Best Beat’em Ups on the NES

The NES isn’t known for its beat’em ups. This genre is better known on the Genesis/Mega Drive, SNES, and arcades. However, several ports of 80s arcade games found their way to the NES. There were also a handful of beat’em ups made for the NES.

 The 80s was a strange time for every genre of video games. Some of them were still being created, and beat’em ups were evolving during this time. Some games like Kung-Fu Heroes, Bad Dudes, and Green Beret,

Bottom Line up Front: While Not Known for the Genre, The NES Has Several Great Beat’em ups.

Selection criteria

Let’s talk about what qualifies for this list. I’m not just going to be putting any random game on this list. Here are the criteria I used to compile this list:

  • Has to be in my collection
  • Has to be a Beat’em up
  • Personal experience with the game

Double Dragon

Developer: Technos

Genre: Beat’em up

Review Score: 8.5/10

The game starts with some dude gut-punching your girlfriend and carrying her off. That is one way to start a game! The first Double Dragon is a very good beat’em up. There are many things in this game that would end up being staples of the genre.

The controls are a little stiff, and the jumping sections are annoying. There is no dedicated jump button, so you have to mash A and B to jump. This isn’t great, and making precise jumps is more complicated than it needs to be.

This is an NES classic and one of the games most people look for when they start collecting. I remember picking this one up in the late 90s. I enjoyed it as much then as I did as a kid. While I prefer the second game, Double Dragon is an excellent game.

Double Dragon II

Developer: Technos

Genre: Beat’em up

Review Score: 9/10

This is my favorite game in the Double Dragon series. The only thing I dislike about this game is the control scheme. It takes some time to get used to, but it can be an issue.

Depending on the direction that you are facing, the buttons for a front punch and back kick will swap. This can cause some problems as you might not react to this change immediately. Aside from this minor adjustment, the controls are much better than in the first game.

This was one of the games we rented a lot when I was little. It is a classic game and is much better than the two other Double Dragon games on the system.

Kung-Fu Heroes

Developer: Culture Brain

Genre: Single-screen Beat’em up

Review Score: 7/10

Kung Fu Heroes is an adorable game in many ways. It looks very goofy, and I like it a lot! This is a port of a 1984 arcade game called Chinese Heroes, also called Super Chinese. This is the first game in the Super Chinese series, and not I want to play the rest of the games!

This is a single-screen arcade beat’em up, which is a very unique style. This looks like it could’ve been a cartoon, and I would be surprised if it wasn’t one. The gameplay is straightforward. Enemies walk onto the screen, and you have to punch them. Your character and most enemies take one hit to defeat.

This game has a simple story. The princess has been kidnapped, and the ten treasures have been stolen. It is up to our two main characters to save the princess and recover the treasures. Seeing how the monsters were able to do all of this, it makes sense that everything falls on two random people since the Kingdom’s army seems worthless.

TMNT II: The Arcade Game

Developer: Konami

Genre: Beat’em up

Review Score: 8.5/10

This version of the first TMNT arcade game gets a little flack. It isn’t as good as the arcade game, but this is a wonderful alternative if you didn’t have access to it. Konami brought the arcade experience home, and this is a competent port of that game.

Like many TMNT games, you’re trying to defeat Shredder and his henchmen. Most of the enemies you’ll be fighting are different colors of the Foot Clan ninjas. At the end of each stage is a boss. These are the major characters from the comics and cartoons.

This is one of the best beat’em ups on the NES. It has solid controls, the gameplay is great, and the graphics are wonderful. This is one of the games that was either rented a lot or someone in the neighborhood owned. I knew a few people who had it and spent many hours at friends’ houses playing it.

TMNT III: The Manhattan Project

Developer: Konami

Genre: Beat’em up

Review Score: 9/10

I like this game more than the previous TMNT game on the NES. This was one of the games that I came across while collecting games in the late 90s. It is a beautiful beat’em up that improves on the second game in every way.

Like the other TMNT games, you have to save April and defeat the Shredder. I know much of this will be repeated from the previous entry. It is a familiar formula but works well with a beat’em up. The controls, graphics, and gameplay are all wonderful in this game.

TMNT III: The Manhattan Project is the best beat’em up on the NES. I like this game more than Double Dragon II.  It feels like this game was optimized for the NES, and it is another example of what Konami was capable of when they used to care about video games.

