Side-scrolling beat ’em ups have always been near and dear to my heart. It’s one of my absolute favourite genres of games, but also one that’s had some major ups and downs over the decades. Ever since the late ’90s, I feel there’s a fairly pervasive view of beat ’em ups as a “dated” genre; a style of game made obsolete by the transition from arcades to consoles, repetitive quarter-munchers that have no place in the current era – unless wholly reinvented for modern audiences. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with this more!
Rather than beat ’em ups becoming dated, my view is more that the genre really fell off the wagon once people started attempting to “reinvent” it instead of respectfully iterating on it – and it’s only very recently that we’ve started seeing more successful attempts at new takes on the classic template.
While I’m happy to see games like FIGHT’N RAGE and STREETS OF RAGE 4 bucking the trends of the last decade and change, the fact remains that in the eyes of many people – developers and players both – the key to making a good beat ’em up appears to be adding a ton of time-wasting cruft that dilutes the experience. But in my mind, there are simply a number of fundamental design principles that go into a quality, compelling entry in the genre. So as a PSA, here’s my attempt at outlining what makes for a good beat ’em up – or at the very least, some things I’d like to see more of them do well!
Just like last year (and I guess, every year?), I have not felt particularly compelled to put together any kind of “Game of the Year” article – partially because it’d have to be a woefully incomplete list given how many contemporary games I didn’t bother playing yet, but more so because I’m far more interested in championing the games that managed to make an impression on me without leaning on the novelty of being brand new. I play a lot of old games, and I go out of my way to procure games I’ve never played before (and in many cases, barely know anything about) – and although I’ve got my fair share of stinkers in my collection, whenever I get a batch of old games from Japan, more often than not at least one of them seems to really stick with me.
So here’s a look back at some of those games! Presenting, in rough chronological order – Ten old games I really enjoyed playing for the first time in 2020:
My major project for this past summer was something I’d been planning for and building up to for quite a while – a deep-dive into the seminal DOUBLE DRAGON series. I’ve written about the series and my adoration for it in the past, but reflecting on how many games, ports and other incarnations I really didn’t know very well, I decided I wanted to change that.
Five-six weeks and a couple of dozens of hours streamed later, here we are! The full series of approximately 50 Double Dragon games played, inspected and analysed is now available for easy viewing on YouTube. Check out the playlist here!
I will likely return with more thoughts on these games and this project in written form in the not-too-distant future, but right now I’m a little bit Double Dragon’d out – so for the time being you’ll have to make do with the usual analysis in video form. ✌
For about as long as I can recall, I’ve been a big fan of Technos Japan. The DOUBLE DRAGON and KUNIO-KUN games were absolute favourites of mine in formative years, and almost certainly a big reason why I’m still very much fond of beat ’em ups. Although not every Technos and Technos-related game over the years has been of the highest quality, I’ll always have the utmost respect and admiration for the company and their games for their innovation, creativity and sheer personality.
Like many game companies from the 80’s, Technos eventually went under, even if some of the same people, brands and games stayed active in one form or another. As of 2015, The Technos brand and associated IP is owned by Arc System Works, who – so far – seem to be doing a commendable job keeping the spirit of Technos alive with quality re-releases and even brand new KUNIO-KUN games, among other things.
But perhaps the most delightful thing about Technos’s newest incarnation is how it seems to maintain one of the things that fascinate me the most about the company: their unusually relaxed handling of their IP.