If you were a ’90s kid, chances are you spent your gaming childhood playing side-scrolling beat-em-ups, an age-old genre that was full to the brim with classic and now iconic titles that spanned all of the era’s platforms. The main premise remained the same, scrolling from one side of the stage to the other whilst kicking the living crap out of all that stand in your way. They were no walk in the park though; these games were tough but ultimately a blast to play solo or with friends. We are counting down our top picks of the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre ever.
#10. Captain Commando – Arcade
In this gem, you play as one of the four members of the Commando Squad consisting of the futuristic leader himself, Captain Commando, the mummified warrior Mack the Knife, Ginzu the ninja and Baby Head, who is a baby that pilots a huge mech.
As bonkers as this cast sounds, the game is one of Capcom’s best thanks to each character’s unique movesets and excellent graphics and animation. Capcom recognized its excellence by adding it to the Capcom Beat-em-up Bundle, which released for all current generation consoles.
#9. Armored Warriors – Arcade
Capcom were masters of the genre in the ’90s, and they continued with another entry that appeared on their Beat-em-up Bundle game. Armored Warriors was another superbly designed game with a trick up its sleeve that makes it unique.
You play as a robot mech that is able to find and attach different arms to itself that range from cannons to different melee weapons to nail your enemies with. It was a true feat for this game that makes it just as enjoyable now than it was then.
#8. Alien Vs Predator – Arcade
Okay, okay, another Capcom great, but what did you expect? This time a game loosely based on movies that are actually good. You play as either a male or female soldier or one of several Predator warriors as you take on hordes of Xenomorphs. The screen fills with them, but there is more than a big enough moveset for each character to handle all the enemies.
Unlike the previous two games, this classic wasn’t featured on Capcom’s Beat-em-up Bundle game, which is quite shocking considering its one of Capcom’s best. The Super Nintendo port, however, didn’t do as well as it was a heavily watered down port that just didn’t do the original justice.
#7. Final Fight – All Platforms
Final Fight is one of the most recognisable games of the genre. It has been ported to almost every platform out there and rightly so. It’s a beast of a beat-em-up that gave birth to the now-iconic characters Guy, Haggar and Cody, whom have appeared in the Street Fighter series, among others.
In Final Fight, you basically rid the streets of a thuggish gang that has seemingly claimed Metro City for its own. Mechanically, the game is quite primitive, with each character having a small moveset, but regardless, it was still a blast to play.
#6. Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara
Capcom took the genre in a new direction with the two Dungeons & Dragons beat-em-ups they released in 1992 and 1994, respectively. Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara injected a hint of role-playing features into the standard side-scrolling beat-em-up formula. You choose one of six possible role-playing game archetypes, such as Warrior, Mage and Thief, and beat up enemies as standard.
This time though you’re able to find loot in chests and use potions and equip found items that boost your characters’ statistics. Both games were ported to last generation consoles and are backwards compatible on Xbox One and shouldn’t be missed.
#5. Violent Storm – Arcade
This game is an often overlooked gem from the ’90s, which is criminal. Again focusing on the theme of ridding the town of a gang, you pick one of three larger than life characters, namely Wade, Kyle and Boris, as you whoop serious ass. The movesets were generous for each character, but what was striking about Violent Storm was its soundtrack.
Cheesy ’90s-esque rock tunes provided a great backdrop for the ensuing light-hearted violence portrayed on-screen, and characters were brought to life thanks to the voice samples too. This never saw the light of day on home consoles, unfortunately.
#4. Vendetta – Arcade
Oh man, I spent a crap-ton of money on this game when I was younger. The four available characters each resembled real life celebrity combatants, such as Hulk Hogan and Jean-Claude Van Dam, as you once again rid the streets of a criminal organisation whilst rescuing a damsel in distress. What made this game better than those before it in this list is the extensive number of abilities you had at your disposal.
You could slam goons into the background with a club, stamp on the fingers of those hanging on for dear life, and elbow drop downed foes and more. It was a fantastic game that never came away from its coin-op origins, sadly.
#3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time – SNES
Picking a Turtle and kicking the hell out of the Foot Clan was awesome when the original arcade game came out, but when time travel was injected into the mix, it gave way to more possibilities. Each Turtle had his own moves corresponding to their respective weapon of choice, and you were able to throw enemies into others and finish combos with a power attack.
We were transported to many historical eras while fighting famous Turtles bosses along the way. It was a phenomenal game that still holds up today.
#2. The Simpsons Arcade Game – Arcade
Easily the best game of The Simpsons brand, the acrade game was unlike any other Simpsons game. It was a side-scrolling beat-em-up that emptied the pockets of kids in the ’90s. You choose either Bart, Lisa, Homer or Marge as you attempt to rescue Maggie from the clutches of Mr. Burns and his protégé, Smithers. Each character has their own weapon that alters their attacks and gameplay style, and multiple players can join up to perform team-up attacks.
That mixed with hilarious enemy types, the interval mini-games, such as blowing up balloons races and the faithfulness of its source material makes The Simpsons Arcade Game a must play. It’s available on Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360.
#1. Streets of Rage 2 – Sega Mega Drive/Genesis
The cream of the crop came in the form of Streets of Rage 2. The original Streets of Rage was fantastic and provided a pathway to its second helping, which blew all of the competition out of the water. Even the third entry didn’t manage to reach the heights of Streets of Rage 2.
You play as Axel, Blaze, Max or Skate as you once again cleanse the streets, clubs, stadiums and amusement parks of a wide range of enemies. The diversity of its cast, uber-high production values, cracking soundtrack and addictive gameplay make Streets of Rage 2 the very best of the genre.
So there you have it, our top picks of the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre. Each game featured is a testament to not only the genre but to video games as a whole, and we highly recommend you find some way of playing each one. Don’t agree with our choices? Let us know below or on any of our social media.