Shack Chat: What is your favorite beat-em-up?

Put your quarter on the dashboard and crack your knuckles: The Shack staff brawled over our favorite beat-em-ups, and we want to know all about yours.

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Some genres are too sweet and pure for this world. The beat-em-up, aka the brawler, brewed the perfect mix of colorful graphics, hard-hitting feedback, and fast gameplay for arcades in the '80s and '90s. They're not as prolific today outside of anthologies of golden oldies, but back in The Day, you couldn't walk into any quarter-gobbling den of iniquity (so named by parents) without tripping over quality titles from the likes of Capcom, Sega, and Konami.

With Street of Rage 4 just over the horizon, the Shack staff broken open crates and ate god-only-knows-how-old turkeys to boost our stamina and brawl over our favorite beat-em-ups. You can read our choices below. Then let us know: What's your favorite?


TMNT IV: TURTLES IN TIME - Asif Khan, Lola’s Dad

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time for Super Nintendo.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time for Super Nintendo.

Game 0wns!. Masterpiece. 10/10. Perfect video game. Shut up. Go play it. In fact, put it on Switch, you cowards! Ozzie, take it from here.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time - Ozzie Mejia

I was one of those kids who liked to jump into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game at a pizza parlor. I couldn't get enough of beating up Foot Soldiers with Leonardo and whoever else could get on the machine. It's how I came to learn about the beat-em-up style of games in the first place.

That kid in me didn't expect that Konami would blow the old Arcade Game out of the water just a few years later on the Super Nintendo with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, a game that expanded on the formula while also taking the Turtles all across time and space. It was every piece of Turtles fan service imaginable at the time, taking elements of both the cartoon and the movies, and sprinkling them across this wacky timeline.

What blows my mind as a late 30-something is how it's become impossible to duplicate. Ubisoft tried, believe me, they tried to bring Turtles in Time back. It was no good. There's nothing like the original TMNT IV, a perfect product of its time.


X-Men - Blake Morse, Child of the Atom

Admittedly, I’m a big old comic book nerd and grew up in an era where the X-Men were the coolest super heroes out there, but I think this would still be my fave brawler beyond the marketing due to its unique set up. The original X-Men arcade beat-em-up was massive and featured not one, but two CRT monitors paired together to create a widescreen effect. But the real coup de grâce is the fact that up to six people could play at once. Even to this day, it’s odd to see an arcade game of any kind feature more than four players. The whole thing ended up being a true feast for the senses with action strewn about a larger field of combat thanks to the two monitor setup and some flashy mutant abilities. Throw a banging soundtrack on top of that and the fact that you could play as either Wolverine or Dazzler and you’ve got the best beat-em-up ever. Now if only I had five friends to play with...


Turtles in Time - Chris Jarrard, Prehistoric Turtlesaurus

I love arcade beat ‘em ups as much as anyone so I would have been happy listening about 15 different games here, but if I’m being totally honest, Turtles in Time is still the best. I’ve used this game as an answer for this column about eleven times now, but I have to, as it is always the answer.

The graphics, the controls, and the music meld together perfectly. Even the console ports of this game are ace. Honorable mentions go out to Sunset Riders, Cadillacs and DInosaurs, The Punisher, Final Fight, Die Hard: Arcade, X-Men, Aliens vs. Predator, Captain Commando, Streets of Rage 2, and Maximum Carnage.


Kung Fu Chaos - Sam Chandler, Guides Editor

I’ve not had a lot of experience with beat ‘em up games. In saying this, one that does stick out in my memory is Kung Fu Chaos. The whole game was set to the backdrop of a movie production - and you were the stars in this kung fu film!

The goal was to cause as much destruction and chaos as possible to make the film as explosive as possible! The characters were bombastic and outlandish, with wild moves and super abilities.

But arguably the most incredible thing about this game is that it was made by Just Add Monsters. That studio might not ring any bells anymore, as it now goes by a different name: Ninja Theory. To think this team cut their teeth with a slapstick and naughty game like Kung Fu Chaos and is now working on Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is truly mindblowing. 

Shows just how much we can all grow and change over 17 years.


Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (SNES) - Brittany Vincent, Senior Editor

I grew up playing all of my favorite anime-centric games like the SNES/Genesis Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, a beat-'em-up where you get to take on the role of Sailor Moon or one of the Inner Senshi (Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, or Mars) and start kicking the living daylights out of any enemy that happened to cross your path. There wasn't anything particularly special about it, and there still isn't, but when I was young, being able to play as some of my favorite anime characters was endlessly exciting to me. I also really appreciated each character's sprites and got into editing them in MS Paint to create my own unique members of the sailor team. I still go back to it every now and then as well as its sequel Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon R. What can I say? I love Sailor Moon too much. 


The Simpsons Arcade Game - Bill Lavoy, Power 1,016

The Simpson's, one of Konami's most beloved coin-op brawlers.
The Simpson's, one of Konami's most beloved coin-op brawlers.

Favorite is a strong word when asking me about my pick for a beat ‘em up. More like default. I played The Simpsons Arcade in an actual arcade, but remember nothing about the gameplay. That’s approaching almost 30 years ago when I was about 10. Still, there is a very vague memory of me going to an arcade in a mall with my cousins in Nova Scotia. Even if I’m not a huge fan of beat ‘em ups, this Shack Chat at least allowed me to reminisce about spending time with my older cousins when I was just a kid.


The Simpsons Arcade - Josh Hawkins, Guides Guy

The Simpsons are off to rescue Maggie.
The Simpsons are off to rescue Maggie.

I’ve never really been that big into beat-em-ups, or any fighting game of any sort for that matter. That being said, I have very fond memories of a much less jaded Josh making his way into a Barcade in Jersey back in the simmering months of 2015. It was the first time I’d met up with the Shacknews staff (the team was a much different beast at that time), and we all headed to the local Barcade for a good romp with some Shackers. While there, Asif, myself, and others all teamed up together to take on the Simpsons Arcade machine that they had situated near the front door.

It was a great time, and probably one of the fondest memories I have of any work outing to date. Everything about The Simpsons Arcade machine was fantastic. From the overall cabinet’s design, to the way that the game played, and the characters that it brought to life. Here’s hoping that one day we can all team up again and take down the nefarious enemies that await within that timeless treasure of an arcade machine.


Metamorphic Force - TJ Denzer, Metamorphic News

“What?” you might ask. “What the heck is Metamorphic Force?” Allow me to enlighten you. Metamorphic Force is one of the last, and most certainly not least of Konami’s golden age of beat’em-up arcade games. You see, in the far off year of 199X, The Evil King has been reborn and is attempting to resurrect his Empire of Horror to take over the world. Athena doesn’t like that, so she sends up to four warriors to deal with it on the Evil King’s island. There’s just one wild catch: Each of the heroes, while human fighters, also has an anthro animal form that makes them power up and get stronger.

Metamorphic Force is weird and fantastic. The game features a fantastic cast of characters, some cool mechanics, and some of the best music this side of an arcade beat’em-up. Then there’s the fact that the final boss, the Evil King himself is a burly mountain of a man who looks like more of a 90s era pro wrestling superstar than an evil king, save for the fact that he also turns into a kick-a** dragon.

I love beat’em-ups and I have played the heck out of a lot of them for hours upon days upon end, but there’s few co-op beat’em-ups quite as bizarre, yet fun and cool as Metamorphic Force.


The Simpsons Arcade - Greg Burke, Deep in the Mines

The ‘90s was a great time to be a kid and The Simpsons were in full force. It was an odd thing having a cartoon that both kids and adults could enjoy together. I still remember watching The Simpsons every thursday night on FOX with my entire family and talking about it the next day in the school yard. So it’s no surprise that my favorite brawler is “The Simpsons Arcade”. Being at the high of popularity it was incredibly easy Arcade Cabinet to find, at Pizza places, Arcade, The Mall, everywhere. It was a really good game to for the time, with great music, combat and fun mini games. If arcade1up ever makes a Simpsons Cabinet, I’ll be buying one that’s for sure. 


TMNT: The Arcade Game - David L. Craddock, long reads editor

I've played beat-em-ups since the glory days of Double Dragon. I have favorites from each generation of hardware, but my favorites come from 8- and 16-bit consoles: Tradewest's underrated port of Double Dragon on NES, Final Fight on SNES, and Streets of Rage 2 on Genesis. However, none quite scratch the itch on my knuckles like the pixellated Foot Soldiers and bosses of Konami's first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Arcade games dominate this space for me in general. Some of the best beat-em-ups debuted in arcade, but were watered down as developers understandably struggled to port them to underpowered hardware of the era. I like TMNT 2: The Arcade Game, Konami's port of its own arcade software to the NES, but the coin-op reigns. TMNT: Turtles in Times may be objectively better, but as a kid, the original made my jaw hit the colorful floor of my local arcade. For a game released in 1989, the graphics were stunning. Everything from the stages to the characters looked like it had been lifted straight out of my favorite cartoon.

