The YS Complete Guide To Beat-'em-ups
Published in the May 1990 YS53 issue
Download links for:
 Advanced Ninja Simulator   Barbarian   Bruce Lee   International Karate   Kung Fu Master   Target Renegade   Way Of The Exploding Fist 
Tipshop links for:
 Advanced Ninja Simulator   Barbarian   Bruce Lee   International Karate   Kung Fu Master   Target Renegade   Way Of The Exploding Fist 
YS Scan Beat-'em-ups, eh? There've been oodles of them gracing the Speccy over the years, haven't there? So many in fact that it's easy-peasy to get your Exploding Fists mixed up with your International Karates and end up with absolutely no idea where you are. But not any more, 'cos here's the Definitive Guide To Beat-'Em-Ups.
    Before we start, let's get one thing straight - beat-'em-ups are not boring, and if you think they are then you've got it all wrong. On the contrary, they're jolly interesting. And, rather than all being exactly the same, they're highly individual affairs, each with their own subtleties and nuances. To assume otherwise exhibits a total ignorance of the creativity and skill that go into making what has become one of the stalwarts of the computer games industry.
So what constitutes a 'beat-'em-up'?
Obviously, the beating up of one or more characters is an essential part of the gameplay. Whether this is done with one's hands or a weapon depends on the game. Purists tend to frown upon the use of shurikens, big sticks and other instruments, but it's a sad fact that in these days you're unlikely to rescue your princess without some sort of mechanical assistance. The setting is also important. The summit of Mount Yukahomo is ideal, or perhaps the imperial palace of the Dragon Master, but an oriental atmosphere is a definite must.
    In its traditional form the beat-'em-up takes place on a single screen, with your opponents tackling you one at a time. Variations, however, include the scrolling beat-'em-up (with the bonus of tackling two or more adversaries at once) and the full scale flip-screen, multi-level version with add-on weapons, puzzles to solve and an embossment of up to three initials. Whichever incarnation it appears in, a beat-'em-up is not to be taken lightly. A sharp eye, lightning reflexes and an elephantine memory (for learning all those moves) are needed, along with the finest joystick available.
"That's easy," you exclaim. "Way Of The Exploding Fist!" But you'd be wrong. The first-ever beat-'em-up, the father of them all, the seed from which all future offerings stemmed forth, and of which all others are but pale imitations, was none other than Kung Fu, from a long-forgotten label called Bug-Byte.
    A very primitive construction, it had all the ingredients of the real thing (including tinkly music). The rest, as they say, is, erm... oh, well you know.
As beat-'em-ups tend to transcend all normal ratings systems, we've adopted a special one for the purposes of this guide. The categories are as follows...
Inscrutability: How well does it capture that all-important oriental feel? New York ghetto settings aren't really on.
Wince Factor: Do you want to curl up and die every time a knee gets planted in your groin, or is it about as traumatic as a merry jig of morris dancing?
Versatility: Is it just left, right, up, down and fire, or does every joystick direction do something radically different?
Eastern Promise: What does the future hold? Pride of place in your collection or a dusty grave under the bed?
Way Of The Exploding Fist
Melbourne House

The game that launched a thousand others. Known simply as Fist to its millions of fans, this laid the foundations for all that were to follow, and without doubt remains the most famous beat-'em-up of all time.
    Classic moves brought to us in Fist for the first time were the unsporting but very rewarding punch-in-the-stomach, the boot-in-the-back-of-the-head and the useful kick-in-the-shins. This last move, unfortunately, proves to be the game's downfall (in one-player mode at least), as its repeated use leads to attainment of 10th Dan level within minutes.
    Sonically Fist remains perfect. Music is restricted to a marvellously irritating tune at the start of each level, and the sound effects still bring tears to the eyes. The graphics, too, are exemplary.
    Unfortunately, rather than bow out and watch all the others scrambling onto the bandwagon, Melbourne House decided to hang in there. Fist's follow-up was the forgettable Fighting Warrior, then the distinctly average Fist II. The final humiliation was Exploding Fist +, almost a direct copy of International Karate +. Nonetheless, Melbourne House was there first, and can be held entirely responsible for the situation today.
83° Inscrutability: 94 Wince Factor: 73
Versatility: 68 Eastern Promise: 82


