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So, what makes a good beat ’em up, anyway?

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!

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