If you’re a child of the 80’s or very early 90’s, then you probably spent a great deal of time punching everything from robots to dinosaurs in old-school coin-ops. I can remember saving 10p coins all year round for our annual visit to Grandma’s - and the subsequent trip into the neon splendour of a smokey old arcade.
To this day I still find myself whistling some of those old attract mode tunes, and it’s with these fond memories that we take a look at some of the best (in my opinion) beat ‘em ups of the era. So without further ado, let's take a look at the top five classic brawlers found in the arcade from the memorable era of video gaming.
5. The Punisher (Capcom, 1993)
Believe it or not there was a time when not everyone had heard of The Punisher, or even Marvel for that matter. But Capcom had, and this ridiculously over the top brawler was their interpretation of Frank Castle and (in two player mode) Nick Fury.
The game tasks you with defeating the Kingpin and his various henchmen, across a number of straight left-to-right punchfests. Although you are first presented with the genre’s stock thug kind of fodder, you soon begin encountering ninjas, robots and huge boss characters in your quest for justice.
One point of interest is the Comic Book feel of The Punisher. Bright, colourful sprites and backgrounds are suitably accompanied by an array of wham, crack and pow visual sound effects - all of which add to the title’s charm. Sad, then, that most people my age didn’t get the chance to enjoy it.
4. Cadillacs And Dinosaurs (Capcom, 1993)
One of the first in the genre I remember playing, the bar at our annual vacation spot had this cabinet and I must have spent a small fortune climbing its leaderboard. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs was based on a comic called Xenozoic Tales apparently, and is one of the weirdest in our list. Earth suffers a series of huge natural disasters (while also dealing with heavy pollution - a major political topic at the time) leading mankind to take refuge and ultimately relocate to underground cities. Some 600 years pass, and the decision is made to have a look at the state of the surface.
If you couldn’t guess - dinosaurs have appeared.
As was the staple at the time, you can attack with your fists and feet - as well as an array of weaponry. Various guns, barrels pipes, clubs and your co-op partners can all be utilized in slapstick fashion as you pummel bad guys and the occasional T-Rex. So just like last Friday, then. Driving sequences and an obscene amount of cheesy dialogue (let’s roll, damn I’m good and eat lead….baby) add to the humour of this enjoyable romp through 8 stages of increasing weirdness.
3. Double Dragon (Taito, 1987)
Arguably Double Dragon opened the floodgates to the golden age of beat ‘em ups. Until its release, there had been few titles that had tried more than a single screen one-on-one affair, so fans practically threw their coins at the screen.
Billy and Jimmy Lee wade their way through the Black Warriors in search of our damzel in distress, Marion, although it isn’t clear just who she is attached to. The game featured four very different stages, each of which featured their own bosses and theme songs. Although this sounds like it would be a breeze to play through, Double Dragon is fiendishly difficult. Obviously this was to steal more of your precious pennies, but that’s how it worked back then.
Upon defeating the final boss, the game ends, however, in two player mode each player is forced to battle each other, the winner gaining Marion’s affection. Getting all the way to the end, only to have your ass handed to you by a kid half your age was a devastating experience. Perhaps the birth of the rage quit then too?
2. Alien Vs Predator (Capcom, 1994)
AVP was one of those games that appeared fairly late on in the glory days of arcade brawling, and as such passed many gamers by completely. Most kids had moved on to home consoles, as arcades became less about games and more about fruit machines.
The thing most people remember about this title is the absolute carnage caused by up to three players all punching, exploding shooting and throwing the alien antagonists all over the screen. Some of the enemies are huge, and there are at times a lot of them on screen at once. More than a few times I remember the game suffering from slow-down. And that was just on single player mode.
You play as one of four characters - two human and two Predators, each with their own pro’s and con’s - as you try to rid the city of the alien menace.
Alien Vs Predator had a surprisingly meaty story for this kind of game, with a few twists and turns, which made you want to continue even more. Don’t expect a small screenplay, but you know what I mean.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (Konami, 1989)
Children in the late 80’s wanted one thing and one thing only - to be a Ninja Turtle. Well who wouldn’t want that? So when TMNT: The Arcade Game came along, we all high-tailed it to the local arcade.
The cab was a four-player affair (there was a smaller, two player version also) with each player choosing their favourite Turtle (Leonardo, obviously) and doing their best to give Shredder, Krang and company a good leathering. The stock thugs were Foot Soldiers of different colours depicting their strength, with plenty of various bosses strewn across the five or so stages the game offered.
Background objects such as hydrants and oil drums can be attacked to cause enemy damage, and pizzas can be collected to replenish health and unleash special attacks. Of all the Turtles games, this one seems to be truest to the series we know and love, and even today is an absolute blast to fly through.
So there you go: 5 of the best arcade beat ‘em ups from the glory days of the galleria. Although some of these were ported to consoles (and now are available digitally), it’s a shame if you never got to play them in the arcades. There was just something about the sounds, smells and overall feel of a good arcade session. Something rarely experienced today.
Tell us what your favourites were in the comments below.
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