Originally posted: May 7, 2012
Final Fight. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game. Double Dragon. Golden Axe. To many, one of these four behemoths from the late 80s/early 90s was their go-to game in the arcades in regards to the beat em up genre. Some would argue that the success of the first two games listed caused a boon within the genre; which more or less led to its speedy saturation, and ultimately the flatline status it’s seen for years now. For arguments sake, Sega, Capcom and Konami can be pointed out as the culprits. In arcades around the country, there were a plethora of titles within the genre that slipped through the cracks, either due to the more popular quarter munchers, or due to poor marketing. While the number of beat em up titles released in the arcades during this time is staggering, most gamers don’t remember some of the more uncommon, or down right obscure titles that kicked their way into a release.
Lets take a brief trip down memory lane and visit some of these often forgotten titles. Some of them are classics that should have been supported better, some of them are probably known to some extent, while some were rightfully discarded from the memory banks of arcade gamers everywhere. This will be a look at some of the hidden gems in the genre, as well as some rotten eggs that managed to crack open.
Alien vs Predator
(Capcom, 1994, 1-3 players)
Before that letdown of a movie was released, Capcom threw these two franchises together into a video game. The rather outlandish storyline had the Predators teaming up with the Space Marines so that the Xenomorph infestation could be obliterated. Two Aliens and two humans are playable in this three-player simultaneous beat em up which features a standard attack and jump button, along with a shooting mechanic which allowed players to blast enemies with overheat sensitive projectiles. The catch was, only a few shots can be fired off before overheating, and if one becomes overheated, the cool-down would last several seconds.
AvP excelled as a solo venture just as much as it did with two others joining the battle. Being that this was released years after Final Fight, the graphical detail had a noticeable boost in quality over it, sporting clean animation for the most part. In terms of challenge, AvP provided just the right amount, without feeling too dumb down or overbearing.
From a sea of beat up titles during the late 80s/early 90s Alien vs Predator rode the waves like a champ, and to this day its a mindless button mash that will please fans of the genre.
Worth Remembering? Most Definitely.
(Konami, 1992, 1-4 players)
Full disclosure: I’ve never watched a full episode of Bucky O’Hare in my life, nor have I played the original NES game. This four-player beat em up boasted quite the vivid audio and video package for its time, blending plenty of voice clips between stages with colorful and well detailed cutscene graphics, as well as in-game visuals that could be considered some of the best the genre had seen in arcades.
What makes Bucky O’Hare unique is how the traditional eight way walk layout changes with each stage. Players will start with the traditional method of movement, but each stage changes things up a bit as you go, from a mostly vertical trek to a jetpack fueled area where the player must traverse between electrical charges and more. The thing is, despite the variety, it’s really not that fun, or consistent. Attacks are mostly projectile based, with screen clearing bombs easily obtained. Still, some areas seem way too difficult, even for a genre built upon screw points that require extra quarters to enter the machine to continue, yet contradictory, some areas are brainlessly easy.
I suppose those who grew up with the franchise would find a bit more to clamor over, but when it’s all said and done, Bucky O’Hare is a mediocre entry at best, though should be commended for its quality audio and video production.
Worth Remembering? For Fans Only?
(Sega, 1992, 1-4 players)
Depending on who you ask, Arabian Fight isn’t as obscure as I thought. I never heard of it in my life until I happened to stumble across it. This Sega developed beat em up is slightly unorthodox, from its stage layout to its visual inspirations. It’s a four player game, though its one that no one should have ever ever known of.
The anime-like visuals during certain points of the game helped differentiate Arabian Fight from other games within the genre. Through magic attacks (usually once per area) a cutscene-like display is shown of the character attacking, and between stage scenes feature these high quality visuals as well. Playing through the game though, you can tell Sega spent more time than they should have on visuals at the detriment of everything else. For example, my first playthrough lasted a paltry 15 minutes through seven stages. I still have no idea how I cleared the game so fast either, especially since the controls are so rigid, with hit detection so poorly implemented, that it made combat as much of a struggle as it was a chore to play. Even if magic attacks cleared the screen in no time, the bosses were still a nightmare thanks to the overall poorly implemented mechanics.
On top of that, the early stages are all two screens long, with in-game visual quality much weaker than the anime-like cutscenes (though the scaling of each character, depending on where they are on screen, was impressive.) As definitely one of the worst beat em up titles I have ever come across, Arabian Fight is a battle worth running far away from.
