Capcom’s 1989 Final Fight was not the first “beat em up” video game. It wasn’t the first popular game of that type, with Double Dragon taking that two years earlier. But it was an instance where the genre was-dare I say-mastered. With an excuse plot of “save the mayor’s daughter”, ninja Guy, tough thug Cody, and the former wrestling star and mayor himself, Mike Haggar, go off to wallop street goons in a thinly veiled New York City.
An action sports star in political office of that nature has come true twice , with former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura becoming governor of Minnesota and, more recently and relevantly, heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko becoming mayor of war-torn Kyiv. But I digress. Final Fight either introduced or popularized a lot of beat em up elements, the first being playable characters on a speed-power spectrum from Haggar (slow, strong) to Guy (fast, weaker). The second was the moveset, combining normal attacks, throws, and an all-round attack that costs the player health.
It’s amazing how A: This feels natural and effective, and B: All of this was accomplished with only one attack button. The fighting is fluid and forgiving in ways that a lot of similar games-even those made by Capcom itself-are not. Everything from combinations to attacking enemies by throwing other enemies at them just clicks. The one sour move is the grab attack (where you just hold and beat an enemy), which is both hard to do and of limited use given how many enemies are on screen at once. But everything else fits into its niche near-perfectly.
The graphics are amazing for the time and still look good by pixel art standards over thirty years later. The music a mixed bag, but it has some catchy tunes and it’s a rare instance of an arcade game from that period with actually good sound mixing. Others will often have the music drowned out by the action, which is not the case here.
Final Fight is a classic video game. And it’s a classic for good reason.