The first time I squeezed between a group of other kids and dropped a quarter into an open slot--I never discriminated against turtles--was pure magic the likes of which I had yet to experience at home, and wouldn't until the N64 standardized four-player games. There are beat-em-ups more fun than TMNT, but nothing will beat the experience of chowing down on pizza power-ups for the first time.


The Simpsons -Steve Tyminski, Contributing Editor

Some of the best games from the past have been from the “Beat-Em-Up” genre where the player gets to “beat up” a ton of enemies to advance in the level. I can remember a ton of these games from my childhood, getting to play the X-Men game and the Spiderman game at Sportsworld, an arcade/laser tag/batting cage place in New Jersey. They were some great games but they weren’t my favorite “beat-em-ups” that I’ve ever played. I have two options as “favorite,” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Turtles in Time but I’m going to focus on my other favorite, an arcade game that didn’t get the love it deserved with a home release, on consoles. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about that family from Springfield, USA, the Simpsons arcade game. 

When I was a kid, there was a local arcade that had the Simpsons arcade game and my mom would let me play it. Being a little kid, I couldn’t get past the bowling ball boss in the Dream world level, but now I can beat the game, which isn’t an easy feat. The game should have been ported to consoles way back when, but it did get a home release another way, on PC. My brother and I used to play this game for hours on our old Windows computer, fighting through Springfield, trying to rescue Maggie from Mr. Smithers and Mr. Burns. The game saw a brief online release a few years ago but it’s not the same as the arcade game.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 24, 2020 2:00 PM

    Shack Staff posted a new article, Shack Chat: What is your favorite beat-em-up?

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      April 24, 2020 2:07 PM

      Serious toss-up between 6 player X-Men and TMNT Turtles in Time. Simpsons was great, but 6 players was just epic, and I always loved throwing guys at the screen. I might give the nod to X-Men since I was able to get that on the 360, but don't have a way to play TMNT today.

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      April 24, 2020 2:19 PM

      Turtles is the only one I actually beat in the Arcade - and honestly Konami's are the only ones I really dug (other than maybe Capcom's D&D ones, which had some interesting mechanics).

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      April 24, 2020 4:02 PM

      Final Fight series

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        April 24, 2020 4:50 PM

        ^^^yep

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        April 25, 2020 1:15 AM

        Probably this, I finished it a bunch when MAME CPS was first gaining traction! Spent a lot of time in Target Renegade and Streets of Rage as a kid too tho!

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          April 25, 2020 1:16 AM

          Capcom’s beat-em-ups had such a perfect snap to the controls.

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      April 24, 2020 4:23 PM

      TEKKEN 3 FORCE MODE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      FORCE MODE!
      TEKKEN FORCE!

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      April 24, 2020 4:25 PM

      God Hand. No two ways about it!

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        April 24, 2020 6:09 PM

        That game kicks my ass.

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          April 24, 2020 6:23 PM

          It’s really hard unless you micromanage your custom built combos for each area. Even then, it’s still hard! But gotta love its total insanity.

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            April 24, 2020 9:26 PM

            I like setting up the combos to make them flow realistically when everything in this world is so exagerated.

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      April 24, 2020 4:30 PM

      Somewhere between Kings of Dragon and Turtles in Time.

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      April 24, 2020 4:54 PM

      And not one mention of the Granddaddy of Wm all, Altered Beast. The staff of this site have questionable taste, and I'm being very charitable here.

      Hehhehee

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        April 24, 2020 5:14 PM

        That's the strangest spelling of RENEGADE I've seen in a while.

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          April 25, 2020 1:18 AM

          I had no idea that was an arcade game too! I only ever saw it on the Speccy / C64. Curious about it now.

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      April 24, 2020 5:06 PM

      Is Bruce Lee (1984) actually considered a “beat-em up”?

      https://www.c64-wiki.com/wiki/Category:Beat%27em_up

      If yes, then that’s mine.

      If not I have to give it some more thought.

      I am terrrrrrrible at beat-em ups like TURTLES IN TIME etc because I could never bother to figure out all of the moves / secret moves.

