?Very few things in this world feel better than punching a guy right in the face. Unfortunately, as nerds, we don’t often have a chance to do that in real life… or at least cause enough damage for the experience to be satisfying. So thank goodness for beat-’em-up games.
In late ’80s all the way through the end of the ’90s, beat-’em-ups dominated the videogame community. Both arcades and home consoles featured game after game where the entire point was to walk around and beating the living shit out of everyone who crossed your path, and when comic and cartoon licenses got involved in the beat-’em-up game genre, it was a match made in nerd heaven. Eventually, the purer fighting (a la Street Fighter) games arrived and offered people a richer ass-kicking experience, but that doesn’t mean that these previous games should be forgotten. Grab a roll of quarters and some brass knuckles, because here are top 10 beat-’em-ups to ever take up your Saturday afternoon.
Frogs are some the least intimidating animals on the planet, but add some rad sunglasses and some spiked gauntlets, and even these amphibians can look pretty badass. Rash, Zitz and Pimple were tough guy toads cruising around the galaxy, flexing and posing all along the way. To defeat the Dark Queen, they had to punch their way through legions of rodent space troopers. The game was known for being insanely difficult and suffered from annoying friendly fire; to this day, it’s considered one of the hardest NES games of all time. Not bad for some goofy-ass frogs.
9) Final Fight
For what it was, Final Fight was pretty dead serious. Metro City was rotting from crime, and the Mad Gear gang took it when too far when they kidnapped the mayor’s daughter. Instead of paying the ransom, mayor Mike Haggar ripped off his shirt and powerbombed half the criminals in the city. Joined by tennis shoes tough guy Cody and mysterious karate dude Guy, the collective beat up homies, dudes in 1920s bathing suits, cops, wrestlers, knife-wielding homeless people and bitch-slapping trannies. The tone was much more serious than other games at the time, and the violence was much more realistic. The Final Fight legacy continued on with characters like Cody and Rolento appearing in Street Fighter games.
8) Double Dragon II
Billy and Jimmy Lee returned as the ass-kicking ninja brothers you don’t wanna fuck with in Double Dragon II. When their girlfriend Marion got shot, the brothers Lee took it upon themselves to get revenge, one broken jaw at a time. The NES home version was drastically different from the arcade version but in a good way, with extra levels, story sequences and parts of the games you can only play on hard difficulty. Although the franchise went down the toilet afterwards, they still got a movie out it, starring Scott Wolf, Marc Decascos and the T-1000. Wanna guess how much it sucks?
7) Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage
Spider-Man is one of the few superheroes blessed with having generally good videogames, and Maximum Carnage is one the shining examples. Taking control of either Spidey or Venom, the game took you through almost every single event in the “Maximum Carnage” storyline, slugging bad guys left and right on your way to stop the insane Carnage. Aside from punching and kicking, Spidey used everything in his spider-arsenal including web-slinging, wall-crawling and spider-sense. One of the most unique things was the help system, where by picking up icons you could call in the likes of Morbius, Black Cat and Captain America to clear the screen for you. Meanwhile, Canadian joke metal band Green Jelly cranked out tunes for you to beat some ass to. All this, and the cartridge was bright red — a nice touch.
6) Streets of Rage
Streets of Rage was a grittier, more insane alternative to Final Fight. If you truly loved violence, and really hated criminals, this was for you. Ex-cops Adam, Axel and Blaze took to the streets to take down the evil Mr. X, breaking as many bad guys’ faces as possible in the process. Everything from ninjas to punkers to wrestlers were thrown at you. With simple combos and throws, hazards played a big part, as you could toss a criminal off a moving elevator or onto a conveyor belt. The series really hit its groove with Streets of Rage 2, which featured the playable ’90s clich?, the rollerblading Skate. Then the series got weird and ended with Streets of Rage 3, but not before giving us a boxing glove wearing kangaroo as a playable character. Seriously.
5) Turtles in Time
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a strange videogame history, from the near impossible NES game to the outstanding arcade game. But the Turtles had their quintessential hit with Turtles in Time. Tossed back into a timewarp, the Turtles had to fight the Foot Clan through the past and the future, along with caveman monsters, cowboy ninjas, hoverboard fights and pizza creatures. While being action-packed, the game still kept the spirit of TMNT alive with slapstick comedy and all the silliness that made us love the heroes in a half shell in the first place.
To this day, its still a bummer that the 1989 pilot for the animated “Pryde of the X-Men” never saw the light of day. However, we should be thankful that this failed cartoon was the basis of one of the greatest arcade games ever. The X-Men arcade game was a giant, with six control pads to play as some of the most classic X-Men – Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, and, uh, Dazzler. Fighting man-sized Sentinel robots, the X-Men hacked and slashed their way through New York, the Savage Land and Asteroid M to save Professor X from Magneto. Each X-Man had their signature mutant power as a special move, but some liberties were taken. Wolverine shot claw lasers and Colossus had a transformation meltdown attack, but we let that slide. To this day, this game remains a favorite among fans and an arcade legend. But dude, be Nightcrawler. He is the best one. Trust me.
3) The Simpsons
If there was ever a franchise that every nerd can agree on, it’s The Simpsons. In 1991, the good people at Konami gave us an epic Simpsons arcade adventure. Taking control of Homer, Marge, Lisa and Bart, you had to save Maggie from a crazed Mr. Smithers by punching, jump rope-whipping, vacuuming and skateboard-whacking your way through Springfield, and fighting everything from clowns to slick fellas in suits tried to bring you down. The most awesome part were all the Easter Eggs from the show constantly in the background, never letting you forget that you are playing a Simpsons game.
2) Spider-Man: The Videogame
Spider-Man certainly has some amazing friends… and that’s exactly what you got with his first major arcade outing. Taking control of Spidey, Hawkeye, Namor or Black Cat, you had to beat up almost all of his rouges gallery in a globe-trotting adventure. Fighting against what appears to be creepy masked agents from the Secret Empire, games modes switch from normal to minimized gameplay. At certain points, your character shrinks to fight skyscraper-sized enemies, firing projectiles of your special ability (Spidey has webs, Hawkeye has arrows, Namor has, uh, lightning). Everyone from the Kingpin to the Green Goblin shows up, and you promptly beat them all almost to death. There have been much shittier and much better Spidey games since, but this one stands out as the best.
1) Golden Axe
Punching dudes in the face is awesome. Hands down. Throw a sword into that equation and you got the Golden Axe games. Giving the swords and sorcery genre the beat ’em up treatment, players took on the overlord Death Adder and his legion of evil. You had your choice of three characters in which to chop people up – the barbarian, the dwarf and the Amazon. Aside from your melee attacks, each character could rain down death with a magical attack (wind, earth, or fire depending on you character). You could also mount various creatures that with attack sets of their own. An epic quest of monster slaying and all around ass kicking, Golden Axe has all but disappeared, but we can always remember what it felt like to stab a reanimated skeleton warrior with a broadsword.