How Power Rangers Brought Back the Beat 'em Up
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Pop culture, and by extension, popular media, tends to run in a cyclical fashion. What is new becomes old, until years later when what is old becomes new, and the cycle begins again. For evidence, one need look no further than the success of updated children's toys like Trolls, the resurgence of long-forgotten Marvel comic properties, or the ebb and flow of Pokemon merchandise as each new generation is revealed.

One idea we're itching to see brought back for the modern generation is a style of game that seems to have fallen by the wayside: the side-scrolling beat-em-up. Games like Double Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time were among the first cooperative multiplayer gaming experiences; their simplicity belied an addictive quality that devoured the quarters of an entire generation. They were poised to make a comeback in the earlier part of this decade, with brand-new games like the brilliant Scott Pilgrim vs. The World releasing alongside downloadable classics like The Simpsons and Castle Crashers.

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But the renaissance didn't last long, and the genre never quite made it back into the spotlight. Back in its heyday, one of the biggest challenges developers faced in adapting beat-em-ups for home consoles was the two-controller limitation on most machines. Without a so-called multitap, consoles like the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis could only support two players at a time. The leap to the sixth generation opened up a world of possibilities for multiplayer, with the Dreamcast, GameCube, and Xbox all sporting four controller ports built into the system. Then came online gaming, but other genres like the first-person shooter enjoyed far more popularity than beat-em-ups, and eventually it seemed that most developers had moved on.

We wish they hadn't. The recent release of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle got us thinking about beat-em-ups again, and although critics seem to agree that the game doesn't live up to the Power Ranger legacy, it's not too late for the genre to make a comeback using other beloved franchises as inspiration. The 1980s and 1990s are deep pools from which a competent developer could extract any number of nostalgic properties to revive for the current generation. Classic cartoons like Thundercats and He-Man are begging to be brought back as beat-em-ups; their episodic format and large casts of memorable characters are perfect material for arcade-style gameplay. DLC could be used to keep rosters current with new developments in each series. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle could add characters from the new movie, for instance... and maybe implement some balance changes, as long as we're making requests.

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The horizon isn't totally bare for beat-em-up fans: Arc System Works recently announced Double Dragon IV, an all-new direct sequel to the storied franchise for PlayStation 4 and Steam. It's set to include not only a two-player co-op mode, but also new features like an endless survival mode and - best of all - PS4 Share Play support, meaning that PlayStation Plus subscribers can play with friends who don't even own the game. It's the modern equivalent of giving a buddy a handful of quarters at the arcade and having them join in the fun. In the meantime, games like Yakuza 0 carry on the beat-em-up legacy, albeit in three-dimensional form. Here's hoping that our support for these kinds of games will speed along the genre's return to glory.

Derek Heemsbergen
Derek Heemsbergen
@EmbryonX

Contributing Writer
Date: 01/25/2017

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