Kung Fu

Developer: Nintendo

Genre: Side-scrolling Beat’em up

Review Score: 7/10

I have a love-hate relationship with this game. It is a good game that is easy to play but hard to master and very annoying sometimes. Kung Fu gets more challenging as I get older, and my reaction time slows down.

As you move through each of the levels, enemies charge at you. Most of them are easy to deal with, and I’m of the opinion that they only want to hug you. The enemies get harder as you advance through the game, and a boss character is at the end of the stages. What I do like about this game is that they give you a health bar. I know that sounds a little strange, but after playing Kung-Fu Heroes, I was glad to have it!

I feel like I should like this game more than I do. It has solid controls and decent graphics for an early NES game. However, I would rather play one of the other games on this list.


Developer: Taito

Genre: Beat’em up

Review Score: 6.5/10

You can tell that this is one of the precursors to River City Ransom. It has the same control scheme as Double Dragon II, but it isn’t done as well. Instead of taking time to adjust to it, you must master it quickly because enemies will gang up on you quickly.

You can get ganged up on quickly in Renegade. It doesn’t make the game unfair, but it is highly frustrating until you adjust to its difficulty. I chose Renegade over Double Dragon III because it isn’t as punishing as that game, and you have more than one life.

It looks like a mid-point between Double Dragon and River City Ransom. Unfortunately, this isn’t nearly as good as those two games. It is challenging in a way that might keep you playing, but it isn’t as good as Double Dragon I or II.

Bad Dudes

Developer: Data East

Genre: Beat’em Up

Review Score: 7/10

This is a bad port of a decent arcade game. It makes the list because of the lack of beat’em ups and because it is a favorite of mine. I like the arcade and am willing to put up with the flaws in this port.

There are several problems with this game; if I were ranking them, it would be at the bottom of the list. Bad Dudes has issues with hit detection, delayed controls, and poor graphics. It is a playable game with many issues that require the player to adjust to it.

The arcade version is a good game with decent controls; however, the NES port could be better in many areas. I like playing this game, but it isn’t as good as the arcade. I would rather play the arcade version, but Bad Dudes makes it on the list, given the limited number of beat’em ups on the NES.

Rush’N Attack

Developer: Konami

Genre: Beat’em up

Review Score: 7/10

This is a fun game. It is a decent port of an arcade game that has been largely forgotten. Unless you’re one of the people who looked into the NES game and found out about Green Beret. I’m sure some people remember the arcade game; I wasn’t one of them.

Rush’N Attack is a simple game where you move from left to right, stab bad guys with your knife, and eventually reach the end of the stage. There are mines to jump over, platforms you can climb up, and the enemies eventually start shooting at you. There are some power-ups that give you a ranged attack with limited ammunition.

This would’ve been a fun rental game back in the early 90s. I could see it being one of the many shooters and beat’em ups my brother, and I rented. Rush’N Attack is a fun game. It probably could’ve kept the Green Beret name, but I guess something close to Russian Attack sounded better to Konami and Nintendo.

River City Ransom

Developer: Technos

Genre: RPG Beat’em up

Review Score: 9/10

River City Ransom is a unique game. It is somewhere in between an Action-RPG and a Beat’em Up. It is an extremely fun game to play as you’re exploring a city and beating up random people. I know they’re part of a gang, but I always wonder if the bad guys are actually bad in these games.

You’re trying to rescue your girlfriend, whom a gang has kidnaped. To find here, you have to explore a city and beat the crap out of the rival gang members who have the misfortune of being in your way. When you beat them, they drop money that you can use to buy food that improves your stats and refills your health. It is a very cool addition to a game like this.

This is yet another game that I didn’t know much about until I started collecting games. It is easy to forget that not everyone had Nintendo Power back in the 90s, and information about video games wasn’t as accessible as it is now. You had to know someone who had played a game or had access to information about a specific game. Often, they wouldn’t describe the game that well.

River City Ransom is one of the many games I wish I had played as a kid. I think it is a unique and fun game. It is something that I’ll have to cover in greater detail later on.


There are several video games that I could have added to this list. I kept it to the games that I owned and the ones I could get working. Despite some of their flaws, each game is worth playing today.

Some of these games would have been weekend rentals when I was little. I know that might come off as negative, but back in the 80s and 90s, I didn’t get a new video game that often. This made renting video games the primary way for me to play something different.

Many other games could be considered Beat’em Ups on the NES. At some point, I’ll get around to playing them. I’m looking forward to seeing what else there is out there.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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