While it can’t take credit for creating the genre, Capcom is arguably one of the most important companies ever to work in the realm of side-scrolling beat ’em ups. Entries like Renegade, Double Dragon and Golden Axe may have established the template of the humble ‘belt scroller’, but it was Capcom’s seminal 1989 effort Final Fight which truly propelled it into the mainstream and made it the coin-op genre of choice (at least until Street Fighter II came along two years later and did the same thing for one-on-one brawlers, that is). Capcom has done a pretty decent job of ensuring gamers have legal access to its library of classic titles over the years, but Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is the first time we’ve seen several of its side-scrolling gems assembled in a single package – and for fans of the genre, it represents an essential purchase.
Included here are Final Fight (1989), Captain Commando (1991), The King of Dragons (1991), Knights of the Round (1991) and Warriors of Fate (1992). All of these titles have been ported to home hardware in the past, but they are joined by two games which are making their console debuts: Armored Warriors (1994) and Battle Circuit (1997). While there are notable omissions – Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, Aliens Vs. Predator and either Dungeons & Dragons title really should have made the cut, but all are subject to licencing deals – this is a pretty comprehensive selection for anyone with even a passing interest in the genre.
In fact, the seven games included here do a good job of showing how Capcom’s belt scrollers – and the genre in general – evolved through the ’80s and ’90s. Surprisingly, perhaps the best game in the entire package is actually the oldest; Final Fight may have been surpassed by Capcom’s subsequent titles in terms of presentation and depth, but it has none of its ability to entertain, even in 2018. The massive sprites, eye-catching visuals, instantly-compelling gameplay and fantastic soundtrack all combine to make this a quintessential arcade classic; there’s a purity to the combat system which was perhaps lost as Capcom sought to innovate with its later efforts. With two players, this is sheer brawling bliss, and only Streets of Rage 2 can seriously be considered a superior entry in the genre.
Captain Commando takes much of what makes Final Fight so appealing and adds in a wacky sci-fi setting, a wider range of weapons (including projectile attacks), ride-on vehicles and a three-player option. Slightly smaller sprites mean the game is less impressive visually, but it has a wider range of locations and the four playable characters are fantastic – Baby Commando, who rides in a massive mech, is our personal favourite.
Next up we have what would mark Capcom’s brief dalliance with old-school fantasy: The King of Dragons. While it’s still a side-scroller at heart, the game introduces many elements which would normally be found in RPG titles. Each character has special attributes which make them unique from a gameplay perspective; the Cleric, for example, can heal his fellow players but is slow, while the Fighter is excellent in a scrap but lacks any magical abilities whatsoever. Add in a levelling system and the all-important three-player option and you’ve got a very interesting take on the belt scrolling concept; it’s just a shame that the combat mechanics are quite basic when compared to Final Fight and Captain Commando. In addition to Capcom’s trademark health-sapping ‘Megacrush’ move there’s only a single attack (and no combos), and you can’t grapple or throw enemies. Thankfully, the game nails the fantasy look perfectly and has a superb Yoko Shimomura soundtrack.
Knights of the Round continues the swords-and-sorcery theme but is arguably the weakest of all seven games included here. A levelling system is once again in place, with your character changing their appearance as they earn more points, but there’s no grappling or throwing on offer and the magic which made The King of Dragons so unique is also missing. Instead, blocking incoming attacks is the order of the day; holding the attack button and pushing away from your foe will repel their offence and give you the chance to counter. It’s an interesting premise which takes time to master – it’s also essential if you want to beat some of the game’s tougher bosses – but it isn’t enough to elevate the game to classic status; similarly, riding horses feels like an afterthought rather than a killer feature. Having said that, Knights of the Round is still good fun when you’re questing alongside two other players, and boasts some lovely background artwork.
Warriors of Fate is up next and is the sequel to the 1989 side-scrolling fighter Dynasty Wars – which, interestingly, doesn’t make the cut here. Based on Hiroshi Motomiya’s Tenchi wo Kurau manga, the game expands Capcom’s battle engine in meaningful ways, including weapons to pick up, horses to ride (which are more useful then they were in Knights of the Round) and a larger selection of moves to exploit. Grapple attacks are back, and you can also tackle enemies and perform special attacks by pushing down and then up on the stick, along with the attack button. The wide range of playable characters makes this one you can replay again and again, and while it was ported to the PlayStation and Saturn back in the ’90s, both were Japanese exclusives. As a result, this may be a title that you discover for the first time as part of this collection.
Now we’re onto the games which are making their domestic debut in this package. 1994’s Armored Warriors (known as Powered Gear in Japan) is the arcade precursor to Cyberbots, despite being a side-scroller and not a one-on-one fighter; it uses the same kind of design for its robot characters and boasts gorgeous visuals and superb animation. It’s also no slouch when it comes to mechanics, as players have the usual selection of melee and grapple attacks but can use these in tandem with a sub-weapon and weapons stolen from fallen foes. Your robot can also dash around the screen, which makes for a fast-paced brawler, and there are two forms of ‘Megacrush’ attack to use. Why Armored Warriors was never picked up for release on the PlayStation or Saturn back in the day remains a mystery; it’s one of Capcom’s finest side-scrollers and another compelling reason to invest in this compendium.
Finally, we have Battle Circuit, Capcom’s last arcade effort in the side-scrolling fighter genre. By 1997, the coin-op sector was on the wane and the gaming public was more interested in 3D titles on home consoles. The game’s colourful sci-fi setting calls to mind Captain Commando, and the inclusion of unlockable moves for each character is a welcome touch; players can also utilise ‘Battle Downloads’ to augment the capabilities of their chosen fighter. With support for up to four players, Battle Circuit is chaotic fun and boasts wonderful 2D visuals – it’s also the last of its breed, and never got an official North American arcade release, remaining exclusive to Europe and Japan. As such, this version marks the first time the game has been officially available in that region.
All of the included games come with save state support and the ability to toggle between the English and Japanese versions; you also get galleries for each title containing promotional and concept artwork. While local multiplayer is arguably more fun (four players, each brandishing a single Joy-Con, crowded around one Switch system for a game of Battle Circuit is a brilliant experience) it’s possible to play every game on the collection online, which means you’ll never be short of company.
You can even deep-dive into the settings for each individual title, adjusting things like overall difficulty, player stock and even the points threshold for when additional lives are handed out (on titles which support such a feature, of course). All games are set to Free Play, so you effectively have unlimited credits; it’s therefore up to you to decide when your own personal ‘cut off point’ is when it comes to using continues to complete a game. Given that many of these titles were designed to suck coins this does remove some of the challenge, but you can instead focus on attempting to better your own personal high score on a single credit. You can also fully customise the control settings, but there are no options to tinker with the way these games are displayed on your TV, or on the Switch’s screen. The option to add scanlines to the image would have been welcome but it’s hard to grumble too much when the pixel-rich visuals look this nice; when played in docked mode, the 2D graphics really pop.
While you could argue that the humble side-scrolling fighter is an endangered species for a reason – they do get awfully repetitive after a while – this collection illustrates perfectly why this particular genre was the toast of video gaming in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Addictive, enjoyable and – perhaps most important of all – bloody good fun when played co-operatively with friends, all of the titles in this seven-strong compendium are worth your time, and by adding robust local and multiplayer support, Capcom has done its utmost to ensure they find favour with a whole new generation of gamers. If you’re not a fan of the genre then you may well be wondering what all the fuss is about, but for everyone else, this is a must-have download.