In our last post we discussed the role arcades play in the social aspect of video games. Digging deeper on that topic we're taking a look at our five favourite four-player scrolling beat 'em up classics. For us, these games provide the perfect combination of camaraderie and competition - looking out There is a surprising amount online about whether this or Superman 64 is the worst game everfor each other to make sure everyone stays in the game as long as possible but also aiming to be the one to collect power ups, health and glory.

As an aside, it's curious that all of these games are based on licensed properties: ordinarily a pretty strong indicator that a game is sub-standard (E.T. or Superman 64 anyone?).

5. Dungeons and Dragons - Tower of Doom / Shadow over Mystara Capcom, 1996

Fortunately nothing to do with the dreadful PS1 fighter Advanced D&D Iron and Blood, Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara could be considered two of the most cerebral of the games in this genre. Not going quite as far as dice rolls and dungeon masters these games do still nod to their tabletop roots with the inclusion of several RPG elements. This is actually an animated gif

Stand-out features

This series' uniqueness comes from the character development mechanic, with new spells, armour and weapons becoming available as the game progresses. This combined with forking paths and alternative endings results in significant reply value. The artwork is lovingly drawn and, unlike the eighties D&D cartoon, the animation is silky smooth.

We'd suggest that, in any fighting game, “Fighter” is a safe character choice

Fun fact

Each character in Shadows of Mystara has 4 possible endings (3 for the dwarf). These are determined by experience gained, gold collected and also, some of the arcade's PCB settings. Overall there are 23 different possible endings.

4. Aliens vs Predator Capcom, 1994

Only the second game on our list and already we've broken the rules. So we know that this game allows a maximum of three players but, for us, a 25% margin of error is still pretty good going. Humans got over that whole “get hunted by predators for sport thing” pretty easilyBesides, even with being a player down this game is good enough to warrant inclusion. Based on a draft film script which never saw the light of day, the game's plot aligns more closely with the Dark Horse comics than the disappointing 2004 film and its sequel. Choosing from four characters - two predators and two human cyborgs - the game focuses on melee and projectile weapons with mind-blowing levels of destruction, and explosive special effects.

Ripley seen here with her trademark flowing blonde hair Stand-out features

The Capcom studio's take on the Alien and Predator worlds is unlike anything seen in western contributions to the franchise. The atmospheric level-design truly adds to the sense of dread and terror, and the different enemy types, while varied and colourful, beautifully respect the Alien canon.

Fun Fact

Interestingly, although this is a Capcom release there was an Aliens side-scrolling shooter with beat 'em up elements released in arcades by Konami in 1990. That game has a nice Contra-esque feel to it, but we prefer the art-style and hand-to-hand combat elements of AvP.

3. The Simpsons Konami, 1991

The Simpsons holds a special place in our hearts for being one of the few genuinely good games available at our local amusements when we were growing up. Playing as Homer, Bart, Lisa or Marge, players battle through a cast of colourful Springfield residents using close-range attacks and an array of collectible projectile weapons. Two classic Simpsons characters...that don't seem familiar to me at all The game has that “early episodes” feel where the jokes and characters hadn't quite developed to that beloved season 2 to 9 sweet-spot, but it's just so damn weird that you can't help but be charmed.

Stand-out features

Spotting locations and obscure characters from the TV show really adds to the enjoyment of playing through this game (the first boss, Professor Werner von Brawn, appears only in a single TV episode, for example). I never felt old and then I found out I'm almost the same age as Homer One of the key innovations in the game is that each of the characters can link up with another to perform a special attack, which adds to that sense of truly fighting alongside someone to take on the bad guys.

Fun Fact

Those with a keen eye will notice the Konami arcade game Aliens can be seen in the background on the Moe's Tavern level (we promise none of the remaining facts are about the arcade game Aliens)

2. X-Men Konami, 1992

Okay, okay, we know that there's a monster 6-player cabinet for this game, but there is also a 4-player version (and 2-player while we're here) so we feel completely justified in including it in this list. Needing no introduction as arguably Dazzler? Really?! Marvel's flagship property the X-Men arcade game draws on an art style immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with the TV series. It features 6 well-known members of Xavier's team of mutants: Wolverine, Colossus, Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler and...err, Dazzler. Players button-bash their way through henchmen-like sentinels along with some well-known mutant bad guys like Juggernaut and Mystique. The fun from this game is all about getting to play as the X-Men characters. Of all the games in our list, this is probably the one that requires the least skill, but slashing enemies apart as Wolverine just feels so good.

Stand-out features

"What's that Wolverine? Horses are coming?" As well as the standard array of close-combat attacks, this game gives players an additional mutant power button resulting in a particularly strong attack unique to each character. Using these powers, however, takes a dent out of the player's health bar introducing an additional tactical element to the game.

Fun Fact

The 6-player version plays across an extra wide screen thanks to the clever use of two 25” monitors and some well-placed mirrors. While not completely seamless, the effect is impressive and contributes to just about the most entertaining experience you can have in a dimly lit room with five other people.

1. Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Turtles in Time Konami, 1991

So onto our number one. Is it the most technically accomplished of brawlers? Nope. Does it have the best graphics, sounds or innovative gameplay mechanics? Almost certainly not. The turtles seen here taking on Cyril Sneer's rival Mr Knox But is it filled with the insane, non-stop heart-pounding action from the moment you insert your coin to the moment you send shredder on his merry way? Absolutely it is. There's something about the onslaught of enemies in this game that just feels relentless. The original TMHT (TMNT outside of Europe) arcade game is a classic, but Turtles in Time's bright colour palette, wider array of moves and variety of enemies clinches it for us.

Stand-out features

The opportunity to use the turtles' weapons is an obvious draw - name another beat 'em up where you can smack someone around the face with nunchaku. There's also something really satisfying about repeatedly slamming foot soldiers into the ground, or throwing them towards the camera and literally breaking the fourth wall. The bosses are creative, the action intense - this game is good old-fashioned fun in its purest form. It's just a shame that Adolf Hitler - bizarrely a TMNT comics regular - doesn't make an appearance.

Fun Fact

Riding on toilets is pretty normal if you live in the sewerThere was a 3D remake of this game released in 2009 for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Although the intro is much slicker than the original arcade's, the pace of the game feels pedestrian, and the 3D graphics a little charmless. Stick to the arcade original we say.

Agree with us, or are we way off the mark? Which of your favourite 4-player brawlers have we completely overlooked? Comment below or tweet us @arcadelionuk and let us know.