Beat 'em up

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Kung Fu Master (1984) is one of the first beat 'em ups.

A beat 'em up, also called a brawler, is a genre of video game where the player controls a character who uses close-combat martial arts to defeat a multitude of opponents and achieve a goal. The genre has roots as early as 1980 with Sega's Samurai, but really came into its own in 1984 with the first widely popular beat 'em up to check all the boxes of the genre, Kung-Fu Master. Other titles in the same year include Jackie Chan no Project A, Chinese Hero, and Karateka. The classics of the genre use a 2D side-view with a scrolling background, but, over the years, alternate perspectives and 3D environments became popular. The company that is probably the most influential in the genre is Technos who made beat 'em ups their primary focus creating the Double Dragon series and Kunio-kun series of games.

Beat 'em ups are similar to several other genres like fighting video games and run-and-guns. However, fighting games put more emphasis on complex individual character battles and run-and-guns predominately use ranged weapons which changes play behavior. Those beat 'em ups which have a fantasy theme are often referred to as a "hack-and-slash" since the player uses axes and swords rather than punches and kicks. Some gaming databases make a distinction between hack-and-slash games and beat 'em ups, but, since the play mechanics are effectively identical, I group them together.


I really loved beat 'em ups when I first saw them in the late-1980s, after all, what pre-teen boy doesn't love the idea of beating up a bunch of thugs? However, I now find the classic beat 'em up game mechanic to be tiresome. It was a great money maker in the 1980s arcades, but it doesn't create a very rewarding gaming experience. I dislike having to develop split-second reactions and figure out the best way to exploit enemy AI, both of which are mandatory for success in classic beat 'em ups. Instead, I prefer later beat 'em ups which have player growth and a plot, like my favorite, River City Ransom.


This is a list of beat 'em ups that are important to me. For all games in this genre, see the beat 'em up category.

Title Released Developer
Altered Beast 1988-08-?? Sega
Bad Dudes Vs. Dragon Ninja 1988-04-?? Data East
Battletoads 1991-06-?? Rare
Double Dragon 1987-07-?? Technos
Double Dragon (NES) 1988-04-08 Technos
Double Dragon II: The Revenge (NES) 1988-12-22 Technos
Golden Axe 1989-05-?? Sega
Final Fight 1989-12-?? Capcom
Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu 1990-12-?? Now Production
Ninja Gaiden (NES) 1988-12-09 Tecmo
Renegade 1986-??-?? Technos
River City Ransom 1989-04-25 Technos
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1989-??-?? Konami


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