Taking the Streets Back! In the Arcades!

In the late 80s/90s Beat’Em Ups kept arcades thriving with its action of taking street justice in the player’s hands & quarters to overthrow tyranny and oppression. Tag teaming with Fighting Games, your local arcade was the place to go to with your buddies to do some fisticuffs 2-4 player style, or maybe even more players depending on what you were playing! What we’re going to be doing in this multi-part article on Beat’Em Ups is looking back at its origin boom, it’s decline into survival mode, the recent resurgence in the genre, what to look out for in the coming years and finally my experiences through these eras in Beat’em Ups history. Not ignoring the greats in this genre, I’m going to attempt to mention the ones I’m familiar with playing as well as some obscure ones. But let me list off some of the greats anyways(Not in order): 

  • Altered Beast
  • Golden Axe Series
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Turtles in Time
  • Final Fight Series
  • Alien vs Predator
  • Streets of Rage Series
  • X-Men Arcade

The Beginning – Kung Fu, NES 1984,

In the very beginning, my first exposure of the Beat’Em Ups genre was Kung Fu for the NES. Having been a fan of martial arts since Ernie Reyes Jr. as a child taking out criminal adults, this was very much up my alley! The sounds of a familiar 8-bit version of a Bruce Lee like battle cry with every punch and kick taking out multiple bad guys had me on a high! Seeing the same enemy type of trying to take out the main character as you work your way up the floors to rescue your girlfriend from Mr. X!

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I’ll be honest, as a 6-7-year-old trying to play this game, it was a daunting task to beat these floors! The furthest I’ve ever gotten was about the 3rd maybe 4th floor. Speaking of which I should give Kung Fu a try now. I’ll update you as soon as I complete the game again

Double Dragon, Taito, 1987

In 1987 Double Dragon burst into the arcade scene and it gave me the absolute same gut-punch Marian received at the start of the game! It was a sense overlord! The music that hypes you up at the start, the impact of every single blow you contact with, and double that if you have a partner to be your dragon brother!

Playing this game was an immense level up from Kung-Fu in terms of presentation and the fact that you can play this in co-op fashion vs being a race to the top to see who was the better player. The enemy variety was there ranging from your normies to big’ol jacked guys like Abobo, Jick & Mibobo until you reach the end to the gun-toting final boss of Willy Mackey! Teamwork is needed for all these obstacles but competition does peek it’s head at the end as you suddenly fight your dragon brother turning into a one on one to win the affections of Marian! Not exactly how you want an ending to play out but there can only be one alpha dragon!

Crime Fighters, Konami, 1989

There are some pictures of women kidnapped and it’s up to you as an undercover cop and your unusually same looking but different color palette partners take the fight to the streets to rescue the princess, (KINDA). Crime Fighters went with a more gritty approach as you’re fighting your way to rescue these women from an unnamed crime boss. The playable character feels more like street fighters than martial artists while they use weapons taken from their enemies like balisongs or “butterfly knives”, metal pipes and even pistols!


Crime Fighters was different than the usual beat’em up arcade game as in you didn’t have a set number of lives. Rather you had one life and the amount of quarters you put into your player adds to their life bar/hp. I often didn’t get to play with a full squad but when I did it was a blast! The enemy types and palette swaps were many but they were also difficult when you ran into certain scenarios where enemies would gang up on you! AND friendly fire was on so chaos definitely ensues!

The Combatribes, Technos, 1990

No elaborate story in this game. You’re just 3 vigilantes taking out city gangs, That’s it. Which you may be able to appreciate when you delve into this arcade game with two other players! And have you seen the stats on these guys? Berserker(character in blue & your balance type) is 7’1, Bullova(in yellow & your muscle) is 6’85 &  Blitz(in red & your speed) is 6’92. I always wondered why these main characters tower over the enemies you face against. The combat was a raw display of strength as you down opponents with your fists and feet then follow up with a giant swing for good measure. The enemy variety were interesting as you go up against the usual street punks, then things would transition to a theme park as you fight evil clowns meaning the scope of the levels and enemy design was immense for the time.

This one also went with the “put in as many quarters to add to your life” route which was kind of annoying. But to be manhandling your opponents in a variety of ways made up for that. Beat them on the ground or swing them in the air, your enemies had no chance!

What are your thoughts on this list of Beat’Em Up games of the 80s and 90s? Did you play a more obscure one that’s not on this list? Let us know in the comments below! While you’re at it check out my article on Gotham Knights announced at DC FanDome as well as my other articles! Stay tuned for part 2 of my beat’em up series!

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