Top Ten Beat-Em-Ups That Need to Make a Comeback
The side-scrolling arcade-style brawler has been dead for years, but Castle Crashers has given us hope that there is still some life left in this long-standing genre. On that note, here is a list of TGR’s "Top Ten Beat-Em-Ups That Need to Come Back," games that made our violent childhood tendencies a tangible reality and that we would love to see remade or sequel-ized on XBLA or PSN. Along with a little background for each title, we will be including a few suggestions that could be utilized to make each game feel fresh and new again. Now slip on your brass knucks, grab a lead pipe, and get ready for a skull-bustin good…list of games!
#10: Guardians of the ‘Hood
Now, before the uproar begins, yes I chose this over Golden Axe, Captain Commando, Final Fight, and the dozens of other worthy brawlers. After reading what I have to say, you will hopefully see why.
Description: Guardians of the ‘Hood, or G’hood as I will be calling it from now on, was created by the team that made the offensively horrible Pitfighter, which means tons of digitalized live-action actors and stiff animation aplenty. The premise has you playing as one of the studly cast of beefy bodybuilders that must clean up the streets from the scum of the hood. The gameplay is as simple as a beat-em-up can get, and is, in numerous ways, broken and dull. Also, the game subjects you to painful 1v1 battles after every stage, each of which is exactly the same and not interesting in the least. So why did this make the list?
Why it’s Worthy: First and foremost, the game is absolutely hilarious. The walking animation for each character, as well as their fighting moves, are among the worst ever captured on film. Watching a burly, fatheaded mongoloid doing a crouch-walk is one thing, but watching him doing a flying headbutt or unleashing his fire attack brings it to a whole new level of awesome. Another great feature is that you can pick up almost anything in the environment, including Hobos. Now why would you pick up a vagabond you ask….to THROW THEM, of course!
Using a bum as a weapon is a transcendent experience that will go down in history as one of my all-time greatest in-game memories, and this is a moment that everyone should be able to experience at least once in their lives. You can also hurl a flasher wearing a trench coat if you wish, and punch a prostitute for no apparent reason, so your options are literally endless. Another cool feature is that the bosses that you defeat in your quest are added to your stable of playable characters once they are beaten, so there are plenty of meaty new faces to choose from as you go along.
Ways to Improve: If a new version of G’hood was ever to be re-released, the developer would have to start over from scratch gameplay-wise, as the controls are rigid and not fun in any regard. Adding a workable combo system and some tighter maneuvers would definitely improve the experience. Upping the player count to 4 players, adding an online mode, and increasing the variety in levels, enemies, and weapons would also be necessary, but the theme, visuals, and voice acting would have to go in unscathed.
#9: The Punisher
Description: Capcom ruled the arcades during the 90s, and The Punisher is, in my opinion, their finest work in the beat-em-up genre. You play as either the Punisher or Nick Fury, though Fury might be unrecognizable to some, as he is in his pre-Samuel L. Jackson phase here. You battle through the streets as you try to take down the Kingpin and all of his cronies using whatever weapons you can take from the scum you leave lying on the pavement.
Why it’s Worthy: So why didn’t Final Fight make this list? Simple…because The Punisher is everything that Final Fight is, but better. The two games feel very similar, most likely because they were built on the same engine, but the new abilities afforded by the vengeful assassin, like being able to rain grenades down upon helpless enemies, provides more variety than Cody and Haggar ever could. The weapon pickups in The Punisher are a lot more gun-centric than most other games of this type, and any time that you get to clean up the streets through a hail of machine gun fire is a good time to be had. The boss fights in The Punisher are also memorable, including several screen-sized giants who take an enormous amount of damage, leaving a game that is a blast to play both solo or with a buddy.
Ways to Improve: Since the only home version of this game was a scaled-down Genesis port, a straight-up remake for the download services would fit The Punisher nicely. The game has plenty of variety in weaponry, but adding a few segments that are out of the norm, like vehicle missions, would notch a bit more onto the overall experience. A few new levels and some even more over-the-top weapons would help, and it would be cool to have the option of playing as the current version of Nick Fury along with the included old school model.
#8: Guardian Heroes
Description: An overlooked treasure (no pun intended) from the Saturn’s exemplary lineup, Guardian Heroes lets you and a friend take down a horde of baddies to stop the evil Kannon from ruling the land. GH offered a ton of playable characters, each with their own moves and abilities, and a non-linear story path that lets you branch off and change the outcome entirely. The game also offers a complex RPG-like leveling system that allows you to power-up your characters in ways that fit your gameplay style, almost like the way Castle Crashers does.
Why it’s Worthy: The fast-paced action, smooth animation, giant character sprites, and satisfying XP system gives GH a level of complexity and depth not afforded by many other games in this genre. The branching paths make the game infinitely re-playable, and the 6-player Verses mode adds another excellent feature to what was already one of the best multiplayer experiences on the Saturn.
Ways to Improve: Since not many people got to play this the first time around, Guardian Heroes would be an ideal title for re-release on PSN and XBLA. An HD-remix of this game, similar to the one that Super Street Fighter II Turbo recently received, would make GH even more stunning than it already looks, especially if they can keep the silky-smooth animation intact.
