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Boot to the head! And the knee. And the sternum. And then some punches.
July 6, 2011 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Beat 'em ups and brawlers are a game style that goes back to the mid 80s. Your character moves across a horizontal level, left to right, slowly beating up each and every enemy you come across; progress is typically gated at several points, forcing you to defeat the current pack of adversaries before moving onto the next section. A fellow by the name of Ben Ruiz is working on a brawler and has spent quite a bit of time dissecting their gameplay.

They were a popular and lucrative game type for the arcades (where you could keep plunking in quarters for more continues), with companies such as Capcom turning out some beloved games. The 2D brawler has essentially died off to be replaced with 3D incarnations such as Devil May Cry, God of War and Bayonetta, with a shift to explicit sex'n'violence versus the animated cartoonishness of the 2D era. 2D brawlers haven't entirely disppeared yet, though, and River City Ransom is consistently ranked highly on NES game retrospectives.

(Want some nitty-gritty game design talk, but brawlers are not your thing? There's always JHarris' @play for roguelikes.)
posted by curious nu (44 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't forget Altered Beast!
posted by nathancaswell at 11:17 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


River City Ransom was so fantastic.
posted by Perplexity at 11:26 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Beat-em-ups used to be my thing! We played tons of Renegade, Final Fight, Bad Dudes, Ninja Gaiden, TMNT, and the never ending love that is Streets of Rage. The late 90's saw it trickle to near nothingness, and I was forced to substitute with Power Stone and Smash Bros. The return of stuff like Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim has definitely made me love downloadable games.
posted by yeloson at 11:27 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


TNMT, X-Men, and the Simpsons game all stole many dollars from me as a child. The genre is definitely not deep, but it holds a special place in my heart.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:32 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went to an Austin arcade a couple of weeks ago and beat TMNT with a friend. Then we almost beat Aliens vs. Predator. I love DMC and its ilk, but those are video games.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:36 AM on July 6, 2011


I'd say The Punisher arcade game is amongst the best of the 90s beat em ups, alongside Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. Oh, and maybe Captain Commando? All great fun, with plenty o' items and a good range of moves.
posted by RokkitNite at 11:41 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


River City Ransom!!! Basically *the* best NES game ever. Ever, ever, ever.
posted by the dief at 11:42 AM on July 6, 2011


I always saw them as a metaphor for life. I'm simple-minded that way. Or maybe my life is.
posted by Decani at 11:56 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Y'know what I'd like to play, is some kind of synthesis of River City Ransom and Star Control II. Something where you could talk to all the different gangs when you encounter them, and either get them on your side or insult them mercilessly before fighting them. And also, one of the selectable brawlers would be a Spathi.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 11:56 AM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wish there were more side-scrolling games coming out nowadays. I've just never quite been able to make the mental leap to 3D. I always spend them feeling confused and dying.

With Portal as the big exception, largely because it gives you time to figure out where you are and what direction you're facing.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:01 PM on July 6, 2011


Oh, I see. River City Ransom is a bit of an action RPG. That does look like a lot of fun – I've never played it.

For a minute there I was wondering why people were praising a game that looks like Double Dragon minus the crucial elbows and knees to the head. Something about the timing of those made them extremely satisfying.

I also always enjoyed Turtles in Time for the variety of moves that you could perform and have performed on you.
posted by furiousthought at 12:13 PM on July 6, 2011


No GOD HAND love?!
posted by Bangaioh at 12:14 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


ARE YOU A BAD ENOUGH DUDE TO RESCUE THE PRESIDENT?
posted by namewithoutwords at 12:32 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Turtles in Time was a classic.

Battletoads was a favorite of mine though. Those toads had attitude.
posted by Fister Roboto at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2011


Final Fight is the only game I ever beat in the arcade. I loved that game.
posted by Hoopo at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The classic 2-d brawler was killed by Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat. No amount of button mashing to kill hordes of random enemies can match a 1-on-1 test of skill against a fellow human.
posted by empath at 1:02 PM on July 6, 2011


Needs "BARF" and "COIN" tags.
posted by Eideteker at 1:27 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


No GOD HAND love?!

I just found this as a forum signature on selectbutton:
When asked how to avoid lust of the flesh, Diogenes began to play God Hand in answer. When rebuked for doing so, he replied, "If only I could soothe my hunger by playing Cooking Mama."
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:29 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Double Dragon and The Simpsons game both stole way too much of my allowance. Nothing more pleasurable than taking out an Adobo with a club.
posted by cloax at 1:39 PM on July 6, 2011


I always spend them feeling confused and dying.

