By ZZZ

Many may lament the death of the beat-em-up genre, the kind where you play as some punk, walking forward and smashing things that would dare get in the way of The Law, administering justice 80s style. In reality, the beat-em-up has drastically evolved into more modern games like God of War and Dynasty Warriors. Still, nowadays there are very few classic style beat-em-ups, which is a bit strange. Very few freeware designer support them very well, like they do with fighters and especially with shmups, two other genres that the pros have mostly given up on. Luckily, Capcom went to town with them back in the 90s, so there's a whole back catalog of cool titles you may have missed, primarily because a good number of them were arcade exclusive.

Beat-em-ups arguably began with the arcade game Renegade, and from roughly 1987 through the early 1990's, they were extremely popular. In spite of this, many gamers agree today that they haven't aged very well at all. At the time, controlling huge characters and beating up ruffians was fairly novel, and the multi player options were a big part of their draw as well. Konami's X-Men allowed a whopping six at the same time on some versions of the arcade cabinet. However, as the arcades began to die off, so did the novelty. It doesn't have nearly the same impact on a home console, since most modern gamers expect more depth their games.

While Technos might have defined the genre with Renegade, Double Dragon, and the Kunio games, Capcom games were the most prolific, and arguably the most popular. And this all started with Final Fight. Back in the 80s, Die Hard became an archetype of action movies and inspired a huge number of imitators, which took the same concept and simply changed the scenario. Under Siege was Die Hard on a boat, Speed was Die Hard on a bus. In this same manner, all of Capcom's beat-em-ups can be described the same way. Knights of the Round is Final Fight in medieval times, Armored Warriors is Final Fight with robots. And the list goes on.

Excluding the Final Fight games, there are fourteen of Capcom's other beat-em-ups. A good number of these use the exact same controls and physics as Final Fight. Many only two buttons - an Attack and a Jump button - simplifying a bit from Double Dragon. Weapons ranging from short-range melee weapons to long range guns, can be picked up from enemies or found in destructible bits of scenery. Enemy life bars appear right below your player's, usually given some strange name in attempt to give some personality to the goons you were demolishing with your fists. Special moves are usually executed by hitting both buttons at the same time, which will drain your life meter, and later games involved Street Fighter-style joystick motions. Most support two-to-four players in their arcade releases, which mostly appeared on the CPS1 and 2 boards. The levels are almost always flat, straight lines, with very little variation or platforming, (which leads one to wonder why all villains seem to set up villain headquarters on the right side of town, and why the heroes always live on the left side of town.)

While most people might perceive beat-em-ups (especially Capcom style beat-em-ups) to be practically interchangeable, there is a surprising level of variation between each of Capcom's. Some added extra weapons, others added loose RPG elements. Most of these games were designed by people who worked on Capcom's fighters, and there was no fear of risk taking. Each of these beat-em-up has their own identity - their own "feel" - at least to an extent.

Captain Commando

Knights of the Round

The Punisher

Alien vs Predator

Dynasty Wars / Tenchi wo Kurau - Arcade (1989)

Dynasty Wars

Dynasty Wars

Both this game and its sequel are based on a manga called Tenchi wo Kurau ("Devour the Heavens and Earth"), which itself is based on the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The playable characters (Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and Zhao Yun) are taken from that novel. All of them are identical.

Dynasty Wars has the conventions of a beat-em-up, but it plays and "feels" very much like a 2D action game. You control a warrior riding on a horse. Rather than freely moving throughout the immediate area you are limited to three planes: a middle plane, a high plane, and a low plane. Enemies moves along the same planes and you have to move to their plane to attack them.There is a button to attack to the left, a button to attack to the right (similar to Double Dragon 2), and a button to execute a special attack.

The problem is that there's no variation, at all. There are no combos, no jumps, no throws, no extra weapons, no extra techniques, no anything. Just attack, attack, attack. Making it worse, each of the four characters are identical, albeit with virtually irrelevant differences in health and strength. The best part of this game is that there are often as much as a dozen enemies on screen at the same time, and mowing down these large hordes is enjoyable for at least a while. It's also fairly bloody, especially in the short cinemas.

Combined with gaudy graphics, and average music, there really is very little good to say about Tenchi wo Kurau, but luckily the sequel turned out quite a bit better. There were several ports to home computer platforms since as the Commodore 64 and Amiga. There is a Famicom game from Capcom by the name of "Tenchi wo kurau", although it's an RPG and is known as "Destiny of the Emperor" in America.

Dynasty Wars

Dynasty Wars

Dynasty Wars

Warriors of Fate / Tenchi wo Kurau II: Sekiheki no Tatakai - Arcade / Saturn / Playstation (1992)

Warriors of Fate

Warriors of Fate

This is Dynasty Wars' sequel, again using the Tenchi wo Kurau/Romance of the Three Kingdoms theme. It plays closer to Final Fight, but allows for three players at the same time. Your characters now all fight on foot, but can still mount horses at certain points.

Characters

Portor
Kan-U in Japan, Guan Yu when read in Chinese. The "balanced guy" character. Fights with fisticuffs and has a huge beard.

Kassar
Chou-Hi in Japan, Zhang Fei when read in Chinese. The tank character. Fights bare fisted. His special can cause enemies to explode with a punch.

Subutai
Chou-Un in Japan, Zhao Yun when read in Chinese. Fast, with good range, but less powerful than a few of the other characters. Wears blue armor and fights with a sword that can cleave through enemies after certain moves.