#7: Die Hard Arcade (Series)
Description: Released during the early days of 3D arcade titles, Die Hard Arcade is an over-the-top beat-em-up that takes all of the best elements of a 2D brawler and gives them the depth afforded by the third dimension. You play as police officer John McClaine in a very loose recreation of the events that transpired in Die Hard—so loose that this wasn’t even a Die Hard game when it originally came out in Japan. Your goal is to take down terrorists who overtook a skyscraper using your fists, feet, a bevy of wrestling throws, and a multitude of explosive weapons.
Why it’s Worthy: More than any other 3D brawler, Die Hard Arcade and its sequel Dynamite Cop 2 capture the feel and essence of what made certain 2D brawlers great. The games are fast, smooth, and jam-packed with moves and combos for you to pull off. Arcade and DC2 also have some of the most fun pick-up weapons ever in a beat-em-up, including rocket launchers, butcher knives, arcade cabinets, and giant slabs of meat. Another innovation that DHA brought was the introduction of Quick Time Events to the modern action title, a mechanic that is very fun here and would go on to become included in almost every major action game released in the past few years.
Ways to Improve: The primary problem with Die Hard Arcade is the length. It is beatable in under an hour, and its sequel can be blown through in about half that time. Packaging these games together might sweeten the deal, but adding an all-new third game to the series, making it a triple-pack, would make this a must-buy set. Other than the length, the games are almost perfect.
#6: River City Ransom
(Technos/1989/NES, GBA, Wii)
Description: An open-world beat-em-up with RPG elements, non-linear progression, and fully equipable characters who learn tons of new moves as they go on. This sounds like the description of a AAA current-gen title, but is actually the basis of River City Ransom, a game that was way ahead of its time in every way. The game plays similarly to many other brawlers, except you get experience points for every thug you beat up. You can go anywhere you want, and most paths branch off into other sections of the world. Your task is to take down a number of gangs to build up enough XP to be able to take down Slick, your arch nemesis, and the game lets you use a variety of fun weapons, including piles of bricks, to do so.
Why it’s Worthy: Well, in describing the gameplay mechanics above, I pretty much explained what makes it so great. River City Ransom has way more depth than almost any brawler on this list, and the fact that you can play through it cooperatively with a friend, who also has to level up his character, makes it even more incredible. By the end of the game, you are able to do somersault flips, throw rapid-fire punches, and take down most enemies in a single attack, and the progression to that point is both fun and unique.
Ways to Improve: While this game would be releasable in its current form on XBLA and PSN, of course adding online play, optional graphical touch-ups, and a new checkpoint/saving system would be best. If they really wanted to seal the deal, they could include all of the improvements of the GBA release, which added the ability to recruit a friendly posse to aid you on your quest.
#5: Streets of Rage (Series)
(Sega/1991/Genesis, Wii, and many others)
Description: During the 16-bit era, the home consoles weren’t considered powerful enough to deliver a brawler that was as exciting as what was going on in arcades. The Final Fight port to SNES was a good example of this, as it was missing several key features that made the arcade game so popular. Sega changed this outlook by releasing Streets of Rage, a game that channeled the best features that then-modern arcade brawlers had to offer and showed the public what their little black console could do. The game is a traditional side-scrolling beat-em-up, but the variety of weapons and combos made Rage stand out. Each of the 3 characters has a ton of attacks that range from suplexes to dropkicks, and they also have super attacks that unleash screen-clearing explosions upon their helpless villains.
Why it’s Worthy: The sheer variety and execution of the moves in the Streets of Rage trilogy are what keeps these games still popular among hardcore fans. Combos are easy to learn yet difficult to master, especially when the screen is packed with dudes coming at you with all kinds of deadly weapons. The frequency of the pick-up items and the quirky enemy design rounds out the package, as does the ability to play as 3 different characters that all have unique move sets, stats, and abilities.
Ways to Improve: While an HD Streets of Rage 4 would be a fan’s dream come true, the original games are still so immensely fun that a re-release of all 3 games with some upgrades would be a welcome addition to the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Taking this brawler from 2 to 3 players online would be a great start, as would more background variety. While they are pretty to look at, the level design is fairly simplistic in its current state. This game series would benefit from a graphical upgrade more than most on this list, as these games were built for the graphically inferior Genesis and not for arcades. Increasing the character sprite size and remixing the already great music would help this game capture all-new audiences.
#4: Double Dragon (Series)
(Technos/1987/Arcade, NES, Xbox 360, Wii, and many others)
Description: One of the originators of the genre, Double Dragon offered great co-op play, a varied set of moves, a ton of weapons, cool level design, and some great bosses that still stand out today from the rest of the pack. The unique aspect of this series is that, like Contra, many people prefer the 8-Bit NES versions over the arcade releases, as they both have very different looks and feels. This distinction is partially responsible for the Xbox Live Arcade revival of the original DD arcade sliding under most people’s radars. The superior sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge, is also worth noting as it ditched the modern-day setting of the original for a neo-futuristic environment, complete with cyberpunk characters, helicopter battles, and an inordinate amount of conveyor belts.