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        April 24, 2020 5:16 PM

        I wouldn't say there were enough opponents. A lot of those rooms were just getting through the environment.
        Hahaha! We used to always say "Ninja and his Henchman Sumo" though Sumo bellowed to call Ninja out. You didn't want to risk your Sumo respawn if Ninja was available!

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        April 24, 2020 5:30 PM

        What about God Of War (the original ones)?

        I realize the OP is thinking more of the classic 2D side scrollers but I was just curious what people thought.

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          April 24, 2020 5:52 PM

          I'd say that and Gaiden and Onimusha and the like would count.

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            April 24, 2020 6:25 PM

            I tend to think of them as hack ‘n slash when they’re more weapons oriented and beat em up when they’re more hand to hand combat. It’s a total quibble.

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              April 24, 2020 8:10 PM

              Yeah I can see that. The "weapons" in the other games are nearly always time or use limited.

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      April 24, 2020 5:16 PM

      Simpsons, X-Men or Alien vs. Predator

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      April 24, 2020 5:17 PM

      Bop n rumble

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      April 24, 2020 8:51 PM

      TMNT 2 The Arcade game on NES...rented this a ton for sleep overs. Stayed up all night beating this with my brothers and friends waaay too much. So good.

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      April 24, 2020 8:59 PM

      I used to sexualize April O’Neal from TMNT and make-believe her tying me up, beating me with various domination implements from her collection. I was 8 years old :)

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      April 24, 2020 9:02 PM

      Guardian Heroes (Sega Saturn, 1996)

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      April 24, 2020 9:02 PM

      Devil May Cry* & Bayonetta*

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        April 24, 2020 9:14 PM

        Not beat 'em ups

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          April 24, 2020 10:05 PM

          You might be wrong (below). Subgenres would keep the property of the parent, but the parent isn't necessarily part of the subgenre. So DMC and Bayonetta would count as Beat-em-ups, but an old school beat-em-up wouldn't necessarily count as a hack and slash. So yes, they are.

          After 2000, the beat 'em up genre has seen a revival in the form of popular 3D hack and slash games in the style of Devil May Cry (2001 onwards), including Ninja Gaiden (2004 onwards), God of War (2005 onwards), Heavenly Sword (2007), Afro Samurai (2009),[56] and Bayonetta (2009).
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_%27em_up#32-bit_era_onward

          Distinct from hack and slash role-playing games, the term "hack and slash" also began being used to refer to weapon-based action games and a subgenre of beat 'em ups, such as the Golden Axe series.[7][8] Journalists covering the video game industry often use the term "hack and slash" to refer to a distinct genre of 3D third-person, weapon-based, melee action games, including titles such as Sengoku BASARA,[9] Devil May Cry, Dynasty Warriors, Ninja Gaiden, God of War, Genji, No More Heroes, Bayonetta, Darksiders and Dante's Inferno.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hack_and_slash#Action_video_games

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          April 24, 2020 11:02 PM

          I'd disagree - I think those a very much a modern evolution of the same genre.

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      April 24, 2020 9:13 PM

      Turtles In Time

    • G D mercury ultra mega
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      April 24, 2020 9:15 PM

      Knights of the Round

      • G D mercury ultra mega
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        April 24, 2020 9:20 PM

        Honorable mention to Golden Axe revenge of death adder

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        April 25, 2020 6:04 AM

        I love that your dude becomes more badass looking as the game progresses

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      April 24, 2020 9:23 PM

      Double Dragon 2

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      April 25, 2020 12:58 AM

      Rampage Knights

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      April 25, 2020 1:09 AM

      Spikeout Final Battle with machines linked up

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        April 25, 2020 1:14 AM

        honorable mentions:
        Rushing Beat series (especially 2 and 3)
        River City Ransom
        Yakuza series
        Samurai God Damn Warriors 3

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      April 25, 2020 1:33 AM

      Karateka (1984). I played it on Atari 65XE.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karateka_(video_game)

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      April 25, 2020 6:15 AM

      Streets of Rage 2

      Best soundtrack on the Genesis IMO, lots of moves, different characters, interesting enemies. Just a great game.

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      April 25, 2020 6:46 AM

      River City Ransom

      *BARF*

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      April 25, 2020 8:25 AM

      RIVER CITY RANSOM YOU FUCKS

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