What Happened to the Beat-Em Up Genre?

Back in the olden days, we had these weird places called “arcades.” Not the ones that you see making a return in 2018, but ones that were truly salt of the earth places. People from all ages and walks of life would congregate in the late afternoon and early evening, gathering around the latest and greatest game in the industry.

You see, in the late 80s and all through the 90s, multiplayer games were not really a thing yet. The internet still did not have a true identity, families remained skeptical of something that required a home to sacrifice their phone access to log on, and others could not allocate the resources to connect. The arcade was our multiplayer; people gathering together in a space of 5 feet, each with just enough room for the joystick and buttons.

For me, Final Fight was my game of choice at the local arcade. Sure, others have fonder memories of Battletoads and Double Dragon, but Final Fight grabbed my attention. For those of you who are not familiar with Final Fight, you played as one of three characters: Haggar, Cody, or Guy. The arcade version had access to all three characters with the home version eliminating Guy from playability.

Haggar was the mayor of the city and went on a rampage through the streets to get back his kidnapped daughter. The game had an incredibly simple concept: walk from left to right, beat up a bunch of smaller people and then take out the stage boss. Along the way, in typical beat-em-up fashion, you can eat giant barbecue, apples, and other food items to restore health. You can also grab pipes or knives to do additional damage to the opponent. Final Fight was simple, fantastic fun. It was everything that made me appreciate my time in the arcade.

What happened to the Final Fights of the world? What happened to the simple beat-em-ups where you walked forward, beat the hell out of some bad guys, and saved the kidnapped girl? The genre has gone underground into the indie market, major AAA companies no longer consider anything of the sort. Did these games disappear off our radars because of the demand from gamers who want an all-encompassing experience instead of something incredibly simple yet fun? I like to think that with the resources we have today in the video game industry, beat-em-ups could be made even better.

I like to imagine Mike Haggar in 3D, muscles defined with ridiculous effects, more freedom to move across the screen because of graphical capabilities, and tougher bosses. Final Fight had such an immense impact on my gaming as a youth that I grow saddened seeing the genre slowly die without a whimper. Maybe someday down the road, a major company will bring new life to a once-proud industry.

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Andy Wonnacott

Just a middle-aged man who finds time to sprinkle in work, basketball, TV and movies in between his love of gaming.

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