TAG Mount Rushmore – Beat ‘Em Ups, Golden Age

Introducing TAG Mount Rushmore

TAG Mount Rushmore is about covering our favorite games across different video game eras and genres! In this revitalized article, we sought out to determine the four best beat ‘em ups from the Golden Age.

The Golden Age was around the time of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, and included arcade and PC games around the mid-80s to early-90s. 

We surveyed a handful of Average Gamers from our Discord channel and scored the results. Join us as we go through the top  beat ‘em up video games with Yoshyaes’ and Flash’s opinion on each entry. 

It’s been a while since we covered a Mount Rushmore list. You can view all of them here.

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1) Double Dragon

Platform(s): Arcade, NES, and others
Year: 1987

Double Dragon banner - beat em ups

Double Dragon follows martial artists twins, Billy and Jimmy, as they fight through hordes of the Black Warrior gang to rescue Billy’s girlfriend, Marian. Jimmy is one hell of a brother!

Despite limited buttons, the game offered a variety of combat options. Kicks, punches, and even throws could be combined for elaborate combos. You could even pick up weapons or objects to be used for extra damage!

Hopefully, this isn’t a spoiler alert for a game almost 35 years old, but at the end of a two-player playthrough, the brothers are forced to face off for Marian’s love. So much for Jimmy being the brother of the year!

Yoshyaes Rank: 3rd

A short but spectacular game, Double Dragon does so many things right.

Even though DD starts out with a horrific scene that depicts Marian getting punched in the stomach, this creates the necessary tension required for players to have a singular focus on demolishing hundreds of bad guys.

The music changes for boss fights, the hard-hitting pickups, the continuous scroll, the exaggerated animations. Everything goes together like a 12-course, 3 Michellin star meal!

Double Dragon seriously changed the world of beat ’em ups and set the stage for a fast-growing genre.

Flash Rank: 4th

When thinking of beat ‘em ups from any era, it’s hard not to think of Double Dragon. It exudes everything you’d want from a game in the genre. Endless baddies, bosses, weapons, fighting combinations, and a weak story.

Seriously though, no one is here for a gripping story. We just want to beat up generic bad guys!

Other games have since tacked on additional features but Double Dragon is a founding father. It even has a movie that I’m guessing has NOT aged well.

2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

Platform(s): Arcade and SNES
Year: 1991

TMNT Turtles in Time - beat em ups

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Turtles in a half shell. Turtle power!”

With all due respect to Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda, these are everyone’s favorite fighting reptiles. Beat ‘em up kings with such distinct weaponry and personality, even those not into video games or comics have their favorite turtle. The honorable leader in Leonardo, the rage-filled tough guy in Raphael, the brainiac strategist in Donatello, or the immature jokester in Michelangelo. 

Turtles in Time follows the turtles as they battle through a series of levels fighting the Foot Clan to return a stolen Statue of Liberty. What did we say about a great storyline not being necessary?

Yoshyaes Rank: 1st

Turtles in Time is actually one of my earliest video game memories.

Sewer Surfin might be one of the greatest levels of all time. Catchy music, minimalistic water effects, water mines, stabby vines, and leaping pizza monsters made for a great precursor to the R. King boss.

Additionally, the game included a versus mode which pits brother vs brother in a weaponized deathmatch. Master Splinter stands idly by while the turtles duke it out, with the remaining two ninjas spectating.

Turtles in Time also has a level of replayability in the time trials. Players can race against the clock accompanied by some sweet tunes.

Overall, Turtles in Time is an incredible beat ’em take on everyone’s favorite reptilian ninjas!

Flash Rank: 2nd

I’ve played Turtles in Time in the arcade and at home on my Super Nintendo. Regardless, my friends and I were in for a fun-filled couple of hours! Best of all, this is a game that has stood the test of time and would be fun to play even tomorrow!

Turtles in Time does a great job of presenting the players with unique challenges no matter if there are one or four players playing. Because of the difference in weapons, each Turtle feels a bit different.

As with many of the best beat ’em ups, you have iconic features. An auto-scrolling level, an elevator level, a train level, a different perspective level, boss silhouette previews, stampedes, varying baddies. Best of all an epic final showdown with Shredder!

Also, can’t forget the game reinforcing that pizza equals health!

3) Streets of Rage 2

Platform(s): Genesis/Mega Drive and Game Gear
Year: 1992

streets of rage 2 - beat em ups

Streets of Rage is the second entry of a 4-part series. Main characters Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding set out to find their missing partner, Adam Hunter.

