Today we continue our Gaming Education series by looking at five games you should play to understand the action/beat-em-up/hack-and-slash genre.

Back when arcades and the NES were at their peak, beat ‘em ups and hack-and-slash games were among the most entertaining titles you could play. These action games offered intuitive gameplay and were easy to pick up. Games like Golden Axe and Battletoads were challenging, no doubt, but they were inviting nonetheless thanks to their easy-to-grasp controls and mechanics. Even though a few decades have passed since those golden years, action games have remained largely the same in concept. Let’s take a look at some worthy beat ‘em ups and hack-and-slash games that you should play without hesitation.

Double Dragon 2: The Revenge

Double Dragon 2 The Revenge

Double Dragon was an essential part of many people’s childhood gaming. The first game in the series will always be considered a classic effort (at least the arcade version), but Double Dragon 2: The Revenge added so much more to the repertoire of Billy and Jimmy Lee. Unlike the first game, which offered its best experience on arcade machines, it was the NES version of Double Dragon 2 that really surpassed every alternate iteration of that game. For starters, it features a full nine levels on the NES, as opposed to the four found in the arcade version.

You could take on the game’s three difficulty settings (the hardest of which is the only way to access the final mission) alone or with a buddy. If you’ve ever played a 2D beat ‘em up, you’re well aware that co-op is a must to get the most out of the experience, and Double Dragon 2 is co-op at its most blissful when you’ve got a friend right by your side, smashing fools’ faces in with shovels, fists, and all manner of blunt weaponry. It’s all in the name of Marian, the love interest of brothers Jimmy and Billy, who gets shot to death at the beginning.

Okay, okay, admittedly, the sad ending seen in the arcade version (a still shot of a picture of the brothers with Marian before she passes) is much better than the friendlier resurrection angle they went in with the NES version. Still, the latter is the ultimate victor and the absolute definitive version of Double Dragon 2.

Strider (2014)

Strider

As much love as old school Strider may get, it feels a bit archaic these days. That’s why when Double Helix Games revived the series earlier this year, it was great to see some major advancements made to modernize the experience while simultaneously keeping it true to form. Strider is all about fast-paced hack-and-slash action, and there’s never a dull moment to be found. When you’re not battling legions of goons or avoiding fire from automated turrets, you’re disposing of aggressive mini-bosses and even tougher end-level bosses.

Strider plays like a retro arcade action game, but its mechanics, controls, and animations are massively refined. In addition to the rock solid gameplay, the game’s world is a total blast to battle through. The whole thing has a post-apocalyptic, Blade Runner vibe to it that’s slick and futuristic yet gritty and depraved at the same time. If you never played the original Strider, there’s really no reason to go back and do so now, especially considering the superiority of this new incarnation.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is notable for being a spinoff of the Metal Gear series that goes in a drastically different direction. It’s a total convoluted mess as far as its story goes, but that’s to be expected of this particular series. Besides, you really shouldn’t play Revengeance for its story — the game’s action is the standout element, giving you the ability to literally slice your foes up into pieces. Especially noteworthy is the fact that you can slow down time and use the analog stick to go crazy and slice away at your enemies.

Like Strider, the environments in Revengeance are reminiscent of a cyberpunk flick. Everything is slick and robotic, but an ever-present sense of societal degeneration resides. Oddly enough, there are a number of hilarious moments to be found, most notably when you encounter bosses. Without spoiling too much, the game’s final boss battle is one of the absolute craziest seen in a modern video game. All I’ll say is this: humongous buff dude in a suit kicks you around like a football.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtles in Time

Long before Michael Bay was going out of his way to ensure that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters look terrifyingly hideous, the four green heroes in a half-shell starred in a few really awesome games. Among those was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, an arcade brawler that’s been heralded as one of the best beat ‘em ups of all time. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo come packed with their ninja weapons, ready to travel through time itself in order to take down Shredder and the Foot Clan.

The game is true to the old Ninja Turtles cartoon from the ’80s and ’90s, which means it’ll tug at your nostalgic heartstrings if you were a fan back then. Unlike Double Dragon, you’re bound for a great ride regardless of whether you play Turtles in Time at your local arcade or on the SNES. It’s not a huge step forward for the series compared to the games that came before it, but it’s a proper use of a preexisting license and a total riot if you play with some friends.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

No More Heroes 2 Desperate Struggle

Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture have crafted a legacy out of making insane, crass, absurd, comedic action games. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is indicative of that, and it’s arguably the developer’s standout game. You play as Travis Touchdown, a geeky, girl-crazy otaku who can actually handle himself quite well using the light saber he won in an online auction. The first No More Heroes laid the groundwork for the series, introducing us to many memorable characters and the depraved city of Santa Destroy. Desperate Struggle does away with all the fluff and delivers an experience that’s packed with straight-up action (as well as some comedic bits).

Unlike the original, there’s no barren open world or pre-chapter requirements — you just go from level to level, hacking and slashing gangs of assassins in half and watching the blood spray all over the place. The whole thing is reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino flick, thriving off cartoon-like brutality, sexualized humor, and offbeat characters. The flavorful mix of nonstop action and colorful themes makes Desperate Struggle not just one of the best games from the mind of Suda51 (if not the absolute best), but one of the best 3D action games around.

Extra credit

Anarchy Reigns

Double Dragon: Neon

God Hand

Streets of Rage 2

River City Ransom