Digital Butt Kicking!!
Classic beat 'em up video game brawls remembered.
I am not a violent man by nature, I mostly like to read and watch movies as opposed to picking fights at bars or entering local Toughman competitions. But as we all know, it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Even as a kid I accepted more beatings than I administered. Luckily I had a lot of extra padding built into my body, so the only thing that got hurt was my pride.
I tried Karate, but I quit after getting my yellow belt and the fact that I never earned an autographed picture of Chuck Norris from my Karate Instructor (who was trained by the bearded one) made me a little bitter as well.
The only other time I attempted to satisfy my bloodlust was watching UFC 4 at my friend's house, but even then I was tense with the anticipation of seeing actual violence (back then it was still considered an outlaw/underground sport).
There is one realm, however, where I enjoy seeing the pugilistic arts displayed in all their knuckle-cracking, rib snapping glory: VIDEO GAMES!
I have always been a fan of violent games, not GORY games, VIOLENT games! Notice I also did not describe them as FIGHTING games either, although Mortal Kombat I-III, Street Fighter II and the Marvel vs. Capcom series were all enjoyable for a few minutes every now & again.
The secret word here is VIOLENT (Cue the Pee-Wee's Playhouse Gang: "AAAAAAHHHHH!")and the category: Beat 'Em Ups.
Like many others I first experienced the joys of digital butt-kicking with the classic gang-fight masterpiece Double Dragon on NES. I was too young to go the arcade by myself, but I wasn't too young to sit in my living room and bash a guy's face into my kneecap!
The game was so perfectly put together, from the rockin' keyboard music that blasted in the background as you kicked a brown haired guy in the stomach and then threw him by said hair over your shoulder, to the gradually gained fighting abilities like the jumpkick, etc.
I can't say I ever beat the game, but I never got tired of the first 2 levels. How could I when there were so many weapons with which to defeat my funky foes? Everything from whips, to knives, to recently lit M-80's ready to explode in their street punk faces. Within the first minute of gameplay I could even climb a chain-link fence and kick another guy off, resulting in his ultimate demise.
For the physically weak, this was a sense of true empowerment, especially when using the same trick to knock an Abobo off the end of a conveyor belt or a purple hammer pants wearing stage boss from the top of a construction site. As I said before, all this excitement is coming from playing the first 2 levels, imagine if I had actually been able to pass that stage with the caves or fought those green Abobos I've heard so much about, I'd be writing a book!
The original was so perfect I never bothered to play Double Dragon II, III much or the one where they teamed up with the Battletoads. Although I did see a story scene from one of the sequels once and it always cracked me up that they referred to the brothers as "Jimmy and Bimmy Lee". Can anyone back me up on this besides my brother? "Bimmy Lee", I swear!
Speaking of Battletoads, there's another classic that most people never beat, but was so fun you didn't care. The programmers really gave it an extra UMPH by having your foot turn into a boot when you kicked a Pig-Man into oblivion.
I thought I was the coolest kid in the world when I figured out how to turn my Toad into a bird-smashing anvil on the cavern repelling level. When the joy of that conquest wore off I decided to look back at the origins of the genre.
Eventually I did get my hands on a copy of the NES classic "Kung-Fu" but was not impressed by the monotonous barrage of carbon copy enemies and limited attacks. I don't want to defend myself against the bad guys, I want to BREAK BONES!
I don't need David Carradine's pacifist Kung-Fu, I need Bruce Lee's patented kill 'em before their bodies hit the floor Kung-Fu! WHAAAOOOAOOOOWWWAAAA-AH!
Some of you might be saying, "What about Contra, Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden? Those are violent side-scrollers, too." True, but these characters have an unfair advantage in the violence game, a permanent weapon. These "Tough Guys" have a gun, whip or sword at all times to fight their battles for them.
In my opinion it's easy to be big man while you've got Spread Shot, but it takes a whole different breed to set out for revenge with only your fists and feet to protect you.
By the time Super NES and Genesis came out the genre had really grown in popularity and style. The graphics were great, so you could see the pain in your enemy's eyes and your characters actually had muscle definition. The long running Final Fight series was the defining beat 'em up game for the SNES in my opinion.
I have also heard the name Captain Commando thrown around, but from what I understand he was bionic, so of course he could beat up criminal scum with ease. CHEAP!
Final Fight had an awesome set-up. Just imagine your local Mayor throwing on some grungy pants and slinging a belt over his shoulder so he can go fight thugs in the street. I always thought Haggar should have been able to get an endorsement deal from Haggar slacks, so he could at least kick butt in style.
Any other side scrolling beat 'em up game on the SNES owed its format to Haggar and his street brawling buddies. Games like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and subsequent sequels come to mind.
I always felt like Sega did a little better job with their brawling games in this era, graphics-wise at least. Starting out with the classic Altered Beast (which originally came with the Genesis before Sonic appeared on the scene), they took the fight out of the streets and into the Roman Empire.
