Retro beat ’em up games, also known as “brawlers”, are a specific type of fighting game in which the player must advance through the level while fighting off a large number of enemies using only melee combat and weapons. These types of games rose in popularity during the late 1980s but practically fell off the map by 1992 with players shifting to ‘one-on-one’ fighting games, like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. With there being so many different types of brawlers available for you to play it, can be hard deciding which ones are even worth your time. To help, we have compiled a list of the top ten beat ’em up games made with pixel graphics. This way you don’t miss out on anything.
Top 10 Retro Beat ’em Up Games With Pixel Graphics
#10 – Battletoads in Battlemaniacs
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is a retro beat ’em up game for the Super Nintendo that was released in 1993 by Rare. The game itself follows two ‘Battletoads’ on a mission to defeat the terrible Silas Volkmire and Dark Queen and stop them from taking over their world. Most stages of the game employ basic beat ’em up gameplay but some allow the player to control a vehicle. This adds a level of much-needed variety to the genre. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is widely considered the most difficult beat ’em up games with pixel graphics ever released. The Battletoads series became so popular that at one point it even crossed over with Double Dragon to create one of the most popular video game mash-ups of all time.
#9 – Comix Zone
Comix Zone is an extremely unique arcade-style beat ’em up video game that was originally released in 1995 as a Sega Genesis exclusive. What sets this game apart from other games is its original Comic Book style. All dialogue is displayed with speech bubbles because all game scenes take place within the panels of a comic . The game’s plot revolves around a comic book artist named ‘Sketch Turner’ who is tossed into his own comic book by its primary villain, Mortus, after a magical lighting storm. Every two pages count as a single level and you must travel from panel to panel to complete the stage.
#8 – Double Dragon
Double Dragon was released in 1987 and is often considered the first successful example of a beat ’em up game. The game was so popular it was followed by a couple of sequels and lead to other companies creating their own beat ’em ups. Many people consider its fame responsible for jump-started the entire genre. Double Dragon was an incredibly fun and yet simple game that followed the basic beat ’em up formula. Players choose between Hammer and Spike, twin brother martial artists, as they rescue Hammer’s girlfriend from the Black Warriors gang.
#7 – X-Men: The Arcade Game
X-Men is a side-scrolling beat ’em arcade game that was released by Konami in 1992. It is based on the Marvel Comics characters of the same name. During gameplay, players could choose between six playable X-Men to defeat their archenemy Magneto. The fighting is pretty generic, as with all beat ’em ups, with basic melee combos and stage clearing special moves. But the high-quality sprites make it one of the best-looking arcade games ever created. This has always been one of my personal favorite games because of all the memories. Teaming up with 5 random kids in an arcade and working together to stop Magneto. Colossus for the Win!
#6 – Streets Of Rage
Streets of Rage is one of the most popular side-scrolling beat ’em up games ever created. The game was originally released in 1991 on the Sega Genesis. But has since been ported to the Game Gear, Sega CD, Sega Master System, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and even the iOS. The gameplay allows for you to choose between three ex-police officers(Adam, Axel, Blaze) as playable characters. You must then fight their way through the city trying to take down a criminal syndicate involving violent gangs, corrupt cops, and powerful organizations. One of the more interesting features of the game doesn’t come until the end. When the player has the ability to choose whether you wish to take over the syndicate or take it out.
#5 – The Simpsons Arcade Game
The Simpsons Arcade Game is an arcade fighting game that was developed by Konami in 1991 that allows up to four players to play simultaneously. The gameplay follows the Simpsons as they attempt to rescue Maggie(the younger child) from the clutches of the billionaire tycoon Monty Burns. Each member of the family has an entertaining array of attacks based on their personality. This fun feature makes you want to give them all equal playtime. The storyline barely makes sense but getting to fight your way through all your favorite locations in Springfield makes up for it tenfold. The entertaining action and nostalgic graphics make this one of the best retro beat ’em up games ever made.
#4 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is one of the top ten fighting games with pixel graphics because not only is it based on beloved characters it is also a truly great game. Originally an arcade game, Turtles in Time was ported to the SNES in 1992 with various alterations to the gameplay. The plot focuses on the turtles attempting to save the Statue of Liberty from their primary antagonist, Shredder. To do this they must travel through time portals and fight their way through various mobs and defeat bosses. If your a true fan of the beat ’em up genre you have to give this game a shot. Grabbing ‘Foot Soldiers’ and tossing them towards the screen provides you with a level of satisfaction that few games have been able to provide ever since.
#3 – Golden Axe
Golden Axe is a medieval-fantasy themed hack ‘n’ slash game that was released in 1989 by Sega. You get to choose from three characters seeking revenge on the evil Death Adder, the dictator of Yuria, who is responsible for the death of their friend. The popularity of the game has led to 3 direct sequels and just as many equally enjoyable spinoffs. One of the most exciting features of the game is the mounts. In Golden Axe, you have the ability to ride on and attack your enemies with various animals. This was a refreshing new feature to the genre rather than using the generic weapon pickups seen in most games. This gave the entire game an original feel despite the generic gameplay.
#2 – Final Fight
Final Fight is a side-scrolling beat-’em-up video game that was released in 1989 and produced by Capcom to complete with the popularity of Double Dragon. The game takes place in the fictional city overrun by the Mad Gear gang called ‘Metro City’. During gameplay, the player gets to choose between three rememberable characters named Mike Haggar, Cody, and Guy. You then fight your way through colorful levels to rescue Haggar’s daughter and destroy the gang once and for all.
#1 – River City Ransom
River City Ransom is an open world beat ’em up game with action role-playing elements that was released in 1989. While the game was originally only released for the Family Computer and NES it has since been remade countless times. The game itself centers around a couple of high school students named Alex and Ryan. And as usual, they must fight the way through the streets of River City to save Ryan’s girlfriend. The enemies are in gangs themed after classic high school cliches such as “Jocks”, “Frat Guys” or “Squids”. This allows you to relive your teenage years and finally let out some of that bent up aggression. River City Ransom will always be one of the most beloved retro beat ’em up games ever created because of its non-linear approach to the genre.
Are any of the games we listed one of your favorites? Did we miss a great game on our list of the Top 10 Retro Beat ’em Up Games with Pixel Graphics? If you answered YES to either of these questions we would love to hear about it in the comments.