That it is how life is invariably spent. So in that broad sense, they are very realistic.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:22 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Double Dragon was a big part of my NES years, esp. because of two player mode.
posted by chaz at 2:47 PM on July 6, 2011


Final Fight was pretty legit.
posted by Fister Roboto at 3:13 PM on July 6, 2011


I love this genre. X-Men and Alien vs Predator in the arcades were great, and I've played pretty much every old brawler through MAME. Scott Pilgrim is based on River City Ransom, so everyone needs to play that. God Hand and Bayonetta are genius, and the same people are working on a multiplayer brawler called Anarchy Reigns. Looking forward to Guardian Heroes on XBL.
I love the simplicity of the gameplay (though modern ones are deep) and the gorgeous art. I'd link to Zombie Smashers X, which is River City with zombies, but I can't find it online anymore. It's by the guys that made The Dishwasher.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2011


Looking forward to Guardian Heroes on XBL.

How could I forget Guardian Heroes? I think GH stands so far above any other beat-em-up that it totally didn't click with me that it's part of the same genre...
posted by yeloson at 3:29 PM on July 6, 2011


Anyone else play Renegade? I had the C64 version and it was great, like a single-player Double Dragon stripped down to only its essential elements.

I haven't had a chance to read much of the linked Ben Ruiz article but I love that kind of really in-depth appreciation of game mechanics - the same with @Play even though I haven't properly played a Roguelike in years. Looks like Ruiz has the theoretical foundation to make this Aztez thing really good. I particularly like his summary of God of War (high on my list of most overrated games ever): "Is not very difficult, but feels very difficult."
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:38 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Final Fight was pretty legit.

I was a Haggar fan. I loved that spinning punch thing he did. I recall the end boss was a guy in a wheelchair who fired humongous railroad spikes out of a gun, and then you toss him out of a highrise window.
posted by Hoopo at 3:59 PM on July 6, 2011


While TMNT, Simpsons, and Xmen were some of the best arcade ones, none were as stylishly dressed as Rolling Thunder.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:06 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


The day I finished Double Dragon on a single 20c coin remains a precious memory to me. Here's to the reverse elbow!
posted by wilful at 4:41 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I loved that spinning punch thing he did. I recall the end boss was a guy in a wheelchair who fired humongous railroad spikes out of a gun, and then you toss him out of a highrise window.

Don't forget that Haggar was the Mayor of the town! That part always cracked me up.
posted by yeloson at 4:52 PM on July 6, 2011


Thoroughly agree with above mentions of the TMNT and X-Men arcade games, River City Ransom, Battletoads, etc.

But there's a long-forgotten beat-em-up from the era where people were still trying to figure out how to make the transition to a good 3D beat-em-up that never gets love: DYNAMITE COP

My Dreamcast came with a disc that had demos of like 4 different games on it, including Sonic Adventure, Power Stone, something else, and Dynamite Cop. I'd never heard of it before, I had no clue what to expect. But it turns out, it's like a bizarre fever dream that combines the idea of a beat-em-up with heavily wrestling-influenced fighting game action and fucking LSD. The demo level was set on a cruise ship taken over by "pirates," who are dressed like everything from Ryu/Ken-style fighters, to early 90s beat-em-up cyberpunk enemies, to giant offensive gay-stereotype sumo wrestlers, weird halloween costumes, a burly old dude wearing a wolf skin and a cybernetic eye, somebody with an enormous turtle shell for no reason, etc. Your characters could use basic punch and kick attacks, but also various grappling + throws/bodyslams/etc., and the best part: you could pick up just about anything in the environment and use it as a weapon. So in a stateroom, you could bodyslam an enemy into a potted ficus, then pick up the tree, spin it around over your head like a bo, and beat the fuck out of the enemy on the ground. You could pick up a spraypaint can, spray it directly into the enemy's face several times until it was empty, then throw it directly into their head for more damage. Hell, as the level went on, there were scattered actual projectile weapons strewn about, and they got more and more ridiculous as you progressed. So at first, you were just wailing on the enemies manually or whacking them with a giant janitor broom or dictionary or whatever else was laying around. Then all of a sudden, you find a pistol and start shooting someone in the face from point blank and giggling. Then you start seeing uzis laying about, and before you know it you're walking around wielding an M249 like Arnold in Commando. By the time you reach the mini-bosses at the end of the demo, there's a fucking ANTI-SHIP MISSILE LAUNCHER you can fire at them, which generates a mushroom cloud so big the camera has to zoom out to show it all. Of course, it does no damage to you even though you're standing like 12 feet away, and it only knocks off half of the health of the gay sumo bosses. Oh yeah: also, your character starts off wearing like full Virtua-Cop style jumpsuit, tactical vest, kneepads, etc., but as you take damage it all randomly disintegrates, so you're shirtless by the end. It wasn't really all that HARD at all, but the entire thing was so ridiculous that I found myself playing it over and over just to keep laughing

And this was from one section, of one of the three approaches, of only one level of the game. God I need to find somewhere to buy a full copy of that now that I'm thinking of it. It has to be, like, one dollar now.

