Beat 'em up
As the name implies, the focus of this action game genre is hand-to-hand combat (beating them up) and less about platform jumping, puzzles, or item collection.

IREM's Kung-Fu Master and Jordan Mechner's Karateka were the most well-known granddaddies of the genre with a single plane play field. Many of the elements that became beat 'em up staples, like the playfield allowing combatants to move up and down as well as left and right, battling street gangs, and many other elements were popularized by Nekketsu Ko-ha Kunio-kun, its English-localized version, Renegade, and the smash-hit Double Dragon, all created by Technos. Double Dragon's refinement of the Nekketsu/Renegade formula and two-player simultaneous game play set a new standard with many games trying to ape its success, though a few beat-em-ups were still patterned after Kung-Fu Master and Karateka. The genre evolved again in two slightly different directions thanks to Capcom's Final Fight (itself inspired by Double Dragon 2) and Konami's four-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Crime Fighters arcade games. Those 1989 games create slight branches in the evolutionary brawling tree: context-heavy controls where timing and distance are everything (championed by Konami) and opposite school of direct input where each action has a specific combination of buttons and actions (which became a Capcom hallmark).

In the same way that early space shooters drew inspiration from sci-fi fantasy action, The beat 'em up genre was directly inspired by action flicks from both the East and Western world. Despite being titled "Spartan-X" (a.k.a. "Wheels on Meals," starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao) in Japan, Kung-Fu Master's set-up is based on Bruce Lee's "Game of Death," as the hero must defeat an increasingly difficult series of masters on each floor of a pagoda, setting the template for nearly every later beat 'em up. Meanwhile, two Walter Hill-directed action flicks heavily inspire Japanese brawlers that take place in the United States. The Warriors, a smash hit that eventually got its own game decades later, heavily inspired the look of Renegade and Double Dragon, which in turn was also copied by many later games. Streets of Fire may be lesser-known in the U.S. (personally, I got to see it at the drive-in as a kid, it looked amazing on a big screen), it was a bigger hit in Japan and went on to inspire a lot of media there, especially Final Fight.

Some people use the term beat-em-up to describe all fighting games, including what most people now call Fighting Games (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, etc.). This site uses the "Beat 'em up" term only for this type of game. This genre is also known as "Belt scroll."
Game list:
64th Street: A Detective Story, Alien vs. Predator (arcade), Avengers (arcade), Bad Dudes vs. Dragonninja, Beats of Rage, Brawl Brothers (SNES), Burning Fight (Neo Geo), Captain America and the Avengers (arcade), Captain Commando (arcade), Crime Fighters (arcade), Double Dragon (arcade), Double Dragon II: the Revenge (NES), Final Fight (arcade), Final Fight 2 (SNES), Growl (arcade), Hachoo! (arcade), Ikari III: the Rescue, Kung-Fu Master (arcade), Mutation Nation (Neo Geo), Ninja Baseball Bat Man, Ninja Gaiden (arcade), the Ninja Kids (arcade), Ninja Warriors (SNES), The Punisher (arcade), Rival Turf (SNES), River City Ransom (NES), River City Ransom: Underground, Sonic Blast Man (SNES), Streets of Rage, Streets of Rage 2, Streets of Rage 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (arcade), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Turtles in Time (SNES), Vendetta (arcade), X-Men (arcade)
Screenshots (click to see full-sized):
Kung-Fu Master Karateka My Hero Renegade Double Dragon Avengers Bad Dudes River City Ransom Final Fight Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Streets of Rage 2 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time

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