelist for Big Fight:
    www12.ocn.ne.jp/~takebo/bf.html

  41. phizzler1981 says:

    Jennifer is the scariest beat em up game ive ever played. im thirty goddamned two and that game made me jump. i believe it was created by master derico. find that if you like scary games. really great homebrew

  42. Dinsidd says:

    the rushing beat screen you have there is actually from 64th street a beat em up by the same company

  43. Rom says:

    Check out Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan. It’s a Mega Drive game from China and is basically a re-skinned Knights of the Round. IIRC it includes Sengoku-style cut-scenes. Great fun.

    This is a great list. I’m stoked to see Golden Axe: Return of Death Adder here, this is my favourite arcade game. Asterix is another classic. I’ve also been trying to track down Metamorphic Force but couldn’t remember the name – thanks!

  44. frankoy says:

    This list is crazy… LOL! Thank you!

  45. Grimmochov says:

    still looking for a way to get dark judgement working

  46. DrVaughn says:

    Where did you FIND the download for Dark Judgement?

  47. Slack says:

    Thank you so much for this guide! i have been trying to find vendetta forever, it was in my head but i couldnt find the name of it!

  48. Tenfresh says:

    Amazing list!

    Only glaring exclusion is Tokyo Beat Down for Nintendo DS!

  49. sdelfin says:

    First, I want to say I love this article. I’ve visited it many times and have read various parts over and over. I’ve rediscovered old favorites and discovered new ones as well. I can go on and on about a number of games here. I was just reading the section on Hyperstone Heist and felt compelled to leave a comment. I just recently did a thorough comparison of SNES Turtles in Time and Genesis Hyperstone Heist. Both are great games, and each one excels more than the other in various ways. In this article, it says the Genesis game has music less impressive than the SNES game. I have to disagree with that. I didn’t find the SNES version’s music impressive and found that most of the tracks featured elements that left me baffled. I think the music in the game demonstrates some of the weaknesses of the SNES sound hardware for music, particularly that high-quality sound samples of a decent length were hard to fit onto a cart back then. The Genesis version’s FM music is much smoother and more natural sounding to my ears, and is certainly more authentic as the arcade original also used FM for music. As I said, both games are great, but when it comes to the music, I’d much rather listen to the Genesis game.

  50. KofPool says:

    Listen, I know most of the games listed here, but I’ve been searching for an arcade game (I’m not sure if is it on the list) I played when I was a kid (about fifteen years ago), that was a beat em up, sidescrolling game where you played as a dude (I guess there were more than a single character) that whenever he picked up some kind of power up he bulked up in a tougher guy, and he could get even more tougher, like 2 or 3 levels I guess…

    There is this online game called urban rivals, it’s more or less like the “evolution” system I remember the game had… Any idea? I’ve been trying to find this game for a long time! (Sorry for my poor english)

  51. Grooverth says:

    I can’t believe this awesome list doesn’t have the Judge Dredd game made it by Midway with the hilarous Goro-like pets.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3yutR5fffk

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