In the 30 odd years that the Beat 'Em Up has been around, what is the legacy it leaves behind in modern gaming?
If there's one thing that is just as certain as death and taxes, it's that if someone has a good idea that makes money the you can be sure as shit that it will be copied and copied hard! Games are no different and the 90's saw what can only be described as swarms of beat em ups made by shameless developers trying to claw even a morsel of flesh off the carcass with their usually sub par offerings.
Back in the day consoles seemed to garner much of the attention and rightly so. They had the best selection of quality games but that was hardly surprising given they were made for the sole purpose of gaming but there were other home systems available at the time and they were the home computers. Long before the rise of powerful Windows driven machines, the PC's of the time were rather slow business machines, heavily reliant on DOS and not much good for anything bar maybe a good Lucasfilm adventure now and then. The real daddies were the Commodore Amiga and The Atari ST.
In the 1990's, you could not open a gaming magazine without hearing about Streetfighter II, Mortal Kombat or some other game that had cropped up in the arcade. Before then the home console market had always been decidedly separate from the arcade giants in terms of technology. If one think of an arcade game as a cinema release then the consoles and computers were definitely the videos (HA! videos). Sega had dominated the arcade port world with it's Megadrive console as it was really the only home machine powerful enough (at the time) to attempt to copy an arcade game, but Nintendo had an ace up their sleeve that would tip the scales of the home market almost completely. The Super Famicom was released in Japan and boasted a (mostly) vastly superior set of hardware to the Megadrive. Add to the fact that Nintendo were already very cosy with Capcom due to the Megaman connection and things were looking rather good for Nintendo's new machine.
The One on One fighters hadn't really moved much past Karate champ, but in 1987 Capcom released a new type of One on One fighting game called simply: Street Fighter.
By 1986 beat 'em ups were becoming increasingly popular. Irem had all but defined the initial concept for the scrolling beat 'em up with Kung-Fu master 2 years earlier and arcade goers were getting a real taste of some decent martial arts action but the latter half of the 80's saw what could be described at the holy trilogy of scrollers with the clear evolution that came with each game although some notable mentions were made around the same time that gave gamers some proper mash fun!
When it comes to sub-genres of games everyone has and always has had their own preference. However, in the golden era of gaming it was pretty obvious what the most popular style of game was, and to paraphrase a famous games magazine of the time “Nothing beats the satisfying smack of a fist in the mouth!”. After the martial arts film craze of the 1970's, people were starting to embrace gaming as the interactive alternative, and all of a sudden the world was crazy for beat 'em ups!
What does that word mean when it comes to games? Everyone has their own ideas of what is retro depending on age and they are all different. Even the grubby teen can now look back and call some PS3 games 'retro' as indeed they are to him/her. For some though, retro really just means pre-3D where games were almost exclusively 2D pixel art and custom sound chip all written in mind bending assembly code so hence this will be the temporary definition of 'retro' for this article alone.