In honor of Anarchy Reigns’ release this week, we’ve decided to take a look to the past and highlight 10 of the best beat ’em ups to grace a Sega console. In the list below you’ll find all sorts of great ways to spend you time punching and kicking a variety of gang members, aliens, zombies, foot soldiers and much much more!
Hit the jump to read our top 10 list of beat ’em ups!
Tom Kyzivat: Remember how cool Golden Axe was? Well, what if you took that same formula, but replaced evil barbarians with aliens, swords with guns and flamethrowers, and dwarves with robots? Yeah. Robots. Alien Storm was a very unique and fun beat’em up, so classically Sega but also offering things we’d never seen before. In addition to the solid beat’em up heart of the game, there were side-scrolling shooter levels, first person shooter bonus stages, crazy weapons, huge, alien bosses… and the robot even takes his leg off and uses it as a cannon. Holy crap. Alien Storm is genius.
Die Hard Arcade
Mike Kyzivat: Die hard arcade is a great example (and the first) of a beat’em up done with new fangled 3D graphics. Back in 1996 no one knew if the beat’em up genre could make the transition to 3D and Die Hard proved it could be done, unfortunately in 97 Fighting Force proved the opposite and so now 3D beat’em ups are all but extinct. But at least we have Die Hard to use as a template for all future ones.
It is your basic beat’em up story (see my write up for Double Dragon for where all the conventions came from) the presidents daughter has been kidnapped and it’s up to you John McClane to storm the building where they are keeping her and reach the top, taking out thugs along the way. Now I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t remember a presidents daughter in the movie Die Hard?” And I would say you are right, because the game was created and finished with out any thought to the Die Hard license, it was only after it was completed that they decided to shoe horn in the Die Hard movie license.
But we really don’t care about license, when the game play is so great in Die Hard Arcade. The sheer number of moves is amazing, even though most of them are taken from Virtua Fighter. you can punch, sweep, backhand, and combination attack the bad guys all day, or you can do my favorite thing in beat’em ups which is to hold onto an enemy and throw them in different ways. You can grab an enemy then knee, head butt and finish it with a giant swing, or body slam, there are tons of options, and all the moves are easy to pull off. weapons are fun and varied as well, fire extinguishers, hand guns, brooms, etc. There is even a great nod to Double Dragon if you beat the game with two players, you end up fighting each other to see who becomes the presidents daughter’s new body guard. So forgot Fighting Force, or Final Fight Streetwise, this is the only 3D beat’em up you need, especially since it’s the only good 3D beat’em up out there.
Mike Kyzivat: I played Double Dragon a lot as a kid, I do believe this was the first beat’em up I ever played. The graphics were horrible compared to the arcade version, and sprites (or chunks of sprites) would disappear regularly as characters would overlap one another, but it was still loads of fun to play.
Double Dragon was the first to introduce many of the modern conventions that are in beat’em ups today. Things like having more then one player help, picking up weapons that enemies dropped, and the look of the enemies themselves. Even the plot for this game has become the “story” for all future beat’em ups. Billy and Jimmy Lee (twins) fight thugs and gang members in enemy turf to get back Marian who was kidnapped by a rival gang and who happens to be both Billy and Jimmy’s love interest. And in a cruel twist of fate, if both of you manage to beat the last boss then it’s brother against brother for the hand of Marian.
The game has a pretty big variety (especially for it’s time) of moves Billy and Jimmy can pull off. there are punches kicks, jump kicks, headbutts, you can even get into a hold and knee or throw your opponent, though I could never get that to work.
So the next time you are playing a beat’em up with a friend and you’ve just disarmed a women in spandex of her bull whip, think of Double Dragon, every other beat’em up developer has.
Michael Westgarth: Oh yeah, it’s time to grab your battle axe and put on your gnarly old, fake beard ’cause we’re talking about Golden Axe. Instead of telling why you should love Golden Axe, here’s a list of reasons why you already do love Golden Axe:
- Playing as a heavy metal dwarf
- hitting guys down holes
- Riding dragons and chicken thingies
- ‘Accidentally’ beating up your co-op buddy
- Summoning crazy magic stuff
- Kicking gnomes
- Travelling across the backs of a giant turtle and eagle
- Music. All of the music.
- Listening to your enemies scream as their souls depart from their bodies!
Now try and tell me Golden Axe doesn’t belong on this list. I dare you.
Tom Kyzivat: Ah, Treasure. They will never do ill in my mind. Every game they made was perfect, so their foray into beat’em ups was no exception! Guardian Heroes packed so much into a beat’em up that it almost transcended the genre. Realistically, it was a combination of a beat’em up and RPG, since you could build your characters and it had copious amounts of story exposition as well as a choose-your-own-adventure mechanic. The game was a blast–the main cast had a huge variety of weapons as well as magic spells, the multi-plain backgrounds were beautiful, the enemies were really cool (and story-driven), and a character or two from Gunstar Heroes even made a cameo! As fun as the story mode was, the multi-player was just as cool! In arena-style brawls, you could literally play as every single character from the game, including bosses (something I wish every beat’em up offered), make it a free-for-all or organize teams, and even color-code the characters to correspond. That’s something my OCD really appreciated. Guardian Heroes was a prime beat’em up, offering all the fun and attention to detail that we came to expect from Treasure. And as a bonus, the intro is a fully-animated anime cartoon sequence! Cherry on top!