International Karate
System 3

While being a shameful copy of Fist in most ways, International Karate managed to introduce a few novel features. The main one was the 'International' bit, which means that the game is played against a series of backdrops representing various parts of the world. Then there was speech, which is about as successful as always on the Speccy. And finally the bonus screens. Hmm.
    Other than that, International Karate is about as standard a beat-'em-up as you're likely to see. It doesn't quite have the slickness of Fist, and is definitely lacking when it comes to excruciating crunches and things, but it makes a reasonable attempt at animation which is something.
    International Karate +, the sequel, startled us all with the introduction of a third character.
74° Inscrutability: 75 Wince Factor: 66
Versatility: 68 Eastern Promise: 79


Bruce Lee
US Gold

Bruce Lee comes from roughly the same era as Fist, but shows its age rather more severely. Apart from just beating people up. Bruce has to dash about collecting lamps and avoiding being killed by various hazards. The game takes place in a multi-screen fortress, the object being to destroy a wizard on the last screen.
    Unfortunately the available moves are restricted to punching and kicking, so it's hardly a proper beat-'em-up at all. The graphics are rubbish, with minuscule characters and clumsy scenery. There's virtually no feeling of pain at all, which is surely essential in a beat-'em-up. And worst of all it's far to easy.
    Despite these complaints, Bruce Lee is a bit on the historical side (what with being the first collect- and beat-'em-up combined), so one shouldn't be too hard on it.
44° Inscrutability: 87 Wince Factor: 32
Versatility: 36 Eastern Promise: 48


Advanced Ninja Simulator

It was inevitable that, given the piles of money everyone else was making out of them, the cheapie labels would have a crack at the beat-'em-ups too. And, of course, the results were quite horrendous. With the bare minimum of moves, appalling graphics, dreadful music and complete lack of any fresh ideas. Advanced Ninja Simulator is about as typical a budget game as you're likely to get.
    And it doesn't matter that they only managed to sell three copies of it. It was also released as Kung Fu Simulator, BMX Ninja Hero, All-Terrain Dragon Ninja Combat Simulator and countless other things. They made piles out of it.
    Up the revolution!
05° Inscrutability: 9 Wince Factor: 100
Versatility: 2 Eastern Promise: 1


Kung Fu Master
US Gold

I'm probably wrong, but I'd say Kung Fu Master was the first scrolling beat-'em-up to arrive on the scene, and possibly even the first conversion of an arcade beat-'em-up. It's also absolutely terrible (and no question there).
    Although the arcade version was very popular, despite its rather restricted gameplay, US Gold really fouled up with the conversion. The graphics are absolutely chronic, with colour-clash everywhere, and the whole thing plays as if it's underwater. There's also the diabolical music to worry about.
    However, Kung Fu Master does contain a number of milestones. Apart from the scrolling it also introduced the idea of multiple opponents, some of whom are armed with nasty weapons, and the end-of-level guardians can still cause some hassle.
30° Inscrutability: 53 Wince Factor: 45
Versatility: 58 Eastern Promise: 22



Now we're talking. Although there isn't a single kimono or droopy moustache in sight, and swords rather than hands are used for carving people up, Barbarian is easily the most agonisingly painful game ever released. There's blood literally everywhere, with continuous slaughter the order of the day.
    Some of the most memorable moves in beat-'em-up history are featured in Barbarian. Not to be missed is the now-legendary spin-round-and-chop-his-head-off manoeuvre, but the head-butt shouldn't be overlooked, and nor should the stylish poke-in-the-eye.
    There are plenty of gimmicks too. Like the little bloke who comes on after each game to remove corpses and severed body parts. And the little shrug your warrior gives you when you ignore him for too long.
    Yes, Barbarian is one of my faves. All it lacks is that essential oriental atmosphere. You could always go for a take-away afterwards of course.
91° Inscrutability: 7 Wince Factor: 96
Versatility: 91 Eastern Promise: 93


Target Renegade

Like Barbarian, the Renegade series avoided the stereotypical martial arts confrontation, and instead went for a modern-day 'street' setting. It still comes out on top.
    Target Renegade, like its predecessor Renegade and its successor Renegade III, was one of the new generation of flip-screen beat-'em-ups with add-on weapons and a wide array of opponents to take on. Some of the best are the motorbike riders and the whip-equipped 'ladies of the night'. The range of moves available is mind-boggling, for example the grab-him-by-the-shoulders-and-knee-him-in-the-groin, and even the toss-him-over-your-shoulder-and-hopefully-off-a-cliff-too.
    The playability has been finely tuned, and everything runs at a perfect speed. The difficulty level is also spot on, easing you into it gently and then planting one right where it hurts most.
90° Inscrutability: 38 Wince Factor: 90
Versatility: 93 Eastern Promise: 89



