Most beat 'em up games don't allow player character sprites to face away or towards the screen. For example, in Streets of Rage, when you press up, the character moves up, but it is still facing either left or right, and the same is true when you press down.

Even in modern beat 'em ups, this is the case. What is the reason for this? I used to think this is because the graphics are 2D, so it's harder or more work to get characters to face towards or away from the screen. But even in beat 'em ups that use 3D graphics, this is still the case, like Double Dragon Neon.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking why gameplay is restricted to a 2D plane instead of playing out in the full 3D world, or are you asking solely about the visual effect? \$\endgroup\$
    – Polygnome
    Apr 20, 2021 at 8:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Contrary examples: Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!!. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2021 at 23:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you saw one of the Lee Brothers face on, you'd immediately die from sheer terror. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 21, 2021 at 12:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another contrary example: Virtua Fighter \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham
    Apr 21, 2021 at 12:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are literally hundreds of counter-examples (depending on your definition of "beat-em up"), they're just mostly top-down or isometric. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22, 2021 at 3:18

4 Answers 4


When you have a side-scrolling beat-em-up game like Streets of Rage, then fighting enemies vertically instead of horizontally would have a number of drawbacks:

  • While it is easy for the player to see the range of attacks when they are performed horizontally (assuming hitboxes and hurtboxes match the animation), the attack ranges of vertical attacks are a lot harder to judge due to lack of depth perception.
  • Either the player-character overlaps the enemy or the enemy overlaps the player-character. This hides information. Either the player can't properly see the tells of the enemy, or they can not properly see what their character is doing. The whole game gets a lot more chaotic, and the game screen gets harder to read for the player.
  • It just doesn't look as good. It is far easier to animate a good looking attack animation from the side than one from the front or back. Even walk cycles usually look a lot better from the side than from the front or back.

For those reasons, many side-scrolling beat-em-ups just disable vertical attacking, which forces players and AI enemies to engage each other from the side.

Most of those problems can be solved by moving the camera angle to be from further up (like in Zelda) or even straight from the top (like in Hotline Miami). But while such a perspective has advantages for the gameplay, it has disadvantages for the aesthetics. The further up you move your camera, the less character detail is visible. In the overhead view, you reduce the character to their hair and shoulders, which does not have a lot of appeal. Also, while moving the camera up improves the viability of walking and attacking in 4 directions, you lose an equal amount of viability for gameplay centered around jumping, falling or climbing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Side-scrolling beat-em-ups can be seen as a natural extension of side-scrollers in general. You never saw Mario or Sonic face the screen either (until they made the transition to full 3D). Fighting games like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat were the same way. It's just a general convention of 2D games as a whole, not specific to beat-em-ups. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 20, 2021 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarrelHoffman Yes but the reason I specifically ask for Beat 'em Ups is because the genre allows you to move towards or away from the screen wherein SF or MK is just side-to-side. \$\endgroup\$
    – g_b
    Apr 21, 2021 at 9:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarrelHoffman But those are not the games we are talking about here. This question is about games like Streets of Rage, where the player can move on two axis, but only attack on one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Apr 21, 2021 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not really all that different. It's just the reinterpretation of the second axis to be towards/away vs. just down/up. Mario can be on the top of the screen and unable to interact with creatures on the bottom. You're still moving on 2 axes and attacking on one basically. The only practical difference is SoR et al. add layer ordering and remove gravity. It's not even real 3D as the characters don't get smaller as they move "further away". \$\endgroup\$ Apr 21, 2021 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LoganPickup That's what I meant with "the player can't properly see the tells of the enemy". \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Apr 22, 2021 at 13:43

This is mostly to keep the gameplay simplified. There is simply too little added value for the complexity it adds to the player experience.

The challenges in these games are of course also calibrated to not confront you with this disability.

In addition, more modern games may also consciously do it to evoke nostalgia by directly copying how the game used to work in the arcade.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be specific, only facing forward and backward means your attacks and blocks will only go forward and backward, which simplifies the gameplay a lot. \$\endgroup\$
    – Millard
    Apr 20, 2021 at 4:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ "directly copying how the game used to work in the arcade." Which of course is a factor for Double Dragon. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham
    Apr 21, 2021 at 12:18

While others have given excellent answers regarding visual clarity, art resources, and gameplay complexity, I'll add that a major reason is that I haven't seen explicitly stated, though it has perhaps been assumed, is that the Beat 'em Up genre includes side-scrolling as part of its definition.

Doing a Beat 'em Up in 3D has another name. Either they're a "Spectacle Fighter" or a "Hack and Slash" game or possibly the extremely non-specific "Action" label gets involved.

But really, what are the essential parts of being a Beat 'em Up? While I'm not aware of a formal definition, I'd suggest that if the side-scrolling gameplay isn't part of the definition we typically have the following attributes:

  • The game is primarily based on fighting enemies in real time by controlling a single character.
  • The presence of enemies typically prevents the player from moving forward. Classically the screen mysteriously stops scrolling, but there could be locking doors or some other mechanism.
  • Usually multiple enemies will appear at a time.
  • Sometimes defeating a wave of enemies will cause even more to appear before the player can leave.
  • Progression is mostly linear.
  • The player most likely has at least a few different attacks, probably including a ground combo that's performed by repeatedly hitting the same attack button, and a jumping attack.

Of course, genre definitions are a difficult thing and even classic Beat 'em Ups aren't perfectly rigid on these. To take examples from Battletoads: Turbo Tunnel, Clinger Wingers, and that part where you jump on snakes all are very different from typical Beat 'em Up gameplay.

Keeping all this in mind, you could see Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Darksiders, and God of War games as Beat 'em Ups on at least some level. There are lots of examples of "Beat 'em Up-ish" games that don't include retro Beat 'em Up conventions, but then they don't look like retro Beat 'em Ups.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I would say Fighting Force is a 3D Beat 'em up that matches all your requirements for a beat em up but it is in 3D, and I wouldn't call it Hack and Slash or a Spectacle Fighter (not sure what that is). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fighting_Force \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22, 2021 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ZekeHernandez Yes, I'd personally call The Bouncer on PS2 a Beat 'em Up as well. I just don't consider whether 3D Beat 'em Ups truly exist or whether their soul lives on in a new genre to be worth arguing when the main thrust of my answer is just "The sort of gameplay the question is asking about actually exists, but they also abandon the sidescrolling perspective." \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22, 2021 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ yeah, I'm not even arguing, now I'm just enjoying the nostalgia of thinking about Fighting Force and The Bouncer... oh! and Tekken Force modes. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22, 2021 at 14:08
  1. "Punch-Out!" is a 2D fighting game with a front on view. Its controls are radically different which means that controls for integrating both becomes a lot more complicated for a different 2D control scheme.
  2. "Absolver" is a true 3D fighting game with combos. It struggles with dealing with more than one opponent as the additional axis means that single target moves can miss for reasons other than range requiring either placing the target front on for having an unusual technique that requires aiming.
  3. If we switch to top down instead you have built a shoot'em up not a fighting game.
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question is about Beat 'em Up games, though, not fighting games; could you edit your answer and emphasize on this? \$\endgroup\$
    – Vaillancourt
    Apr 20, 2021 at 15:19

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