The history of one of gamings greatest genres.
Tribute Games and Dotemu recently released a promo video of a brand new beat ’em up called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge and it got me all nostalgic.
This is a return to the classic style of arcade beat ’em ups (sometimes referred to as side-scrolling beat ’em ups) and pixel designs not seen since the early 90s, and continues on from one of the most famous and much loved games on the Super Nintendo, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time.
This is part one on my trip through some of the best this genre has to offer.
Beat ’em up games and retro games in general are receiving a bit of a resurgence lately with Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat 11, Classic Super Nintendo consoles, Battletoads 2020 and Street of Rage 4 gaining great reviews last year, the genre sort of died out in the late 90s and 2000s when 3D style and first person shooter games took over. I grew up playing them in arcades, on the Super Nintendo and Genesis, while playing them with family and friends is one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve had in gaming.
The genre its self is a funny one, it’s basically just a side scrolling or straight up fighting game that was always geared towards multiplayers. What added to the fun was basing the games on famous properties at the time and the features from those that could be used in game, from Ninja Turtles to the X-men, it always helped make the genre more popular.
When the PlayStation, N64 and Dreamcast came along, those types of games didn’t do it for gamers anymore, they lacked in depth stories or the much hyped 3D levels at the time. Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and others had to update with the times and go 3D but Beat ’em ups sort of started to vanish, Capcom continued with such games as the legendary Marvel vs Capcom 2 but overall the genre never reached the heights it once had in the early 90s.
With the announcement of the new game, I wanted to take a look back at the previous TMNT beat ’em up games to see what came before, but I also want to mention some others that I consider some of the greatest games of all time from this genre.
So lets start with the Turtles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a 1989 arcade game released by Konami and based on the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series that began airing in 1987. In the game, up to four players control the 4 Ninja Turtles, fighting through various levels to defeat the turtles’ enemies, including the Shredder, Krang and the Foot Clan.
This game along with The Simpsons and X-men games, made Konami kings of the arcade at the time, Capcom had Street Fighter but Konami had the big named licenses and for kids growing up on this stuff it was amazing.
It was fantastic to play with friends at the local arcades and drop your money in to keep playing, it was a game that kept you coming back to play and It really captured the spirit of the craze and everything hit right with the fans of the show.
It’s still so popular that you can even buy action figures based on the designs from the game and Arcade1up even released an arcade cabinet featuring this and Turtles in time recently.
Released during a high point in popularity for the Ninja Turtles craze, the arcade game was so well received that a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was released.
This was called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, it was billed as a sequel of sorts but in reality it was just a watered down version of the original because of console limitations of the time.
Personally, I enjoyed it because it still gave you the feeling of the arcade game but you could play it in the comfort of your home with family and friends.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was released in 1991, it was an original game with no real connection to the arcade original beat ’em up and only available on consoles but still followed the same style of gameplay found on the TMNT 2 arcade port.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist was released in 1992 and the first to come to the SEGA Genesis, as the first 3 games were only found in arcades and the original NES.
This game really changed things up and used the more powerful console to showcase new features, the gameplay of The Hyperstone Heist is heavily based on the second TMNT arcade game, Turtles in Time, which was ported to the Super NES during the same year.
I consider The Hyperstone Heist more of a spin off than a continuation of the Arcade series than a direct sequel. That said, it is fun game but it still doesn’t match what came to consoles later.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time is regarded by many as one of the best beat ’em up’s of all time, its use of time travel to give different unique locations and bosses made it stand out from anything else at the time.
Beat ’em up games can become repetitive and with so many at the time from Streets of Rage, Street Fighter 2, Avengers, X-men, Simpsons, Battletoads etc, it makes it even more impressive how it’s still regarded as one of the best ever 30 years later.
Released in 1991 in arcades as just Turtles in Time, it was ported to the Super Nintendo in 1992 with a title change and was greatly improved with extra levels, characters and cut scenes.
I played this game to death on the Super Nintendo, As a huge TMNT fan back then it was a great fun with so many nods to the show, toys and franchise in general and the last great TMNT game.
It’s also quite a valuable game these days with prices on eBay as high as £200 for a fully boxed version.
The Simpsons Arcade
Another legendary Konami arcade beat ’em up, in 1991 the Simpsons were very popular and this was the first video game based on the property.
It could be played with up to 4 players and featured all the characters from the TV show, it was good fun and a little crazy at times with bad guys but really captured the feel of the show in those early years.
I would love to see a re-release, remastered or sequel at some point but for now it is rejected to the past or found in the corner rusting away in an arcade.
X-men The Arcade
After Turtles this was probably one of the most popular arcade games at the time and again made by Konami, X-men were just becoming one of the biggest properties in comics and TV in the early 90s and this game really was great fun for fans at the time.
The game was available on 4 or 6 player cabinets, it was still great on whatever cabinet you found and gave you a nice range of characters to choose from with Wolverine, Colossus, Dazzler, Nightcrawler, Storm and Cyclops being available.
I never completed it but had a lot of fun on the first few levels I played as a kid, I would always pick Wolverine but long range attack characters are always best in these type of games.
Personally, X-men and Turtles in time are my favourites of this genre and will always be my go to for recommendations or just to have a fun old school gaming session.
I know there is still so many more I could discuss like the Streets of Rage series that recently received a 4th title, Mortal Kombat, Battletoads, Final Fight, Avengers Arcade, Maximum Carnage, Double Dragon, Punisher and more that I’m sure are your favourites but the ones I mentioned really stood out to me and always make me nostalgic.
It’s a genre that made arcades so exciting in the late eighties and into the early nineties and for anyone growing up around that time, I don’t doubt you would ever forget that feeling of carrying around coins and playing one of these games.
The genre might have struggled in recent decades but the sight of TMNT Shredder’s revenge, Street fighter V, Mortal Kombat 11, Streets of Rage 4, Battletoads 2020 and Asterix Slap them all, give me hope that it’s in for a real resurgence.
In part 2, I’ll be discussing the massive fighting beat ’em up games from Capcom who are best known for utter classics like the Street Fighter, X-men Children of the Atom, Marvel Superheroes and the Marvel vs Capcom series.
To be continued….