Why it’s Worthy: The Double Dragon games were huge in the 80s, spawning several sequels, a cartoon, and a hilariously bad movie. All of this was possible because the concepts and gameplay in the original games were among the best in the genre. From the spin-kicks to the throws to the whips to the incredibly tough platforming segments, every element of these games ‘clicked’ with gamers, and enough people fondly remember the glory days of Double Dragon to garner enough interest in a new title.
Ways to Improve: The series spun out of control after the NES went away, so a new title in the established boundaries of the first 3 titles would be a good start. Being an early brawler, the fairly simplistic gameplay would require some new moves and combos be added to keep things exciting. A bigger, meaner Abobo would also be a requirement.
#3: The Simpsons
Description: Who hasn’t played The Simpsons arcade game? Released right at the cusp of the series’ popularity and in the heart of the arcade beat-em-up renaissance, The Simpsons was the perfect game at the perfect time: a 4 player action game that perfectly captured the look and feel of the long-running cartoon.
Why it’s Worthy: Despite being a licensed title in an industry that usually churns out awful licensed video games, The Simpsons arcade game was actually really great, which is why you can still commonly find it in what is left of arcades in the US. Each Simpson is fun to use, and the co-op attacks that you can activate with your buddies keeps things fresh. Some end-level minigames, giant bosses taken from the show, and fantastic animation make this an all-time genre classic that needs to be brought back.
Ways to Improve: While a full-on sequel, incorporating characters and in-jokes from the past 20+ Simpson years, would be a dream come true, I think any fan would be happy enough with a port of the arcade release, even if nothing was added or changed but online play. With Konami having made this game and EA currently holding the Simpsons rights, the odds of this happening probably aren’t good, but Simpsons fans should continue to keep all 4 fingers crossed hoping that we will one day be able to swing vacuum cleaners and soar through the sky as Bartman from the comfort of our own homes.
Description: Released alongside the immensely popular animated series, X-Men allowed up to 6 players to stand side-by-side and uncomfortably close as they teamed up to take down Magneto and his band of evil mutants. Using powerful attacks, environmental weapons, and uncanny mutant powers, players had to guide the X-Men through cities, jungles, and even outer space to accomplish this task, and take down some of the most evil villains from the X-Men universe while doing so. The arcade cabinet was one of the first widescreen games available, as it used 2 different arcade monitors in the 6-player edition to allow a longer view on the action.
Why it’s Worthy: Look at that arcade cabinet! It is still a jaw-dropping site. Drawing on the timeless popularity of the X-Men, the game was truly something special. Never before in arcades had you been able to team up with so many people at the same time, and the amount of characters on-screen, especially when they are each unleashing their mutant powers, would leave any player awestruck. The gameplay is fast and fun, the characters and levels are interesting, and each of the 6 mutant characters plays differently from one another, giving you plenty of options for subsequent replays of the game.
Ways to Improve: A 6-player online co-op game in any genre would be amazing, but bringing X-Men online would provide an astonishing online experience, beat-em-up style. Considering there are dozens of additional characters in the comics, they could possibly add some of the other popular X-characters who were not part of the arcade roster to a home release. A sequel, even one incorporating elements and characters from the upcoming Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon but featuring the gameplay mechanics of the arcade game, would be even better!
#1: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Series)
(Konami/1989/Arcade, NES, Wii, Xbox 360, and many others)
Description: Was there any doubt that this would be #1? No cartoon was more popular than the Turtles in their day, and the TMNT arcade games are still fondly remembered by fans and gamers alike. Both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its sequel, Turtles in Time, let you pick one of the 4 turtles and use their Pizza-Power to take down an army of foot soldiers, robots, and mutants through areas such as the streets, secret bases, and even travelling through time itself. The original TMNT arcade was released on XBLA last year and became a top-seller, which goes to show how popular this franchise still is among gamers.
Why it’s Worthy: Aside from the nostalgic license, the game engine that powers Turtles is easily accessible, loaded with moves, and, most importantly, a blast to play. Nonstop variety, be it from the 3D race levels or excellent boss areas, also kept the gameplay flowing smoothly, and the innovative techniques you could employ, especially the ability to throw an enemy towards the screen, always made these games stand out. Like The Simpsons, the graphics and music looked and sounded like natural extensions of the cartoon, and the voice clips uttered in-game are still quoted by fans to this day.
Ways to Improve: As the XBLA release proved, very little needs to be changed here. A new game in this venerable series would get long-time fans shaking in their shells, and any new gameplay elements that the developer could add to this already-loaded series would be amazing. Each arcade game can be beaten in under an hour, so a new Turtles title would need to be slightly longer to keep people playing. Oh, and while we are waiting for TMNT 3, can we get an XBLA port of Turtles in Time please?
So there you have it…10 beat-em-ups that we hope will be returning to a console online network near us soon. Feel free to tell us below what brawler YOU would like to see brought back on PSN, XBLA, or anywhere else for that matter.