Good ol’ Capcom recently released a collection of their finest beat-em-ups that in one retro-collection for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Unfortunately they can’t put in licensed fares, which means no Aliens vs Predator, no Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, and no Punisher. But what we ended up with are worthy timewasters that should be on every retro gamer’s shelf.
To celebrate, let’s rank each of these 7 beat-em-ups based on their importance in the company’s legacy of close-ranged pugilism.
I won’t go into a tirade about how repetitive beat em ups are because that’s just part and parcel of the genre. Rather, it’ll be interesting to analyze what these games did to set themselves apart from the rest.
Whether they had good and interesting gimmicks or whether they have an interesting theme going on, these 7 titles will be ranked on these merits and their contribution to the beat em up ecosystem back in the day.
Disclaimer: I only tried out Online mode for each game once and it’s not good. You’re better off playing this offline with three other pals in the same room. You know, like in the old days.
#7. Final Fight
Let’s start with the first-ever beat-em-up Capcom did that pushed its arcade boards and graphical capabilities to the limit. With awesome sound, awesome feedback, three distinct meatheads to control who ended up in Capcom’s main fighting games, and a lovely bunch of action and stages, Final Fight is definitely a genre-starter for Capcom.
Unfortunately, if you’re comparing it with Capcom’s other fares, this game barely outshines them in retrospect. Naturally, its sequel Final Fight 3 is the superior title due to its expansion from the first game’s basic template. It’s great and all that Capcom included Final Fight in its lineage-filled collection, but its basicness sticks out like a sore thumb.
#6. Captain Commando
Let’s not mince words: Captain Commando is a reskinned Final Fight clone with superheroes. Sure, you have mechas to ride on and you have ranged weapons, and the cast you play as is kinda bizarre. You have your titular Captain Commando, your ninja, your mummy with knives, and a baby piloting a giant tanky robot.
Beyond its absurd premise, there really isn’t much separating this from other beat-em-ups at its time. There’s nothing new that this game adds to Capcom’s beat-em-up legacy; it’s only on this collection to fill up space.
#5. King of Dragons
This three-player beat em up is a great stab at four-player co-op fantasy beat-em-up until the Dungeons & Dragons game came in. This was during a time when Capcom was bitten by the fantasy bug with Black Tiger and Magic Sword being their other 2D fares during that funky early 90s stint. With five different classes with varying playstyles to pick from and 11 short-but-sweet stages to plough through, alongside a Yoko Shimomura-composed score (she was a Capcom employee back in the day), King of Dragons help scratch that fantasy itch in the 90s. It also helped that you can cast magic and also level up to extend your health and attack points.
Unlike other beat-em-ups, most of your attacks can kill enemies with a single hit not unlike the aforementioned Black Tiger and Magic Sword games; the bosses like the ogres and dragons are the ones you need to keep watch for. Even if many consider this to be the weaker co-op game when compared with the Capcom D&D games, you shouldn’t overlook what this game brought to the table.
The trademark Capcom quality and polish is all there, especially when you’re fighting the bigger bosses and a bigger orc-laden crowd. King of Dragons was important in making sure that a D&D-branded beat-em-up was viable.
#4. Warriors of Fate
If you want a simple beat-em-up with huge crowds to fight off, you can’t go wrong with this precursor to Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors. Yep, you can thank Capcom’s Warriors of Fate for inspiring that factory assembly line game-churning company for making us sick of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga.
Jesting aside, Warriors of Fate is a great first impression for Asian gamers because of its colourful depiction of the Three Kingdoms story, but with that Capcom beat-em-up flair. With big bushy-bearded protagonists with slightly expansive movesets than the boys in Final Fight, you’ll need all your moves to deal with the mega-sized army that’s thrown in your face. The big crowd action never lets up at all, which is fine for this genre.
#3. Knights of the Round
Damn, that clashing sound when you do your screen-clearing attack and when you slash through a bad guy’s armour is memorable.
What this beat-em-up introduces is the ability to block. Unlike in King of Dragons, you can at least perform this without having god-like reflexes; it’s sorely needed since the many enemies here hit really, REALLY hard. I mean they have swords and all.
Beyond that, the cosmetic level-up system and the ability to ride horses while fighting the many different knights and ninja jesters are icing on the already-solid beat-em-up cake.
#2. Armored Warriors
Robots and beat em ups: mechas in video game pugilism always mix well together. Capcom did it with Armored Warriors, a three-player beat em up ahead of its time. The game’s big gimmick is interchangeable parts: you can pick up spare parts from destroyed robots and use them as your own. You can change your melee attack, your jumping commands, and even your weapons.
There are no limitations to what you can combine with, so you can create an amount of combos that suit your playstyle on the fly. Want to just barrel through foes with tank wheels and a missile cannon for your weaponry? Go right ahead and tear up that sumbitch for yourself. Want to Voltron it up with your two other pals? You can do that if you can coordinate this.
Other than that awesome gimmick, the gameplay, controls, and aesthetics are all great. From the little soldiers you can squash while traipsing around as a mecha to the explosions that litter the screen, it’s really strange why this awesome beat-em-up didn’t get a port prior to this collection. In fact, I’d heartily recommend this collection just for this game and our number one spot game, which is…
All of Capcom’s lessons from past beat em ups culminates to this gem of a title, which is basically the company’s last contribution to the aged genre. And it certainly went out with a huge bang. This Japanese love letter to 1950s sci-fi pits you as either a bounty hunter, a feline supermodel, a man-eating plant, an extending ice man person, and a pink ostrich. This motley crew have to fight off Elvis impersonators and mad scientists with giant craniums. Ah, to be a late 90s beat-em-up without a care in the world for suspension of disbelief.
Don’t let the absurd cast throw you off; this is one solid beat-em-up with tons of movesets and some throwbacks to past classic beat-em-ups. If you missed the juggling antics of Alien vs. Predator, they’re back in full form in Battle Circuit. If you want to grapple downed opponents and shoot out projectiles, this game has that in spades. Pulling off your crowd control and anti-air moves is as easy as pressing Down, Up, and Attack. There are no weapons to pick up here, but with these attacks on hand, you really don’t need them.
Battle Circuit also features an upgrade system where you can improve your default moves, change them up completely, or just extend your health and power-up stocks. Again, why wasn’t this gem ported outside of this collection back then? At the very least, the world now gets to see the insanity streak that is Battle Circuit.
I’ll be real with you: if this collection only had the top two games on the list, I’d still pay money for it rather than pay for the remaining 5 other games. The rest of the games are strictly products of their time and even though the 3-player option is welcome in most of them, I’d still pick Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit any day of the week.
Why? Because Capcom refined their beat-em-up formula and design knowhow to full effect in these two games. Good job with the collection, Capcom. It does serve as a reminder how far we’ve come with beat-em-ups and why they’re fun times while they lasted.