Beat 'em up

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Kung Fu Master (1984) is one of the first beat 'em ups.

A beat 'em up, also called a brawler, is a genre of video game where the player controls a character who uses close-combat martial arts to defeat a multitude of opponents and achieve a goal. The genre has roots as early as 1980 with Sega's Samurai, but really came into its own in 1984 with the first widely popular beat 'em up to check all the boxes of the genre, Kung-Fu Master. Other titles in the same year include Jackie Chan no Project A, Chinese Hero, and Karateka. The classics of the genre use a 2D side-view with a scrolling background, but, over the years, alternate perspectives and 3D environments became popular.

Beat 'em ups are similar to several other video game genres like fighting games, which put more emphasis on complex individual character battles than on defeating a multitude of generic opponents, and scrolling shooters, which predominately use ranged weapons which changes play behavior. Those beat 'em ups which have a fantasy theme are often referred to as a hack-and-slash, and some gaming databases make a distinction between the two, but, since the play mechanics are effectively identical, I group them together.

I really loved beat 'em ups when I first saw them in the late-1980s, what pre-teen boy doesn't love the idea of beating up a bunch of thugs, but I now find the classic beat 'em up game mechanic to be tiresome. It was great in the 1980s for draining quarters in the arcade, but it doesn't create a very rewarding gaming experience. I dislike having to wrestle with the controls and develop split-second timing, which is mandatory for classic beat 'em ups. Instead, I prefer later beat 'em ups which have growth and story like my favorite beat 'em up, River City Ransom.


This is a list of beat 'em ups that are important to me.

Title Released Developer
Altered Beast 1988-08-?? Sega
Bad Dudes Vs. Dragon Ninja 1988-04-?? Data East
Battletoads 1991-06-?? Rare
Double Dragon 1987-07-?? Technos
Double Dragon II: The Revenge 1988-??-?? Technos
Golden Axe 1989-05-?? Sega
Final Fight 1989-12-?? Capcom
Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu 1990-12-?? Now Production
Renegade 1986-??-?? Technos
River City Ransom 1989-04-25 Technos
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1989-??-?? Konami


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