Axel and Blaze are flanked by Eddie “Skate” Hunter, Adam’s younger brother, and Max Thunder, best friend of Axel, for this rescue mission. The quartet, often fought as a duo, fights its way through The Syndicate crime organization to take on their leader, Mr. X.

Again.

During this follow-up journey, the heroes fight in construction zones, jungles, power plants, and even on a ship. In addition to the typical move-set as a solo fighter, you can also team up for cooperative throws and attacks in this classic beat ’em juggernaut!

Yoshyaes Rank: N/A

I actually had the original Streets of Rage in my top 4, so I can’t be too surprised to see the sequel top the community charts.

I’m a big fan of the stats that differentiate each of the players in the Streets series. 

The music is fantastic and the flashing lights and baddies have an attractive cyberpunk look. Streets of Rage II also has some of the best sound effects from a beat ’em up of the era.

When I watch throwback gameplay of Streets of Rage II, I’m impressed at how smooth the combos look. Punches and kicks aren’t perfectly fluid like in today’s games, but they feel like the right level of detail in a golden age beat ’em up.

I’d be doing the game a disservice if I didn’t mention how great it is to see apples, on plates, on the ground! Whoever thought of this health regen mechanic deserves a raise.

Flash Rank: 1st

If I ignored the era guidelines my list could literally be Streets of Rage 1-4. The games are that good. When I think “beat ‘em up”, I immediately think Streets of Rage.

There’s really not much I would change from this series. Unique bosses, weapons, special moves, level design, and music.

Oh man, the music.

Streets of Rages techno style is some of my favorite video game music ever despite not really listening to that genre. It just works.

What sets this game apart from others is the variety of bosses. Some bosses have unique attributes that make you play adjust your playstyle. Certain bosses can’t be thrown. Others you can’t do the trust jump kick attack.

The recent release of Streets of Rage 4 has proven that their formula has aged potentially better than any other title in this genre. 

4) Battletoads

Platform(s): NES, Genesis/Mega Drive, Game Gear, and others
Year: 1991

Battletoads banner - beat em ups

Well, we covered everyone’s favorite fighting reptiles. Logically it’s time to cover everyone’s favorite amphibians. Bet you didn’t expect to get a science lesson in this article!

Battletoads were in fact developed in response to the overwhelming interest around the Turtles. Play as Rash and/or Zitz and fight to rescue both their third member Pimple and Princess Angelica, who have been kidnapped.

Another kidnapping story.

The Toads make use of their own anatomy more than many other entries. While they do have access to weapons like a handy stick, they can also pound enemies with comically enlarged fists and kicks. These Battletoads usually end a combination with dramatic flair or move at a faster speed.

Levels offer a wide variety of gameplay, highlighted by the infamous Turbo Tunnel, where you traverse it on a hoverbike, relying on memory and reaction time. More so than any other game on our list, you should feel proud if you can finish this title.

Yoshyaes Rank: N/A

The world of Battletoads doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a surprisingly exceptional combination of animal monsters, robots, and interesting items to equip. 

Battletoads has music that’ll have you boppin’ back and forth! In particular, the ice level could probably be a great track for Kanye West or Drake to sample.

This game is unapologetically strange, but you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you beat each level. With commentary from a mad scientist bird and the Dark Queen, there’s a good amount of comedic relief between scenes.

I truly appreciate how difficult this game was while still being very simple. Seeing point values bounce out of enemies is super satisfying and the Dark Queen boss battle was painfully enjoyable!

Flash Rank: 3rd

Battletoads is not for the faint of heart. This game is not to be played with. Often ranking as one of the hardest games ever made, Battletoads is an unforgiving, sometimes infuriating adventure.

To be honest, I’ve never actually finished the game. I’ve thought about grabbing it on an emulator and giving it a try, but have yet to find time to volunteer for this torture. Outside of the Souls series and similar titles, games simply aren’t difficult like they used to be.

When your last life was lost in Battletoads, you were sent back to the title screen. No saved file. No checkpoint. Just despair. What’s not to love?!

With all that said, this game is too iconic not to include in a beat ‘em up listing. In fact, Double Dragon and Battletoads combined for a one-off title back in 1993 called Battletoads & Double Dragon.

Honorable Mentions

Before you send us hate mail for missing your favorite beat ’em up video game from the Golden Age, check out some of the honorable mentions!

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Here are some great games that would sit proudly on the hypothetical fifth head of our mountain!

What’s in your Beat ‘Em Up Mount Rushmore?

What grade would you give our Mount Rushmore? Would you change any of our selections? Which game was your favorite beat ’em up from the Golden Age? Let us know in the comments!

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