It's not as hard as it looks actually. Here are a few essential ingredients...
    Pain, and lots of it! Agonised grimaces should be accompanied bye eye-watering squelching noises when appropriate.
    Music, of the tinkly, eastern variety. And why use multi-channels and special effects when you could have authentic oriental beeping?
    Pyjamas are standard attire, along with obligatory headband.
    Artwork should be of the poorest quality. Anatomical accuracy is not desirable.
    Japanese-sounding names often impress. Make one up if you're not fluent, Uchi Mata being a classic example of improvisation of this sort.
    It shouldn't look like a beat-'em-up, so put it in a nice big black cardboard box.
    Sequels always look good (be original - try a '+' rather than a 'II'), but no-one ever buys them of course.
    Animation should be avoided where at all possible. Two frames per sequence is the absolute maximum.
    Joystick positions should be assigned at random. If they can guess that up, left and fire delivers a low punch, there's no challenge to it.
    It should be just like all the rest, so don't get any funny ides about using your imagination.


The Roundhouse
Like so many other great moves, the Roundhouse first came to light in Fist. That classic blend of balletic poetry and jaw-breaking power makes it a manoeuvre for all occasions.
The Sweeping Kick
This it the standard move for success in Kung Fu Master, and demonstrates what can be achieved just by waving your leg around in the direction of the foe.
The Pile-On
This move is unique to the Renegade series, and can cause some alarm when you find your shoulders gripped by one baddie while another lays into you from the front. However, careful placement of elbows and feet can turn the tables in your favour.
The satisfying result of a cunningly-timed neck-chop during a game of Barbarian is the removal of the enemy's head, which can be greatly to your advantage.
(Apart from quite a few probably)

Avenger/Gremlin Graphics
Barbarian II/Palace
Big Trouble in Little China/Electric Dreams
Bruce Lee/US Gold
Double Dragon/Melbourne House
Double Dragon II/Melbourne House
Dragon Ninja/Imagine
Dynamite Dux/Activision
Exploding Fist/Melbourne House
Fallen Angel/Alternative
Fighting Warrior/Melbourne House
Fist II/Melbourne House
Human Killing Machine/US Gold
International Karate/System 3
International Karate II/System 3
Kai Temple/Firebird
Kendo Warrior/Byte Back
Kick Boxing/Firebird
Knight Force/Titus
Knucklebuster/Melbourne House
Kung Fu/Bug Byte
Kung Fu Knights/Top Ten Software
Kung Fu Master/US Gold
Hercules/Gremlin Graphics
Last Ninja II/System 3
Legend Of Kage/Imagine
Legend Of The Amazon Women/US Gold
Ninja/MAD Games
Ninja Hamster/CRL
Oriental Hero/Firebird
Renegade III/Ocean
Saboteur II/Durell
Sai Combat/Mirrorsoft
Samurai Trilogy/Gremlin Graphics
Samurai Warrior/Firebird
Shao Lins Road/The Edge
Shanghai Warriors/Players
Street Hassle/Melbourne House
Target Renegade/Ocean
Way Of The Exploding Fist/Melbourne House
Way Of The Tiger/Gremlin Graphics
Uchi Mata/Martech
Vigilante/US Gold
Yie Ar Kung Fu/Imagine

Many thanks to Softy Nonowt for allowing me to pinch the bulk of this article's text from his archive

YS Cross-references
pBarbarian/Melbourne HouseYS35
pBarbarian (in The In Crowd)YS40
pBruce Lee/US GoldYR14
pBruce Lee (in Summer Gold)YS23
pBruce Lee (in Karate Ace)YS34
pBruce Lee (in History In The Making)YS38
pInternational Karate/System 3YS2
pInternational Karate (in Six-Pak Vol 2)YS23
pKung Fu Master/US GoldYS6
pKung Fu Master/US GoldYS9
pKung Fu Master (in 3 Coin-op Classics)YS23
pKung Fu Master (in Karate Ace)YS34
pKung Fu Master (in History In The Making)YS38
pTarget Renegade/ImagineYS28
pTarget Renegade/ImagineYS29
pTarget Renegade/OceanYS31
pTarget Renegade (in The In Crowd)YS40
pTarget Renegade/Hit SquadYS61
pWay Of The Exploding Fist/Melbourne HouseYR19
pWay Of The Exploding Fist (in Karate Ace)YS34
pWay Of The Exploding Fist (in The YS Official Top 100 Part 2)YS71
Some info from Sinclair Infoseek+SPOT*ON

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