Kadan
Kou-Chuu in Japan, Huang Zhong when read in Chinese. A old man with a beard, who attacks with a bow and arrows, but lacks exceptional close range attacks. His dash attack into special combo is a must to master if you choose him.

Abaka
Gi-En in Japan, Wei Yan when read in Chinese. Short range. A bald guy in green armor, who has Guile's flash kick for a special. Has the best combos.

The movesets in Warriors of Fate are not particularly expansive, but they are larger than Final Fight. Most characters have multiple air throws, each has a special (Down, Up, Attack), and holding down and tapping the attack button will perform a dashing attack, which almost makes up for the lack of dashing. It's the vast selection of weapons that makes this game special. A few weapons are even hidden, not being available in regular play, which need to be found through various methods.

The biggest difference between this game and most beat-em-ups is the absolutely huge crowds of enemies you'll fight. There are generally at least half a dozen enemies on screen at a time, and you'll spend the entire game being swarmed by these crowds. Your dashing attacks are extremely low powered, but they knock back enemies and are a great way to break up crowds when you are overwhelmed by them.

There are some differences between Japanese release and the international release. The tie-in with Romance of the Three Kingdoms was ditched, with all of the characters losing their Chinese names into Mongolian names. It also had a bunch of dialog and plot scenes that were removed from the international release. When you defeat the final boss in the Japanese version, you are given the option of letting him go, which will give you a ending that is exclusive to that version. There is a scene that was removed from the international version where a woman gives her child to your character and then jumps down a well. The Japanese version also has three more weapons.

Warriors of Fate

Warriors of Fate

Warriors of Fate

Warriors of Fate

Warriors of Fate

Japanese Version

Captain Commando - Arcade / SNES / Playstation / PSP / Playstation 2 / Xbox (1991)

Captain Commando (Arcade)

Captain Commando (Arcade)

Captain Commando was Capcom's early original mascot, having been relegated to mostly to congratulating purchasers of NES games. Although he technically starred in the arcade/NES title Section Z, they revamped his design and gave him his own game in 1991.

Captain Commando is a game that seems to have been inspired by 1950's science fiction. Most of the enemies are these gas mask wearing guys who look very much like generic space explorer characters or intergalactic villain henchmen characters from that era's B-movies. There are many other monsters and backgrounds that bring the same source material to mind. Captain Commando himself seems to be based on the kind of galaxy trekking super heroes of the time. Keeping with the theme the bare bones beat-em-up plot (excuse to explain why these characters need to keep moving right and beating the living hell out of people) involves a mad scientist who ain't up to any good. Whatever the 1950's-villain-plot that he has concocted is, kicking his ass is inevitably the best response. Capcom's idea here was definitely to put every fanboy nerd theme in a blender and see what would come out.

Captain Commando
The titular character of the game and Capcom's mascot during the 1980's. Captain Commando has probably the coolest attack in the game. He can fire flames by doing a running jump and then hitting the attack button.

Ninja Commando
Ninja Commando is a ninja named Ginzu (Sho in the Japanese version). He attacks with a sword, with which he can slice enemies in two. Is the only character capable of attacking with ninja stars.

Baby Commando
Truly among the strangest video game characters ever, Baby Commando is named Hoover in the Japanese version, and is an infant riding a mech. Strangely, he can crawl into other mechs despite already riding his own, which leads to some pretty bizarre mech-on-mech riding.

Mummy Commando
Mummy Commando is named Mack (Jennety in the Japanese version) and is, as his name would imply, a mummy. He attacks with knives. When he kills enemies, their flesh melts off their bones.

Despite the futuristic set-up and strange characters, the actual gameplay is almost completely identical to Final Fight, and does little to set itself apart. It even takes place in FF's Metro City, but in the year 2026.

The weapons here are pretty interesting. Final Fight had lead pipes or other melee weapons. While it does have the obligatory hammer, Captain Commando has firearms, including grenade launchers, pistols, automatic rifles, shurikens and even lasers. Additionally, there are three types of mechs that can be hijacked, an element later reused in the Mega Man X games. If there is anything that beat-em-ups need, it's more mechs.

There are other pretty cool touches here too. Ninjas in general are awesome, and it's nice to see that Captain Commando has a pretty high ninja factor. In addition to Ginzu, there's a whole ninja themed level. The stages are pretty interesting, as you fight through a museum, a circus, and an aquarium, before blasting off into outer space. There's a surfing level, much like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. Some of the enemy names are pretty cool too. In particular, there's a guy named Shtrom. Seems like no big deal, but I thought it said Shitstorm when I first saw it. I certainly wouldn't mess with a guy with a name like that.

Captain Commando received a SNES port in 1995, although since it was late in the life of the console, it was mostly ignored. The graphics aren't quite as good, but they're serviceable. Some of the more gruesome deaths were cut, and strangely, all of the mechs are gone. It also received a near perfect port to the PSOne, though only in Japan, and it's a very hard title to find. It also showed up in emulated form on the Capcom Classics Collection Remixed for the PSP, and Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 for the Playstation 2 and Xbox.

Capcom did not forget about Captain Commando completely after this game. He is a playable character in Marvel vs. Capcom 1 & 2, and is visible in Ken's level in Street Fighter Alpha 2.

Captain Commando

Captain Commando

Captain Commando

Captain Commando

Captain Commando

Captain Commando

Comparison Screenshots

Arcade
SNES

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