Most gamers will agree that Nintendo won the console war against Sega, and they would be right to do so. Sega is no longer in the hardware business, and Nintendo is as successful today as it has ever been.
However, the Sega Genesis is criminally underrated to those who did not own one. The console was able to produce faster games than the competition thanks to a more powerful CPU, the soundtracks were above and beyond anything else on the market, and games were designed following an unconventional design philosophy which resulted in completely new and exciting experiences for players.
And while Nintendo won the war, the Sega Genesis won the battle when it came to the Beat ‘Em Up Genre.
So many of the Beat ‘Em titles released on the Sega Genesis have stood the test of time, and remain to this day solid examples of engaging gameplay and expert game design. Today, I’m going to celebrate the genre that ruled my childhood by highlighting the very best examples of the genre released on SEGA’s 4th generation console. Here are
The Best Beat ‘Em Up Games For The SEGA Genesis
Splatterhouse 3 was developed by Now Production and published by Namco in 1993, still early in the life of the Sega Genesis. It is the third entry in the Splatterhouse franchise and continues the story set up in the previous entries.
Players take on the role of Rick as he fights through hordes of rabid enemies to save his kidnapped wife, Jennifer.
Splatterhouse plays out over 6 different stages that feature some non-linear level design, a true innovation for the time. The game also stands out for its great replayability, since it contained multiple endings that branched out based on how fast the player was able to clear the levels.
My favorite aspect of the game was the introduction of the power meter, which allowed Rick to transform into a more powerful, hulking version of himself. It’s great tearing and ripping through wave after wave of enemies.
DJ Boy was a huge success at the Arcades, and when it was released for the Sega Genesis in 1991 home audiences got to see why. The game features some unique design choices that make it easy to remember so many years later.
You play as the DJ Boy, or DJ Kid as he is known by some, attempting to win a battle race called Rollergame. While it did not reinvent the wheel when it comes to gameplay design, it did change things up enough to keep players engaged and entertained.
For example, DJ Boy and most of his enemies got around large levels on roller skates. This gave the game a level of dynamism and speed that wasn’t too common back then.
The game also differed from its competition in the fact that you didn’t have to defeat all of the enemies to advance. Enemies also dropped resources which could then be used to purchase useful power-ups.
I loved DJ Boy as a kid, because while the levels were relatively easy to beat, the end-of-level bosses were a challenge, requiring fast reflexes and quick thinking.
Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter
Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter perfectly blended two genres that are perfectly suited to each other, it is a surprise that we don’t see the mix too often. I’m talking, of course, about the Beat ‘Em Up genre and the Fighting Game genre.
You play as Koji Kabuto, who uses the famed Mazinger Z suit of armor to mow through 6 different stages populated with tons of challenging enemies. However, the stroke of genius is that once you reach the end of the stage, the game completely revamps the control scheme and perspective and pits you against the end-of-level boss in a 1v1 fighting-game style match.
Players were able to execute different attacks and combos by pressing specific button combinations, and this created a challenge for perfectionists like myself.
Moreover, the sudden change to the game’s format allowed developers to push the players in unexpected directions and provided the audience with tons of enjoyment. This hybrid game blew my mind when I first played it, and it produced some of my most memorable gaming moments.
Known in Japan as Runark, Growl was released to American audiences in 1991 and it featured some excellent design choices and a unique story.
You play as one of 4 badass forest rangers, each with a different set of attributes such as health, strength, agility, etc. As a forest ranger, you are tasked with protecting wildlife from a clan of unscrupulous animal poachers looking to nab some exotic African animals.
Players have access to a variety of attacks and special moves, melee weapons including a sword and a whip, thrown weapons such as hand grenades, and firearms. But the coolest aspect of the game was the ability to “recruit” animal companions after they are freed from the poachers.
That’s right, you could fight off hordes of poachers alongside an Elephant!
The game also included a pitch-black level in which it was necessary to use a torch to see anything at all. This was the first time I saw something like this in a video game, and I will never forget it.
This game is a sort of guilty pleasure for me. In a sense, I’m a bit embarrassed to sing its praises. After all, the game is based on a franchise aimed at teenage girls. However, the game is also really, really good.
Based on the highly successful Sailor Moon anime and manga series, and follows the adventures of the five Sailor Guardians as they search for their princess and fend off the hordes of enemies coming from the Dark Kingdom.