The "Centurions" you controlled were so hardcore, they didn't even wear pants and as soon as you got a power up from a glowing orb you were too ripped for your shirt/toga as well.
There was plenty of zombie and evil blob kicking to be done and eventually you even turned into a Wolf-Man or a Dragon-Dude which was cool, but you never needed a weapon-it was all you.
Streets of Rage on Genesis brought a woman into the fray, I'm pretty sure Blaze was the first female to be included as a playable character in a game like this. YOU GO GIRL! Roundhouse kick to the walls of oppression!
I remember the comic book ads for the game always made a big deal about the huge array of attacks you could employ, displaying each one in the background. It even warranted two more sequels in my game playing years, maybe it's even extended past that now.
Then came my personal favorite, "Maximum Carnage" featuring Spider-Man and Venom. Based on the very overrated, but cool-at-the-time comic book mini-series, this thing was meant to be a video game.
The comic was just page after page of battles against the symbiote-powered serial-killer Cletus Kasaday aka Carnage and his lackeys. Truthfully, the story really wasn't all that important, oh wait, there was no story!
I was just excited to have a Spider-Man who wasn't limited to web swings and weak punches like in the impossible "Spider-Man and the X-Men: Arcade's Revenge" LAME!
My favorite memory of the Maximum Carnage game, besides the millions of random thugs from Final Fight that I beat to a pulp, was playing it with my friend Ranu.
Ranu had only been in the states a few years so he still had a pretty heavy accent and he pronounced all his "V's" as "W's", so we'd be playing and he'd say, "Ohh, look at what I did with Wenom! Man, Wenom is the best!" It always gave me a chuckle and yes, I'm a jerk.
I always had a memorable experience at Ranu's house, like the time he told me that the reason the singer Seal has scars on his face was because he used to be a slave. I guess they had different history books in India and according to their scholars the U.S. had just finished up the Civil War in 1982 or something.
When I went to an arcade I quickly bypassed Tekken, Cruisin' USA and Aerosmith's Revolution X, proceeding as quickly as possible to the latest game with a guy or girl punching another guy or girl while walking along a graffiti-covered street. Usually the characters were wearing some form of ripped denim or chains, but they could also be found sporting red/orange/blue/purple bandanas, blue/yellow spandex or pearls with a lime green dress.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the arcade game was always packed when I would go to Bullwinkle's Family fun center, so I'd have to kill time in the rocket that slowly moved up and down while different colored lights flashed.
When it was finally my chance to throw in a couple quarters I always chose Donatello because I like his reach with the Bo staff. I loved watching the foot soldiers explode after defeating them, there were just so many of them. Plus the building was on fire, so I didn't have time to waste.
The sequel, Turtles in Time, was okay, but instead of a picture of April O'Neil on the cabinet we got guys in fluffy TMNT costumes, which didn't quite have the same appeal as a sassy redhead in a yellow jumpsuit. When I was done with the "Green Team", I usually moved onto those mighty mutants, the X-Men.
The great thing about the X-men game was that each character was actually unique, in both attack style and special powers. The four player cabinet was alright, but I loved playing on the double screen version with all the 6 players on-screen.
But this was pretty rare, since no one ever wanted to be Dazzler. Freakin' Dazzler! My mutant of choice was always Nightcrawler, next to Spider-Man he was my favorite super-hero growing up. His quickness was his main draw and making him jump on the evil robots until they exploded was rad.
The coolest audio on the game was when Colossus would unleash his secret power (just a big energy burst) and scream "Awww-aaahhh!". It always sounded like someone screaming into a fan, lots of vibrato. I finally beat the game about 6 months ago at our local arcade here in Phoenix, Castles and Coasters, a childhood dream come true.
While TMNT and X-Men had violence built into their very concept, The Simpsons arcade game was quite a departure from the usual adventures of the TV show.
That isn't to say it wasn't really, really, fun to play! You could choose any of the four Simpsons to enlist on the quest to save Maggie from Mr. Burns and Smithers, but I usually chose Homer.
Lisa was too weak, Marge had a heavy vacuum to carry and Bart was always fiddling with his skateboard. Homer on the other hand, was a Big Fat Dynamo looking for a fight. Oh the joy of punching old white-haired guys of varying weights and the occasional guy in a rabbit costume.
Beating up the trees was just as fun since you could get delicious snacks from them, until you got too greedy and the real rabbit would tell you to get lost. I tried to beat this classic at Castles and Coasters, too recently, but I had to get to an appointment and left the task to another day.
You know what? I'm so pumped from talking about it, I'm going to go kick some digital butt tonight! Watch out Lindas! Beware Abobos! Bimmy Lee it coming to town tonight and he's bringing the fight with him! Whoa, Bimmy!