One or two guys (occasionally a girl) move to the right of the screen, beating down anything and anyone that gets in their way. The beat 'em up genre is by nature very repetitive, but it was one of the most popular genres in the head days of the arcade. From Double Dragon, Final Fight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a few lesser known titles, it's the Beat 'Em Up Edition of Favorite Tunes.
Mission 1 (Billy & Jimmy's Theme) - Double Dragon (NES)
If you're girlfriend gets kidnapped and you need a kicking starter tune, they don't get much better than this one. Double Dragon was first released in arcade but I personally don't think the arcade version has aged well. It's rife with slowdown and I really can't tolerate the music. The NES version may be one player, but it still plays well had a vastly superior soundtrack.
Main Theme - River City Ransom (NES)
Bare bottoms being shown on the NES in the shower? I still can't believe it, yet somehow these scenes of the game's two protagonists were kept in when River City Ransom was released in America. How many other beat 'em ups have the baddies you punch out yell "BARF!" upon being defeated and drop money for you to spend on food, comic books and other things to make your characters stronger? These are what set River City Ransom apart from so many other games in the genre and is why it so fondly remembered. This game is part of the long running Kunio-Kun series that is extremely popular in Japan.
In the Garage - Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (ARC)
I just love the title of this game. Sure, the cadillacs don't appear often, but when they do, you'd better believe the body count is going to skyrocket on the count of the the running over you'll be doing. But even when you aren't committing mass murder, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs is arguably the greatest beat 'em up ever. You get an incredible arsenal of weapons to use and just pummeling foes with melee attacks is so satisfying.
Jail Fight - Shin Nekketsu Kouha: Kunio-tachi no Banka (SNES)
Most of the games in the Kunio-Kun series are full of super deformed characters and plenty of humor. In Kunio-tachi no Banka, a Japan exclusive beat 'em up, things get deadly serious Kunio and Riki are framed in a hit and run, sent to jail but break out to find the true culprits. Like many other titles in this series, Kunio-tachi no Banka has a solid soundtrack and many of the fight themes feature a mean bass guitar. If you're interested in checking this game out, an unofficial fan's translation exists on the net. Having played a few hours of it myself, I can honestly say, this game isn't too shabby.
Metro City Subway - Final Fight Double Impace (PSN, XBLA)
When Mayor Mike Haggar's daughter is kidnapped, instead of calling the cops, he teams up with Cody and Guy to beat the crap out of the kidnappers that were foolish enough to do the dirty deed. I like a mayor who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. This version of Metro City Subway is a bit slowed down compared to the SNES and arcade sounds, but this is still an awesome take on a classic theme.
Skull & Crossbones - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)
How many times have you heard that an arcade version of a game was better than the ports? TMNT IV is one of those games that manages to best the arcade original despite slimming down from four players to two. There are extra bosses, the Turtles talk a bit less (a plus in my mind) and even the music sounds better (though the arcade score is still good). Throwing enemies at the background was no longer a random thing and could be performed at will. In one memorable fight, using this style of throwing was mandatory.
Laboratory - Sonic Blast Man (SNES)
I guess you gotta admire the persistence of the normal characters in beat 'em ups where the heroes have super powers. Sonic Blast Man can destroy a locomotive with one punch so just imagine how hard those hits feel when he starts unleashing those super powered blows. Sonic Blast Man isn't the first beat 'em up I'd go to but you can certainly do a lot worse.
City - The Ninja Warriors (SNES)
Called The Ninja Warriors in America and Ninja Warriors Again in Japan, those that have been fortunate enough to play this gem have many kind things to say about it. Did you think the only ninjas in beat 'em ups were turtles? They look like they could give the green machines a run for their money.
Spin on the Bridge - Streets of Rage 2 (GEN)
The first Streets of Rage was good, but Streets of Rage 2 was even better. This is often praised as the best beat 'em up on the Genesis and at the time, it was unheard of that such a beat 'em up was crafted on a home console instead of the arcades. Yuzo Koshiro returned for music duties and his score here is arguably better than what he hammered out in the original.
Rough and Ready - Guardian Heroes (SAT)
The people at Treasure gave this baby a new lease on life when an HD remake became available on Xbox Live Arcade in 2011. I recommend this version because coming across a physical copy of the Saturn game is ridiculously tough. Guardian Heroes has a lot going for it, mixing the beat 'em up genre with hack n slash gameplay, alternate endings, multiple paths and the ability to change the course of the story. Oh and the soundtrack is pretty freaking awesome.
Favorite Tunes Database