While it has always proved to be a popular genre, the one-on-one beat-‘em-up received a substantial power boost in 1991 with the release of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. This competitive fighting game by Capcom was also hugely successful with its home ports, the Super Nintendo System in particular, where it was estimated to have sold over six million copies. Naturally, this led to other publishers becoming green with envy, and clones (or copies, homages, or whatever you want to call it) were inevitable, both at home and in the arcades. And of course, with the original Street Fighter having been released several years earlier, the genre had already been producing over-muscled efforts since 1987. Antstream Arcade selects some of its favourite beat-‘em-ups and pitches them against each other, Street Fighter style, in a series of championship bouts to end all bouts…are you ready? Get set…HADOUKEN!
A match made in heaven – or hell! The two big gaming flops of 1994 face off in the first Antstream Championship bout. Sleek, muscled and looking impeccably cool, the ECO32-5 Cyborg from Rise Of The Robots exudes a mechanical menace that is sure to triumph against a gurning Shaquille (‘Shaq’) O’Neal. However, while looking the part, ECO32-5 has a limited skill set, and preens sluggishly around the ring as if in dire need of an oil change. Shaq (who definitely doesn’t need any oil, thank you) may be a 7ft 2inch towering beast, but he knows a thing or two about dodging slow, ineffective attacks thanks to his basketball experience. An impressive flying kick by the big man sees off ECO32-5 in the seventh round with a loud clang, simultaneously snuffing out the threat of an apocalyptic Skynet-style takeover. All hail the Shaq!
Result: Knockout to Shaq Fu in 7th Round
3D Ballz – was ever a game more aptly named? Controlling a collection of, erm, ballz, formed to make a range of combative creatures, it’s most definitely the underdog here, even up against the middling Clay Fighter. The battle of the squishy creatures begins cagily, no doubt helped by the lack of agility for both sets of characters. Blow after blow is absorbed by the soft bodies, until we are left with the two clowns: Boomer the circus clown from Ballz versus Bonker, the insane freak of Clay Fighter. It’s a close round, until Boomer’s extended reach (he can really stretch thoze ballz) and a swift dart between Bonker’s legs leaves the route clear for a brutal kick up the backside. The move is enough to secure Ballz a narrow points victory and leave its opponent crying translucent tears of clay.
Result: Points victory to Ballz
For our light welterweight bout, the array of varied creatures of Eternal Champions take on Fighter’s History, the game that was such an – ahem – homage to Street Fighter II, that Capcom saw fit to bring a lawsuit against its developer, Data East. The Sega game features nine fighters from throughout history, brought back to life and given a chance to be resurrected in a classic battle of good versus evil. Fighter’s History is a more conventional beat-‘em-up in terms of its competitors, as they take part in the Great Grapple, a martial arts contest organised by a mysterious emperor. Champions has an early advantage thanks to its superior athletes such as the agile acrobat Jetta and Atlantean warrior, Trident. Coolly dodging its opponents, the simplicity to Fighter’s History looks to have won the day, until its weakpoint system proves to be its undoing, and the Eternal Champions deliver a knockout blow. Now STAY down!
Result: Knockout to Eternal Champions in the 9th Round
This brace of tournament beat-‘em-ups both appeared in a wave of hype, with heavy advertising promoting the claims of each. In the future, the all-powerful corporation Ultratech organises the Killer Instinct competition, complete with a bridge to an alternate dimension from which some very strange competitors emerge. There are some pretty odd characters in Mortal Kombat, too, such as mercenary Kano, complete with cybernetic face and eye laser, and the element-controlling Raiden. So which would triumph in a head-to-head fight? The pretender, Killer Instinct, with its pounding combos, energetic soundtrack and neat finishing moves looks to have Midway’s game on the ropes. But you can’t keep an old hand down, and Mortal Kombat, with its series of innovative and blood-soaked fatalities, delivers a bone-crushing blow that cuts straight through the young challenger’s combo breaker.
Result: Knockout, then spine removal, to Mortal Kombat in the 3rd Round
The battle of the monsters! We couldn’t resist pitching these two behemoths of the beat-‘em-up genre against each other, and the result is predictably ground-shuddering. OK, so we’ve slightly cheated here (The King Of The Monsters games are more like scrolling brawlers than beat-‘em-ups), and Primal Rage riffs more on Mortal Kombat than Street Fighter II, but this was a match up too good to miss out on. Bloody and gory, the Atari game upset mothers everywhere thanks to its range of delightfully brutal finish moves, and to be frank, with its quaint little mutated creatures stomping all over tiny cities, King Of The Monsters offers little in the way of competition, despite the influence of Godzilla himself, or rather a very close likeness of. Stick to swatting at helicopters, big fella.
Result: Points win to Primal Rage
This is it. The heavyweight bout that sets the imperious Street Fighter II against SNK’s exciting Fatal Fury series. Like SFII, Fatal Fury had debuted earlier, before its second coming in 1992. Having introduced the King Of Fighters tournament in the first game (which would go on to form its own series of beat-‘em-ups), Fatal Fury 2 refined its graphics and almost tripled the number of playable characters from three to eight. There’s a dual plane of play as well, but c’mon, who are we kidding here? This is Street Fighter II, man! Further pioneering the combo system, a devastating set of moves that can’t be blocked by the opponent, the sheer memorability of its characters shines through over 25 years later. Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Blanka and the villainous M. Bison are names that strike fear in their adversaries. Nonetheless it’s a tight match for Antstream Arcade to call, such is our love for both series.
Result: In an extraordinary cop-out decision, the judges call the fight even! It’s a draw! Boooooo!