Anyway I went ahead and looked up a gameplay video that shows what I'm talking about. It's not the same portion that was available in the demo, and the quality isn't great, but it's enough to give you an idea of how ridiculous the thing is. One minute in the player picks up and throws a forklift. Thirty seconds later he's picking up oil drums and whacking enemies on the head with them, which makes them explode. It's so brilliant
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 5:07 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't forget that Haggar was the Mayor of the town! That part always cracked me up.

The absurd grunting noise he made became a "thing" in our house. Even my mom got it on it.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:08 PM on July 6, 2011


This post is worth it for the Ben Ruiz blog alone.
posted by RobotHero at 5:13 PM on July 6, 2011


And also, one of the selectable brawlers would be a Spathi.

You have spoken the funniest thing POSSIBLE.
posted by JHarris at 5:36 PM on July 6, 2011


The return of stuff like Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim has definitely made me love downloadable games.

It's kind of sad to know that XBLA and PSN are the only platforms left where these types of games make sense and can do well anymore. Going off that, the creator of Castle Crashers did release Alien Hominid on PS2 (It's also on XBLA today), but it didn't sell particularly well.
posted by Threesix at 5:49 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


cobra_high_tigers: in Japan Dynamite Cop is called Dynamite Deka 2, the sequel to Dynamite Deka (duh), an ST-V title with a home release for the Saturn and known as Die Hard Arcade in the West. It's predictably not quite as over-the-top as the sequel (the old dude has no cybernetic eye, there are no multiple paths... you do fight evil firemen, though) but having played both I much prefer the original. It may feel clunky at first since it's effectively a 2D brawler with multiple planes using polygonal graphics (whereas the sequel allows more freedom of movement) but the grappling system is hilarious and IIRC it's deeper than in Deka 2.

If you're interested in checking it out, it was also re-released in Japan as part of the SEGA Ages collection for the PS2.
posted by Bangaioh at 6:00 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I almost came in my pants the first time I saw a Double Dragon machine. How could something so awesome exist in my shithole town? Too bad I was awful at it - I never caught on to the reverse elbow trick, even though my mate used it constantly - a bit thick, I guess. And the jumping bits got me every time - didn't matter where I stood, down the chasm I went. If my mate was able to guide me through to the end by doing the jumps for me (and if I kept sinking credits to keep up with him), he'd just kick my arse to get the girl anyway (using, you guessed it, reverse elbows). But still awesome.

I love, love, LOVE the D&D beat 'em ups. Head and shoulders over the seemingly endless stream of 'implausibly muscled dudes wander through a random urban landscape hitting punks in sunglasses with bats and pipes' titles. Almost better than 'real' D&D because it invoked the simplicity, nostalgia and classic imagery of the Basic red box - an elf is an elf, a cleric is a cleric, and it's goblins, orcs, kobolds and undead all the way down.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:42 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


(And if you ever happen to come across a D&D:SoM cabinet, be sure to try Highlander mode.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:49 PM on July 6, 2011


Crime Fighters was awesome, too. You fought Freddy and Jason!
posted by jeremy b at 7:07 PM on July 6, 2011


RIVER CITY RANSOM!!!!1! I JUST HUCKED A SET OF BRASS KNUCKLES ACROSS THE SCrEEN AT YOU. I READ A BOOK, I LEARNED A CRAZY PUNCH! I PICKED UP A DUDE AND HIT A DUDE WITH THAT DUDE.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:11 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


This blog is amazing, and gets into great details as to WHY Bayonetta and AvP are genius. It should make me a better beat em up player - I'm currently trying to beat Scott Pilgrim and Bayonetta on Hard.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:23 PM on July 6, 2011


I almost came in my pants the first time I saw a Double Dragon machine. How could something so awesome exist in my shithole town?

When the local deli/petrol station in my little town in the Adelaide Hills got Double Dragon my mother was so disturbed by the "realistic" violence that she forbade me to play it. I had to make do with Xain D'Sleena and an incomprehensible Kiki Kaikai bootleg. I think they also got Bad Dudes v Dragon Ninja at some point (RAMPANT NINJA RELATED CRIMES THESE DAYS... WHITEHOUSE IS NOT THE EXCEPTION...) and she didn't think much of that either.

She also didn't let me watch Robotech, but that's another story.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:08 PM on July 6, 2011


I could forgive leaving out DMC 3 in favour of 1 and 4, but not mention of God Hand? It's by far and away the most direct successor of the 2d brawlers, much more so than DMC/NG/GOW.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 3:25 AM on July 7, 2011


"While TMNT, Simpsons, and Xmen were some of the best arcade ones, none were as stylishly dressed as Rolling Thunder."

Rolling Thunder
posted by Eideteker at 7:32 AM on July 7, 2011


...but not mention of God Hand?

I'm actually not a huge fan of the 3D brawlers, and have little broad experience with 'em. Mostly this was a game design post and I reached for fairly well-known examples to round it out, hoping that the comments would fill out the rest. And they have! So, success. =D
posted by curious nu at 10:20 AM on July 7, 2011


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