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Some of the best old school gameplay is in a beat em up. With Castle Crashers having just been released, I've been seeing some people not understand that history. So now, on a very special blog post of Old School Games!
WHAT IS A BEAT EM UP?
A beat em up is where you select a character, than go fight wave after wave of bad guys. A end level boss shows up once you reach the end of a stage. Every stage is generally left to right and multiplayer is a big part of the appeal. Beating up a bunch of guys by yourself is fun, but its even better with a friend. Most feature a special move you can do by pushing jump and attack at the same time. Does more damage but hurts your character. Most also let you pick from a strong but slow one, the balanced one, and a quick but weak attacking character. A lot of awesome stuff.
I tried to pick out a few of my favorites. For a complete list of the Playstation 2, Xbox, and gamecube beat em ups, try gameFAQs. These are just some that I felt I could write about.
At this point it gets harder to tell whats a beat em up and whats not. Most third person shooting games have a melee element, but its not the focus. For example Grand Theft Auto 3 or Dead to Rights. It could almost be argued that the bullets flying around during this era replaced punches and kicks. Sort of like the concept of gun kata in the film Equilirbium.
But of course, I won't list those since they simply aren't beat em ups. A beat em up to me has to have some of the three main elements: Physical hand to hand combat. Co-Op two player mode. Camera can't change perspective all over the place it has to stick right on the player's character. Those three are the ones that distinguish a game as being "beat em ups."
The Bouncer - Playstation 2
Squaresoft developed a lot of games with effeminate heroes and for some reason they decided to go old school in 2001 and make a beat em up, The Bouncer. . You start off with three anime guys to pick from who are surprisingly, bouncers. A chick gets kidnapped and they set off to rescue her. From what I remember the levels had branching paths. My biggest complaint was too many boring cutscenes trying to give a story where the game didn't need one.
I never finished it as I only rented it, back when I had a working playstation 2. If you like Squaresoft's overblown storylines that go nowhere, or if you just want to see what passed as a beat em up seven years ago, check out The Bouncer.
A Tekken beat em up. I've had my eye out for this one but can't find it anywhere. It seems to have been forgotten and overlooked by most people, but if you watch the gameplay footage that I'm watching, this looks like a fun game.
Especially for a couple dollars. Again, I think its only on PS2 so even if I did find a copy I couldn't play it.
One cool part of gameplay is that you can target specific body parts of a person and shatter their bones. Somewhat like in the kung fu movie Street Fighter (no not the one based off the fighting game I mean the one with Sonny Chiba) where it shows an x ray of a guys skull get broken with a punch. I really would like to try this out. Especially since a major part of the appeal of a beat em up is cracking skulls, so why not literally crack skulls?
God Hand - Playstation 2
I want this game so bad. While not as rare as Guardian Heroes, I just can't seem to find a copy. Not that it matters since I lack the playstation 2 to play it. From what I've heard and seen this looks like my type of game. Over the top violence, bizarre characters, and of course beat em up gameplay! Take a look at some video!
Within ten seconds he's stomping faces into the ground, doing uppercuts, and towards the end he picks up an umbrella. Why don't I have a copy of this game? Again. Playstation two. I don't has one.
The Warriors - Xbox/PS2
One of my favorite game of the PS2/XBOX consoles. And its a movie game!
This game starts at the begging of the movie. All the street gangs of new york are having a big meeting, the guy organizing the meeting is shot and killed and The Warriors get blamed. Then things flashback to events before the film, showing how The Warriors got invited to the meeting in the first place. Also between main levels you can play a "flashback" level that shows the origins of how The Warriors got started. What's really cool is about halfway through the game, the movie storyline picks up and its as faithful to the film as any game could be. I've never played a game that felt more like the movie and expanded on the mythology in a film at the same time. This game is amazing, just for the storyline and presentation.
As for the gameplay, this is as beat em up as they get. Light and strong punches and kicks, as well as an amazing grapple system. What's really cool is that you can toss and throw people around. A power up meter that gives you some extra strength. You have tons of combos to do on your enemies. The Warriors are a nine member street gang and you've almost always got a few extra guys backing you up. You can tell them to go break things, split up, follow you, as well as a few other options. The game really gets good when you've got all your guys up against another gang. Its beautiful too see in motion.
The way you revive your gang members is genius as well. You use a item called "flash" which you buy from various dealers. Getting money is a fun mini game in itself, you can rob stores, steal car steroes, and a ton of other stuff. The levels are all various streets, some have you do spray paint challenges or various other competitions with rival gangs. Some of the really cool levels are ones where your gang is getting chased by another gang through the streets. I don't want to spoil the movie, but its mostly The Warriors being chased back to their turf.
As soon as I heard a new game was coming out based off a movie I'd never heard of I had to locate a copy of the film. The movie itself looks like it inspired a few beat em ups. At the very least Double Dragon took some stylistic ques from the film. The action scenes are definitely worth watching. Much like the gang brawl in A Clockwork Orange, every encounter turns into a ballet of punches to the stomach, people being thrown around, and kicks to the groin. Not to mention a few weapons being involved! There is almost always beer bottles lying around or a garbage can to bash someone with.
You can even unlock a arcade machine beat em up game that plays like a 3D old school beat em up. In fact, the game is almost a clone of Double Dragon! You have to buy The Warriors. Its available on PS2 and Xbox. Get this game. Isn't it ironic that my main criticism of The Bouncer was its emphasis on storyline, whereas with The Warriors one of my favorite parts is the story aspect? If you like fighting between groups of people at all, please find and play The Warriors.
Those are the ones that I felt like showing off. There are a couple others that should get mentioned like the X-Men Legends series, Urban Reign, or Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. Dynasty Warriors games have you facing off against tons of opponents and feels a lot like a beat em up. Some of the games based of the Lord of The Rings play a lot like a beat em up with RPG stats. The recent Ninja Turtles series based off the new show, some are like the old school ones. You could even argue for God Of War, Ninja Gaiden, Jet Li: Rise to Honor Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, and similar games to be beat em ups or just lumped into the general "action" genre. Even Diablo style hack & slash games would fit into a subgenre of beat em ups.. Not quite a beat em up the same way that that Turtles In Time is a beat em up, but some of them are closer to the definition than others.
They just don't make beat em ups like they used to though.