BEAT 'EM UP GAMES

The top five Spectrum beat 'em ups, the best of the rest, and a brief look at the genre.

1. WAY OF THE EXPLODING FIST

(Melbourne House - 1985)

The title that popularised the genre on the Spectrum. On its release in 1985 (and following an extensive advertising campaign), it became a best-seller and probably the most fondly-remembered of all beat 'em ups. It follows the standard best-of-three format, making use of excellent graphics and a changing series of vivid backdrops. Your task is to progress through the various Dan grades, using 18 possible moves to defeat your adversaries. Much imitated but rarely bettered, this is top limb-crunching fun. A dull sequel followed a year later, by which time the genre was already growing tired.

2. BRUCE LEE

(US Gold - 1985)

A conversion of a title that found success on Atari's 8-bit computers, Bruce Lee is not just a common garden variety fighting game, but also a platformer. You must jump, duck, kick and punch your way through a large, maze-like playing area to locate and defeat an evil wizard. Pursuing Bruce throughout the game are Ninja and Green Yamo, who need dispatching with your fists of fury. Points are scored by collecting lanterns and laying out opponents. There's also a useful two player mode, which puts one player in control of Bruce and the other in charge of Yamo. Cheesy and crude, but extremely popular at the time.

3. KUNG FU

(Bug Byte - 1984)

Kung Fu was released hot on the heels of Karate Champ, which introduced arcade goers to the one-on-one fighting game, and was the first of its kind to appear on the home computer. It is somewhat limited compared with later titles, especially in your number of attacking moves (four), and the relentless, trilling music drives you bonkers after a while. Nonetheless, it manages to combine attractive line graphics and the traditional best-of-three system to considerable effect. There's also an action-replay function, so you can watch your opponent having his teeth kicked in one more time.

4. INTERNATIONAL KARATE

(System 3 - 1985)

This type of game suffered at the hands of the self-copying trend more than most and this, frankly, was one of the less impressive beat 'em ups to appear. However, it clearly left an impression on many people, because here it is at number four. There's very little that International Karate does that you won't find done better elsewhere. It has a couple of tricks up its sleeve: some synthesized speech and a whopping 16 moves to master. But the speech is garbled, and extracting that number of kicks and punches from your fighter is too fiddly to be worth the trouble.

5.  YIE AR KUNG FU

(Imagine - 1985)

Another fighting game from 1985, this one released by Ocean under the Imagine label, which it purchased after the latter's demise. Yie Ar Kung Fu has enough new features to make this conversion of Konami's arcade original a significant title in the genre. It was the first to introduce the idea of different characters to the beat 'em up, a concept later taken to new heights by the Street Fighter and Tekken series. Although the actual fighting format differs little from other beat 'em ups, it remains one of the best of its kind made for the Spectrum. The inevitable sequel showed up the following year.

Of all arcade genres, the beat 'em up is among the youngest. The first of its kind was Data East's Karate Champ, which appeared in arcades in 1984. Later that year, the home computer received its first example in the form of Bug Byte's Kung Fu for the Spectrum. These games defined the now accepted format of one-on-one fighting in a best-of-three environment.

 

It was not until Melbourne House's Way of the Exploding Fist in 1985 that things really took off for the beat 'em  up. It started a bandwagon that every major software house jumped on, introducing some minor developments along the way. Imagine's Yie Ar Kung Fu was the first game to introduce the concept of different fighting characters, while US Gold's Bruce Lee combined violent mayhem with platform gaming. 

Like scrolling shooters, beat 'em ups became the focus of frantic self-copying during the mid-1980s. With such a rigid format, even the slickest titles struggled to offer anything that hadn't been seen before, and interest soon began to wane. A genre that only really arrived in 1985 had burnt itself out by the end of the following year.

1987's Renegade and its sequels breathed some life into the Spectrum fighting game, and the arrival in the arcade of Capcom's Streetfighter put it back on its feet. Increasing reliance on tricky-to-master 'special moves' put off casual gamers, but were an ideal hook for the burgeoning console scene of the early 1990s, where players had more time on their hands.

On the Spectrum, adventure and strategy elements found their way into beat 'em ups, but their greatest appeal lay in enabling two players to compete against each other. From Pong to the Tekken series, computers have always provided the perfect platform on which to humiliate a friend in a head-to-head contest. 

 
The best of the rest

Fighting Warrior (Melbourne House-1985)
Another fighting game from the makers of Exploding Fist. This time you are an Egyptian warrior, who must cross a desert landscape to rescue a princess from a wicked Pharaoh. Along the way you meet a variety of enemies who must be dispatched with your trusty sword. Quite an odd game in that rather than being transported from screen to screen in the traditional manner, you wander across a scrolling landscape and find your opponents walking the other way. 

Fist 2 (Melbourne House - 1986)
The inevitable sequel to Way of the Exploding Fist. Melbourne House tried to shake up the format by introducing exploration to your mission of duffing up baddies, but unfortunately this simply meant tedious delays between the fun stuff, which blunted the game's enjoyment. Inferior graphics to the original doesn't help matters.

Kai Temple (Firebird - 1986)
One of the better budget beat 'em ups, which isn't saying much. The graphics are rudimentary, the sound cruddy and the number of attacking moves limited, but it has one trick up its sleeve: the screen occasionally turns upside down to make the job of battling ninjas even trickier. 

Kung Fu Master (US Gold - 1986)
An arcade conversion and not a very good one. Your mission is to battle through five floors of a temple to rescue a damsel in distress. Graphics and gameplay are iffy, to say the least, making this one for enthusiasts only. By this stage, interest in the genre was beginning to wane and games such as this are the reason why.

Shao Lin's Road (The Edge - 1986)
The Edge got one over on Ocean by pinching the licence to this Yie Ar Kung Fu follow-up, which had been released on Ocean's Imagine label. Like Bruce Lee, there are platforms to negotiate, and your hero can capture the souls of dispatched enemies and use them as magic fireballs to knock over opponents. Whether these flourishes are enough to mark it apart from the crowd is a matter of opinion.

Way of the Tiger (Gremlin - 1986)
One of the best of the genre. Your task is to achieve the lofty status of Ninja by competing in a number of different events: unarmed combat, pole fighting and Samurai sword fighting. The graphics are superb, but be warned - it is fiendishly difficult. There was a sequel called Avenger released the same year, but it was more of a top-down Gauntlet-style game than a traditional beat 'em up. 

© 2017 R.Tayler