Scott Morrison: Separation Anxiety is a game that could have used a better title, but has better gameplay than many brawlers. For those who played Maximum Carnage and were boggled as to why that game had no co-op, this is your game. It plays identically to Maximum Carnage, but you can go through it with a friend. Fighting clones of thugs has never been so fun as when you can pull them towards your fists with your webs. The web-swinging moments in the game can get somewhat clunky, and are surprisingly easier with the Genesis 6-button controller, but otherwise this is a solid game. One of the cooler add-ons is the ability to call for help from other Marvel characters at the press of a button. This could be argued as the game’s “special attack” as it usually knocks out every enemy on the screen, but nothing is more satisfying than dealing out the punches and then seeing Captain America jump in and throw his shield at the face of every thug. Separation Anxiety is definitely a game to be played with friends as some of the bosses can seem ridiculously cheap with their attacks unless you can surround them. The plot is simple, and as always in a Spidey game there are random cameos, but there are few games that I have chalked up as much couch co-op playtime with as this one. Do your part to help New York City yet again, and grab this game if you don’t already own it.
Streets of Rage 2
Michael Westgarth: The original Streets of Rage was a splendid game and, even though it wasn’t particularly ground breaking gameplay wise, it wowed players with stylish graphics, solid controls and a truly unforgettable soundtrack. Streets of Rage 2 however took all the things that made its predecessor great and built upon them.
This time around we got to play as one of four distinct characters with noticeably different stats, moves and looks as they punched, kicked, suplexed and steel piped their way through a far more deserve set of levels. The pirate ship, the baseball stadium, the weird scene from the Alien movie… Sega pushed the envelope with this one, and while a few parts are a little strange they were all, without a shadow of a doubt, too cool for school.
Jokes aside, this is quite possibly one of the best beat em ups available on the Mega Drive/ Genesis with what may just be the best 16-bit soundtrack ever. Grab a friend and play Streets of Rage 2 boi, coz this shit just got real.
Three Dirty Dwarves
Scott Morrison: Three Dirty Dwarves is one of those games that can be thrown into the category of, “Why not?” The plot is typical 90s and involves alternate dimensions. Three dwarves are in the midst of an adventure that takes place in a Dungeons & Dragons-type game developed by unnaturally intelligent children, when they are thrown into a wormhole and wake up in a sporting goods store in the Bronx. Grabbing anything that could be a weapon (read: baseball bat, bowling pins, and a shotgun), they set out on their journey to rescue the captured children.
The game itself can be very difficult for newcomers. One-hit kills and enemies that move faster than yourself put this game into the ring with such difficult games as Contra. Once you get the hang of switching between dwarves and memorizing your different special attacks though, you’ll be golden. The game actually supports up to 3-player co-op with the Sega Saturn multi-tap, but it can be just as much fun with 2 people where you can use the 3rd dwarf as a “back-up.” Your special attacks differ depending on which dwarf initializes the attack. Ranging from machine-gun baseballs to one giant shotgun blast, the dwarves know how to dish out the damage. Really though, the attacks are just as ridiculous as the dwarves’ outfits. Bosses in the game also supply a wacky variety from an entire gym building balancing on the gym members’ feet, to a junkyard worker covered in terrier dogs. The game screams Earthworm Jim in a lot of its themes, which is half the charm of Three Dirty Dwarves. This game is a great brawler and should not be overlooked by any Saturn owner.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist
Josh Newey: Konami brought a lot of incredible (and not so incredible) licensed games to the Genesis, but Hyperstone Heist was one of my favorites. The Genesis’ answer to Turtles in Time on the SNES, Hyperstone Heist was arguably he lesser of the two, but it still managed to replicate the show’s charm and ridiculously fun action. With longer stages, it was actually more challenging than its SNES competitor, and while the obvious sound and visual restrictions do draw it back a tad, it easily stands head and shoulders above almost any other Ninja Turtles game, and deserves its place among the best beat-em-ups on Sega consoles.
Josh Newey: Zombie Revenge may not be the most technically impressive or beautifully designed game in the world, but it’s certainly one of the most entertaining. Combining the type of punch n’ gun gameplay you see in many 3D brawlers of that era with the tongue-in-cheek B-movie aesthetic of House of the Dead and some of the worst voice acting and cut scenes you may ever experience, Zombie Revenge’s wildly nonsensical vibe is its greatest asset. The zombie apocalypse backdrop is surprisingly apt for the beat-em-up genre, as it gives you an ample supply of foes to kick, punch and otherwise mutilate on your gleeful path of destruction. Again, Zombie Revenge may not be the best designed game, but its unique mixture of zombies and brawling makes it ridiculous, arcadey fun.