6. Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom (Arcade, 1993)
Welcome to the D & D World! Mixing pen and paper role-playing may sound like an odd mix, but Capcom’s partnership with tabletop giant TSR to create two RPG beat-’em-ups set within Dungeons & Dragons’ popular Mystara universe was a resounding success. Tower of Doom marks the first in the series, which was capped off with 1996’s Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara. Despite being a brawler, the game remains surprisingly true to its RPG roots, having players choose between a human fighter, cleric, elf, and dwarf, each with their own different stats and abilities. Over the course of their journey, players will clash swords with an entire bestiary of baddies ripped straight from the Dungeon Master’s guide, such as fearsome ogres, vicious manticores, and massive dragons that span the entire screen.
In-between stages, the player is presented with various choices on how to progress. Should you go to rescue a town that’s been besieged by wicked kobolds? Or would it be wiser to scale a mountain fortress to defeat the creature behind the attack? The choice is yours. Choices like this make Tower of Doom feel incredibly true to its source material despite the fact that you’re mashing buttons, not hurling 20-sided die. One of the finest moments in the game has you fighting a troll atop a boat who seemingly won’t stay dead. Those familiar with the game will know that a flask of oil to burn his corpse would finish the job, but players unversed in the universe’s lore will be forced to kill this stubborn foe time and time again until a band of soldiers appears to finish the job with some carefully aimed firebombs.
Tower of Doom and its sequel made their way to the SEGA Saturn in Japan back in 1999 with the Dungeons & Dragons Collection, which has become a pretty desirable title over the years and still commands a hefty price in retro collecting communities. However, they were re-released digitally by Capcom as the Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara on the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U in 2013. For our full thoughts on that collection, read our full review here.
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PSN, Xbox Live, 2010)
Considering the amount of retro-gaming references that are scattered throughout both the original comics and the movie, it only makes sense that Ubisoft’s tie-in to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World would heavily resemble the classic beat ‘em ups.
Taking control of one of four characters – Scott, Ramona, Kim or Stephen Stills – you and up to three mates essentially ran and punched your way through an abridged version of the story from the books, taking on all manner of mooks and defeating Ramona’s seven evil exes. Between the retro graphics and a chiptune soundtrack by Anamanaguchi, the game is just one big love letter to both that era of gaming and fans of the source material, with tonnes of details and references to Scott’s adventures and world scattered throughout the levels. Oh, and it was hard. Like, balls-to-the-walls hard. Like, “gotta replay the whole level ten times just to get to the boss at the end” hard.
Unfortunately, the game and its DLC were de-listed from both the Xbox Live and PSN stores. Creator Bryan Lee O’Malley has stated that he wants to get the game re-released so hopefully we’ll see some sort of remaster appear in the future. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the film or just a lover of classic side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, it’s game that deserves to be played by more people.
– Michael Beckwith
4. Turtles in Time (Arcade 1991, SNES 1992)
Back in the nineties, we didn’t have much subtlety in our children’s cartoons. We had anthromorphized heroes of unlikely species – like biker mice, supersonic hedgehogs or ninja turtles – with ample helpings of attitude, kicking ass to rocking guitar solos in the background. No game exemplified the bombast of these cartoons than Turtles in Time.
Though the arcade version had smoother graphics and audio, the SNES version of Turtles in Time really knocked it out of the park by adding new levels. The music compositions lost none of their complexity or perfectly peppy beats – capturing the energetic feel of the animated series perfectly. The music is so good, you can actually see the turtles-with-‘tude tapping their two-toed feet during their idle animations. Seriously, try listening to it without nodding your head or slapping your knee!
Turtles in Time was relentlessly creative in level design, featuring one totally radical stage where you’re surfing through the sewers, dogging HR Gieger-esque sewer mutants. And that’s before you’re sent back through time to duck around pterodactyls and swordfight on pirate ships.
Turtles in Time had a phenomenally advanced fighting system for the standards of its time. When you’re in the mechanized “Terrordome”, you’ll be beset by robotic dogs. Through experimentation, you’ll find the best way to deal with them is to grab a hapless ninja by the arm and slam him from side to side, smacking away surrounding mecha-canines with a human baseball bat. Another type of throw sends enemies flying into camera, letting you get a split-second close up of their shocked faces as they careen off out of view. This is actually how you defeat one iteration of Shredder – when you find yourself looking at the Turtles through Shredder’s POV. The solution is throwing the super ninja’s own troopers literally right back into his face!
Turtles in Time was such a classic it even spawned an enhanced version: Turtles in Time Reshelled. With mediocre critical reception, it didn’t seem to quite capture the magic of the original. Even though Turtles in Time is about time-travelling, the game’s real legacy was capturing the spirit of kid’s cartoons in the early nineties, and playing it will send you back to a wonderful world of pastel colours, surfboarding and pizza. Turtle friggin’ power!
– Jonathan Trussler