Worth Remembering? God No.
Knights of the Round
(Capcom, 1991, 1-3 players)
Another game that isn’t completely obscure, Knights of the Round has seen its share of publicity and successes. The Super Nintendo port was one of the better games in the genre to appear on a 16 bit console. A three player title, KotR blended the bread and butter of the genre with a few twists here and there, while still remaining close to what players would expect in general.
This is a rare case in which I actually prefer the Super Nintendo port over the arcade version. While the graphical quality and sound overall is a bit higher than its 16 bit counterpart, performing a block in the arcade version feels entirely cumbersome. On the SNES, a button was designated for blocking, which really did add a new dimension to the genre, and made it less of a mindless mashfest. With the arcade version players must press away and attack at the same time to initiate the block. If not timed right, the character will just turn around. It was an intuitive change on the port over, and a reason why I prefer it over the original.
With that said, it’s still an enjoyable venture into the world of Camelot. Just about all of my feelings for Knights of the Round were conveyed in my SNES review a while back, so check it out and get a better understanding to exactly why either version is worth your time and money.
Worth Remembering? Yes.
Spider-Man: The Video Game
(Sega, 1991, 1-4 players)
This was one I so rarely ever saw, and barely anyone faithfully remembered. This Sega developed Spider-Man arcade title featured a cast of characters that would make fans of the webhead facepalm (Spider-Man of course, along with Black Cat, Hawkeye and Namor.) Up to four players can crowd the machine, with only an attack and jump button utilized (a special attack initiates when both buttons are pressed simultaneously).
One neat gimmick that Spider-Man: The Arcade Game had was a perspective shift midway through each stage. Traditional eight way movement was reduced to a side scrolling adventure, where each character used projectiles as their primary attack, and where enemy health seemed much lower than in the traditional sections. For the most part, these parts of each stage were the least enjoyable, but it was a worthwhile diversion from the norm. Sega also did a pretty good job with the rest of the package, however. Vocal quips at the appropriate moments, large, detailed character models in a visually pleasant game world and controls that, outside jump attacks, were responsive enough to master and use well.
It may not have the notoriety of X-Men: The Arcade Game, but Spider-Man: The Arcade Game is an often forgotten about beat em up that has enough value to it. There are more than enough Spidey villains throughout the game, and they feel less forced in than Batman Arkham City, regardless of genre and scope differences. I’ve only seen this one twice in person, so I’m not quite sure if this game is that rare or not, but if you ever happen to stumble across it in some fashion, definitely give it a whirl.
Worth Remembering? Certainly.
(Konami, 1989, 1-4 players)
Released the same year as Konamis behemoth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, Crime Fighters is a more traditional entry into the genre. Up to four players can punch and kick their way through an American looking city, taking out a plethora of both racial stereotypes and gang stereotypes in the style of Final Fight. Attacks were limited to punches and kicks, with with a jump attack available when both attack buttons were pushed at the same time.
Though it’s the oldest title listed here, Crime Fighters looks, sounds and feels even older. TMNT: The Arcade Game had a much cleaner visual presentation, a more coherent audio set up and by far more feasible mechanics than this. The two things that decimate Crime Fighters are the delays on each attack and the impossibility of holding onto a weapon. Take a well built game in the genre for example, like Final Fight. Each attack has a delay after each swing, yet players are able to move and jump quickly after each swing to strategically compensate for this. Crime Fighters punishes players with incredibly delayed attacks that leave them wide open to be counterattacked. Not to mention getting hit with a weapon will knock the weapon out of the characters hands, where it promptly blinks and vanishes for good.
Just based off the mechanics alone, Crime Fighters is a near unplayable mess. The stereotypes all around the game world are hilarious, but that does little to make up for the poor showing overall. It might be a classic to some, but for me, it’s as bad as it gets in terms of gaming as a whole.
Worth Remembering? As Much As the McDLT.
There’s a hefty number of titles within this fine genre that I haven’t even got around to discussing. From the SNK title that liberally borrows from Final Fight (Burning Fight for the uninitiated), to genre bending creations from one of the companies responsible for over-saturating the genre (Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom/Shadow over Mystara.) Do any of you have any particular favorites that don’t often get as much recognition? Share them with us all in the comments section down below!