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Beat Em Up Games – The Tangled History of the Side Scroller


If you are a regular follower, you will know that on social media every month is a themed month. In this we post a daily game from a certain category. Last month we did ‘side scrolling beat em ups’ and concentrated on the typical, eight way directional ones we know and love.

One post caused a lot of confusion among people regarding the lineage of a certain beat em up. As such, at Updownleftrightastart we decided to track down the history of this classic genre.

The Birth of the Beat Em Up

Kung Fu Master in a warm, loving embrace

In this article we are looking specifically at eight way directional beat em ups. However, we should mention some notable forerunners, particularly that only allowed the option to move left or right. Although a number of sports games had previously used hand to hand combat in Karate and Boxing games, it was 1984’s Kung Fu Master that introduced us to a lot of tropes we would come to know. This arcade game from Irem introduced the concept of multiple enemies and having linear stages that would be completed with the defeat of a boss character. It also introduced the idea of weaponry for in game combat.

Karateka was also released in this year and is a notable addition. Although this stuck with the idea of one on one combat, it added the element of plot. These two games would lay the foundations for what we would soon know as the side scrolling beat em up.

See also Swashbuckler, Yie Ar Kung Fu.

Hot Blooded Tough Guy

Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun roughly translates as hot blooded tough guy named Kunio, so you can see why they renamed it ‘Renegade’ for western audiences. Renegade was the first beat em up to allow you to move in eight directions (not counting wrestling game Mat Mania from the previous year). It took tropes established in previous games such as stages, weaponry and added a street level narrative. Essentially, you went around fighting gangs, a hallmark of the genre for years to come.

Kicking hoodlums from speeding motorcycles in Renegade

Kunio himself would venture off into a whole series of games after this and not all were beat em ups. Creators Technos would have him playing dodgeball and soccer before bringing him back to beat em ups in 1989 for River City Ransom.

City Adventure Touch

Those enemies look threatening

This is the place where most people expect Double Dragon to come. However, if baseball anime tickles your fancy I have no idea how you missed this one. City Adventure Touch: Mystery of Triangle is as baffling as it sounds and arrived between Renegade and Double Dragon. Based on a Manga book about high school baseball it follows the same tropes as Renegade. But with baseballs.

Double Dragon

1987 would see Renegade creators Technos release the critically appraised Double Dragon. This took the concept of Renegade one step further by adding greater move sets and co operative play. It would also introduce the idea of a scrolling screen.

Lycra and perms in Double Dragon.

Although many people believe that Double Dragon is the sequel to Renegade, it actually isn’t. Renegade had its own sequels and the main character Kunio did his own dodgeball based thing. They were just made by the same company and had a lot of similarities.

And by that we mean an awful lot. So much so that when Technos would later get into financial difficulty, it’s Game Boy sequel to the Renegade series would simply be adapted into Double Dragon II by Acclaim.

To thicken the plot even further, Technos would have nothing to do with the actual Renegade sequels. These were taken on by Ocean software who would develop Target Renegade and Renegade III: The Final Chapter.

The Golden Era

Final Fight. Many of the characters, including enemies, would later end up in the SF franchise.

After this, the golden era of beat em ups soon began. Some, such as 1989’s Golden Axe, put a Sword and Sorcery spin on the genre. Others, such as Streets of Rage stuck with the same theme of street gang violence but amped up the choice of moves and attacks.

Final Fight stuck with this idea and really pushed the boundaries of the move set within a game. Originally conceived as a sequel to the first Street Fighter game, the success of Double Dragon made Capcom change to an eight way directional beat em up halfway through production. From this moment on, Street Fighter and Final Fight would often intermingle.

It was Capcom who actually really ran with the genre and some of the best side scrollers of the period were created by the company. Original ideas like Captain Commando stand along with comic book tie in’s like The Punisher and Cadillac’s and Dinosaurs. Many of Capcom’s cornerstone franchises would appear in this era.

The Legacy of the Beat Em Up

In fact, many beat em up games established in this era would be around for a long time to come in one form or another. The Kunio Kun series is still putting out games to this day, as is Double Dragon. Final Fight is stronger than ever and golden era games such as Streets of Rage are getting long awaited sequels.

I am still waiting for my ‘City Adventure Touch: Mystery of Triangle’ baseball manga remake though.






Photos – www.mobygames.com

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