Everyone likes a retro video game, and if you don’t, chances are you’re just plain wrong. Now, there are plenty of genres out there to choose from and enjoy, but one of my personal favorites has always been a good old fashion beat’em up. There’s just something about being able to casually pop in a game and wade through wave after wave of nameless goons, taking out a day’s frustration by knocking the hell out of a bunch of mooks with absolutely zero commitment to a complicated plot or storyline. These guys are old school throwbacks that I’ve loved ever since I first picked up a controller, so let me tell you about a few of the best I’ve played, because if you’ve never taken a look at them before, you definitely should.
Arguably the one that started it all, and still a heck of a lot of fun all these years later. I remember first playing this one on the NES way back when I was super young, and I also remember getting my ass handed to me because I just didn’t get it quite yet. I always liked the look and the gritty feel of this title, and the fact that the characters’ heads seemed slightly out of proportion to the rest of them for some reason appealed to me. By today’s standards the controls and gameplay are clunky as all get out, and you really have to overlook some dated graphics to appreciate it. I remember playing through and beating it with a friend of mine back in the day, and I can also recall getting it handed to me again when the Lee brothers faced off at the end. That aside, Double Dragon is still a good time, so give it a shot for yourself if you ever get the chance. Just be sure to avoid the cartoon and live action movie. Cause sweet lord, just no.
This was the first beat’em up I can really remember becoming obsessed with and being impressed by, as the graphics are awesome and the look of the player characters and the gang members alike still hold up well even today. Capcom knocked it out of the park with this game’s fluid gameplay and the endless stream of thugs to smack around, and each character was given their own special move to unleash and bring even more hurt. It was a heck of a good time to play through on co-op mode with my friends too, and even when I go back now, I always choose Mayor Haggar, cause he’s just a badass. And I still have to give props to the developers for the bad guy, Hugo, cause who doesn’t want to beat down an Andre the Giant wanna be every now and again.
Streets of Rage II
I had never played the first Streets of Rage when I initially played this one, but I absolutely loved this game when I got a hold of it. It comes off as kind of a Final Fight light, but everything the other did well this one improved on. The gameplay was much smoother and varied all around, and while the graphics were about the same, the number of playable characters increased and they all had a wider move set. What definitely sells me on this one over Final Fight are the characters to choose from, which include a kid that can kick the tar out of the bad guys with his rollerblades and a lumbering pro-wrestler complete with tights and ring gear. It’s a blast to play through with your friends over an afternoon, and I still break it out on the Genesis Classics Collection to give it a go every now and again.
Okay, this one is by far the least known title on this list, but it’s and overlooked gem that deserves some recognition. I stumbled across it for my Sega Genesis years ago by pure accident, an I’m still glad I found it because it’s pure awesomeness. You start out by designing your own cyborg and selecting his weapons and body parts, but the best thing is you can tear apart the enemies you fight to refit your character as the game progresses. It’s fantastic to swap out a grinder or buzzsaw arm for a stolen energy blaster, and if you’re tired of your tank legs why not try on a pair of hydraulic spring ones instead? It’s a hard title to track down but well worth the effort, and I still have the fondest memories of playing it even now.
Golden Axe I & II
Alright, I know I put two games here, but I don’t car because both are just so damn good. It’s no secret how much I love me some sword and sorcery, so it should come as no surprise that these two games are my all time favorite beat’em ups. I love everything about what this pair of titles has to offer, from the rugged aesthetic, the old school soundtrack, and three main characters that you really feel like you’re on an adventure with. Death Adder and Death Bringer, from the first one, are great villains, but I think in terms of smoother gameplay and overall enjoyability the second just edges out the original for me. If I sit down to play one of these now, I know I’m going to be there for a while, as I ain’t stopping until I beat the whole thing. I just can’t say enough good things about how much I love Golden Axe I&II, and if you’ve never played either, what are you waiting for?
I hope you enjoyed taking a look at a few of my favorite classic beat’em ups, as it’s a great genre that has more than its fair share of quality titles that deserve more love than they get. The ones I’ve mentioned here are by no means the cream of the crop, but they are definitely my favorites and hold a special place for me. Before I’m through I have to give a quick honorable mention to the old X-men arcade game, as that one hit right about the time I was really getting into comics and took more quarters from me than I want to admit to, but it sure was fun. Well, I think I might go pop in one of the games I talked about earlier, as I suddenly have the urge to whoop some mook tail all over the screen. Now the real question is do I want to use rollerblades or a big friggin sword? Decisions, decisions I suppose. Later, everybody.