In Sailor Moon, players get to control all 5 of the Sailor Guardians, each with their own set of attack combos, including aerial attacks, and special projectile moves.
The game is divided into five beautiful, lively, and colorful levels. These are:
- The Latin Quarter
- Theme Park
- Secret Factory
- North Pole
- Dark Kingdom
If you can get past the “girly” exterior, there is a very competent game with some great levels, an engaging combat system, and hours of fun.
For many people, myself included, Beat ‘Em Ups on the Sega Genesis are synonymous with Golden Axe.
The first game in one of the most successful and popular Beat ‘Em Ups franchises for the Sega Genesis and competing consoles of its generation, Golden Axe is a traditional side-scrolling beat ‘em up set in a high-fantasy medieval world.
Players take on the role of one of three warriors on a mission to rescue a kidnapped King and Princess.
The game offers the opportunity for fast-paced cooperative gameplay, different playstyles, a large bestiary of fantastical monsters and other henchmen, the ability to hurl magical spells to decimate the hordes of enemies, and even powerful beasts to ride.
Golden Axe’s mix of responsive high-octane action and medieval fantasy made for a classic gaming experience that few games at the time were able to deliver. Moreover, Golden Axe has one of the best musical soundtracks in the entire Sega Genesis catalog.
Developed by the same masterminds behind Golden Axe, Altered Beast added another solid entry to the Sega Genesis list of top-notch Beat ‘Em Ups.
This time, players were offered the role of a dead Centurio that is resurrected by the god Zeus and tasked with the seemingly impossible mission of rescuing the goddess Athena from the hellish domains of the underworld.
To aid you on your quest, Zeus bestows upon the player the ability to transform into powerful and extraordinary beasts, such as a werewolf, a werebear, and a dragon.
Even though Altered Beast was one of the first games released for the Sega Genesis, it is one of the better-looking ones. At the time of its release, its graphics were above and beyond anything being produced by the competition.
The enemy animations are a bit simplistic, but the player character is well animated and fully realized. The levels are expansive and memorable, full of colorful sprites and detailed assets.
As you progress through the levels and gain the orbs of energy that fuel your bestial transformation, your character model beings to slowly change to simulate your growing power and agility.
Few games on the Sega Genesis, or any system for that matter, presented the players with a gameplay fantasy as cool as Altered Beast.
If Altered Beast proved that the Sega Genesis was a graphical powerhouse in the home console market, our next entry on the list of the best Sega Genesis beat ‘em ups, put a nail in the coffin.
Comix Zone is one of the best-looking games released in the ‘90s. By the time audiences got their hands on Comix Zone towards the end of the 16-bit era, they were used to playing good-looking games. However, Comix Zone took it to another level by offering players a masterful mix of art, design, and gameplay.
The game puts us in control of Sketch Turner, a comic book artist who is transported inside one of his own creations by the evil Mortus. For this reason, the levels all look like comic book pages, and Sketch works his way through the various colorful stages by jumping from one comic panel to the other while fighting expertly animated and varied enemies.
Comix Zone was a truly unique game, and it was the game that made Nintendo fanboys rethink their loyalties.
Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety
Speaking of comic books, the next game on this list is Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety, an awkwardly titled game for the Sega Genesis that offered players a tightly tuned multiplayer experience that was tons of fun to play.
The premise of the game is that Venom and Spider-Man join forces to thwart an evil scheme run by the Life Foundation to use the alien symbiote and genetically modify their army of soldiers.
The gameplay is standard fare, but the game stands out due to a couple of things. First of all, it is a continuation of the highly successful Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage. Second, it contains cameo appearances by Captain American, Daredevil, Hawkeye, and Ghostrider!
Streets of Rage
Streets of Rage can be considered the ultimate beat ‘em up experience on the Sega Genesis. The game, the first of three highly successful titles, boasts fast-paced action, colorful levels, fun gameplay, and a blistering soundtrack.
The game’s story is very straightforward, following three cops looking to bring down an evil crime lord and rain justice upon his henchmen.
The gameplay is also very straightforward, with players given a modest set of moves and attacks within which to pummel their enemies. Various weapons and environmental items can be used to fight wave after wave of evil criminals.
If you have played a beat ‘em up on the Genesis before, you pretty much know what to expect from Streets of rage. However, every aspect, every component of this game is so expertly tuned, that Streets of Rage becomes significantly greater than the sum of its parts.
