Let's explore together the history of the 2-dimensional Beat them Up! Creations, innovations, important events, and everything that has improved, or revolutionized it, so beloved by players and now gone... I will not attempt here to enumerate one by one the titles that have inhabited this small world, said that for the most demanding readers, I still have the 2D BEAT THEM UP FULL LIST to provide. Almost any player worthy of the name knows about what it refers when speaking of "Beat 'em Up" or "Beat them All." There is also often confusion between the two terms (which incidentally means the same kind) and it is useful to explain to younger ones this amalgam. These barbarians english terms designating a particular type of game, appeared in the eighties, with the rise of home consoles and the "amazing" video game press. Shoot them Up, Beat them Up, RPG and other abominations then flourished in the mouths of schoolchildren, brooding lines read in their bedside magazines.
In the early nineties, when the "Versus Fighting" became a popular genre, with the arrival of Street Fighter II and its competitors, some of the press and the public separated games into two categories: Beat 'em Up have been used for a short time to designate VS fighting games, whereas Beat em all was used for what was so called before the "Beat 'em Up". All seemed more appropriate since "all" as we can imagine, several enemies to fight. The rest of the story, you know it: the versus games would eventually be named VS fighting games or fighting games, or 2D fighters. And fighting games like "Double Dragon" were called Beat them Up or Beath them All by younger players . So: Beat 'em Up = "Beat them All" = Double Dragon!
The Prehistory (1984-1985)
It all began in 1984. Until then, video games were only about shooting (Galaga, Space Invaders and others), maze games like Pac-Man, and some two-colors racing games seen from above, in a genre rather stuttering. Boxing has been honored with a few titles (Rocky on CBS, Boxing Champion...) but nothing that looks like a street fight, one man against a gang, in short, the type was not born yet. The first publisher to venture is Irem. This one made this very year a title that will make headlines and give many ideas to its rival firms: Kung-Fu Master. Running on the M62 hardware of the firm, the game is also known as "Spartan X" in Japan. It is based on an action film with Jackie Chan, naming Wheels on Meals in our latitudes (which you should find easily on Nanarland). It was designed by Takashi Nishiyama, a designer who will become famous in the video game industry, since this guy will also become the father of Street Fighter, King of Fighters and Fatal Fury ... an impressive pedigree, right? Ah, the story of Kung-Fu Master, yes! Let's get back to it. Like most recent BTU, the scenario in these type of games have to be understood by all: we just need a good reason to destroy some dudes in a street. A villain has kidnapped a nice girl, and this nice girl is your girlfriend, to you, Thomas. The bad guy was not lucky with this, as you're an expert in martial arts and go through the five floors of the house in search of your sweetheart and secondarily for kicking violently his ass. The wicked.
The game uses simple principles and takes place on a single 'line': it is not possible to move in 'depth', it's just about fighting on two dimensions, length and height, since it is possible to jump or to crouch. The game is scrolling, but surprisingly, the action takes place from right to left and back again with each new stage. Confusing at first! Two moves are possible, punch and kick. So of course we can combine everything, crouched kick, jumped punch, etc etc, it's still relatively complete for a precursor of the genre! The game is cleared in less than ten minutes (with a little practice) but the players are finally able to enjoy the gaming pleasure to kick asses and punch faces, with Kung-Fu Master' sound effects being relatively good back in its time!
Kung-Fu Master is a small revolution in the world of video games. Its gameplay never seen before, was getting players sticked to the arcades and left them dreaming about other games in the same vein, with even more elements and improved gameplay. Ported on all consoles and computers of this era (Atari, Apple II, NES, Commodore, CPC, Spectrum, and even Game Boy) the game knows an impressive commercial success and will even inspire a movie! Another title was released the same year, by Taito: Chinese Hero. Certainly less catchy, the game is also a Beat 'em Up, for once, exploring the genre in very different way. Here, no scrolling, the action takes place on fixed 3/4 screen with a view point à la Zelda III. Three buttons are used: punch, kick and jump. You need to "clean up" each level of enemies who are trying to beat you to reach the next. There are Bosses and correct a variety of opponents (about six or seven different enemies + bosses) like Kung-Fu Master, but in Chinese Hero you move differently (width + length) and the gameplay is still quite different.
Many japanese developers got into the breach, and in the months that follow each featured their own little fighting games! These include among others, Taito with his Samurai Nihon-Ichi and Lady Master of Kung Fu (1985), Sega's My Hero packing hallucinatory collision tests and Data East, which is trying it à la sauce 'flying robots', with Metal Clash (also 1985). Every developer explores this very new kind of game in different directions, most unsuccessfully groping and a few other leading to some nice results.