The olden days of the arcade marked the beginning of gaming as a whole. It led to the rise of some of the biggest mascots, franchises, and genres. The most popular, coin-draining, and time-consuming was the beat em’ up genre. With the move from 2D sprite animation to 3D, the genre had a substantial decline, mainly because nobody made beat em’ ups anymore.
The past decade made it clear that players are still eager for this kind of game, and during the past few years, we’ve seen numerous announcements that could lead to a revival of the genre. This will be a quick dive into the history of beat em’ up games during the closing years of the 2010s. And a sneak peek at the upcoming Streets of Rage 4, one that might resurrect the genre as a whole.
The End of a Decade
While the last decade had some great beat em’ ups, River City Girls defined what it meant to be a part of that legacy. The joy of beating up thugs, all while upgrading your favorite character from scratch. You would always start weak and progress through power-ups and unlockables. The series has been kicking butts since the NES era, so it comes as no surprise that this new addition manages to do great on so many levels. This new addition was very refreshing, adding tones of tweaks and gimmicks that encouraged the player to give it a spin, multiple times. And with such a neat style, how could it not garner a positive reception? It was only the first taste of what’s to come, however.
Streets on Fire
Streets of Rage was the king of the genre. There were many like it, but none that had the same charm. Yet, everybody got a chance to evolve, try something new. Lizardcube Studio, on the other hand, wanted something more, something better. All new hand-drawn animations and the same cast as before, and Streets of Rage 4 was born. Much like the game release itself, the plot of the fourth installment takes place decades after the end of the trilogy.
Axel, Blaze, and Adam all return in this new installment alongside newcomer Cherry, and more. With new gameplay features, similar to that of River City, but with the art style of Wonder Boy Remake, we can expect this to be a breaking point. The one game to return and breathe new life into a dead genre.
The game features the ability to pick and play with ease, tight and responsive controls, and an easy to learn, yet hard to master combo system. We had our fair share of trying out this gem at GamesCon, and we did have concerns. But the moment we took the 30-minute demo for a spin, it engrossed us even more. Waves of enemies beaten down to a bloody pulp never felt so satisfying. Each character, with their unique attacks and combos and the rush of adrenaline, is there. There is still the plot we haven’t uncovered, but with games like these, you don’t need an Oscar-winning story. Though it can add a lot to the experience.
Some say that a contributing series in the genre also comes from SEGA’s long-running franchise, Yakuza. While declaring itself more of an action-adventure, elements of a classic beat em’ up are present. From the way protagonists battle opponents on the street to the way they level up their fighting stats. Sharing the same publisher as Streets of Rage, one can’t argue that it had an impact on one of the best games today.
How Could It Return?
The big question is, why? Why could this specific beat em’ up be so unique that it reinvents the genre? Well, its popularity should speak for itself. Fan creations using the original Streets of Rage games were made, most notably by PC users, via OpenBor. It is through these fan creation many got their first taste of the genre in the modern-day. Who is to say that its popularity won’t inspire many to create similar ones? One of the most recent and ambitious titles in the making is Limestone Games’ Aeon Must Die.
Taking the 2D hand-drawn animations to new heights, Limestone aims to create a more 2.5D brutal coop experience, rather than just a simple pick and play. Adding classes into the mix, instead of characters, this already smells like an exceptional coop experience. But its release date has still not been revealed yet. Much like Lizardcube’s own title, all we know is that it’s coming in 2020. What you should look forward to is the variety of platforms on which you will be able to play it. And with remasters of traditional old school beat em ups like Dragons Crown, who says the genre is dead and gone? The way I see it, it’s making a comeback.