The Sega Genesis games were known for fast gameplay and inventive mechanic design, and Alien Storm delivers on both counts.
Released in 1990 by the Sega Corporation, Alien Storm tells the story of a violently murderous race of aliens invading earth. The player controls one of the special soldiers known as the Alien Busters. Like other similar titles, players can pick from three different characters, each with different abilities and competencies.
The game is very difficult, with grotesquely designed aliens coming at players from all over the map, including from within seemingly harmless objects that populate the levels. Players must have quick reflexes if they intend on getting through the 6 levels of the game.
An arsenal of powerful weapons is available, with some truly devastating special moves becoming possible by the player. This arsenal comes in handy at the end of each level when the player perspective changes to the first person and players can unload at a host of alien critters in a highly destructible environment.
Alien Storm was a truly impressive game for the time.
Double Dragon was the first game I ever played on the Sega Genesis, and for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart. It also fully deserves a top spot on the list of best beat ‘em ups on the Sega Genesis.
Originally developed for the Arcade, Double Dragon was ported to Genesis where it defined a genre for millions of players.
Gameplay is simple enough: players take on the role of either of the Lee brothers, experts in martial arts and bonafide badasses. Players must fight their way through hordes of dangerous gang members spread across expansive levels.
Each player is given a set of basic attacks and heavy attacks, as well as a jump and a kick. Players can also use a grab and throw technique, or use a variety of melee weapons and environmental items to fight and defeat their enemies.
It’s all standard fare, but it was revolutionary to me and millions of Sega Genesis owners.
Developed and released by Novotrade in 1993, Cyborg Justice is another fantastic Sega Genesis beat ‘em up.
The basic formula for the Beat ‘Em Up genre is in full display here. Players control a character through a side-scrolling level and combat hordes of enemies until the end-of-level boss is presented.
However, Cyborg Justice did something that virtually no other game of the genre offered, and that was character creation.
Players were tasked with literally building their cyborg character out of parts. You could select different bodies, arms, and legs, which changed the playable characters’ appearance completely.
Even cooler, was the fact that players were able to further modify their bodies by attaching cyborg parts that dropped from defeated enemies.
My young mind was blown when I realized that the only way forward in an early level of the game was to switch legs with a defeated enemy and use his more powerful legs to jump across a wide gap.
Streets of Rage 2
Continuing the story started in Streets of Rage, Streets of Rage 2 is arguably the quintessential beat ‘em up experience on the Genesis.
Just like in the first game, you can control one of a cast of returning and new characters, to fight their way through colorful and detailed levels that are chock full of relentless enemies.
The combat repertoire has been expanded for each playable character, including new special attacks and a modified blitz attack. Some of these attacks are very powerful, but cost a bit of point from the player’s pool, so a new and welcome level of the strategy was added to the game.
If the first Streets of Rage was tightly tuned, the sequel is so masterfully balanced in terms of difficulty, length, and player engagement, that it will always be found on these sorts of lists.
If you have never played a Sega Genesis beat ‘em up, then this is the one that you should start with. It is the perfect example of what the genre has to offer.
Captain America and The Avengers
If Streets of Rage 2 is the perfect beat ‘em up for the Sega Genesis, Captain America and The Avengers is the best!
This Sega Genesis beat ‘em up title was developed by Data East and released in 1991. I was just getting serious about my love for video games, and this game hit all the marks in my book.
Captain America and The Avengers follows a similar formula to the fantastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Konami Arcade game. Meaning that it had a methodical movement system, with the ability to jump between different planes of action to avoid enemies.
Combat is straightforward. Players can attack and throw their opponents with a simple set of ground and aerial moves and have access to powerful finishing moves which can be activated with a special combination of button presses.
Level design is great, with each stage having a rather impressive number of objects strewn about for the player to interact with. For example, players can pick up stones, barrels, soda cans, etc., and use them as melee and projectile weapons. Enemy AI is also very impressive, with even the most basic enemies capable of dishing out heavy damage and avoiding punishment from the player.
The best thing about this beat ‘em up for Genesis is its robust cast of heroes and villains. A ton of our favorite characters are either playable or make cameo appearances. Big names like Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Vision, and more, join the side of justice. While on the bad guys’ end of things, you face off against the evil Red Skull, Ultron, the Mandarin, and the Juggernaut.
Captain America and The Avengers is one of the best superhero games ever made, and it is easily my favorite beat ‘em up game for the Sega Genesis.