DENJIN MAKAI / Banpresto / Arcade
Banpresto isn't a name you immediately associate with beat 'em ups, but they did throw their hat in the ring a few times in the 1990s. Most notably with the Sailor Moon game and the Japan-only Denjin Makai series.
This first entry gets off to a very Snatcher-like start as we pan over a city that looks like Neo Kobe and dark synths play. It's quickly on to fairly standard mid-90s brawling action, however, just with an enemy cast heavy on the robots and mutants.
Aside from the six selectable characters, Denjin Makai's standout quality is how it handles special moves. You only have one attack and jump button, but each character has anywhere from two to four special moves as well as a couple of "desperation" attacks only available when either your life or special bar gets low enough. Most characters have a "basic" special accessed by pressing jump and attack, but the rest require less intuitive Street Fighter-like inputs.
It's absolutely vital to learn all the special attacks, too. If you were playing this in an actual arcade and didn't know about the breadth of special moves, you'd probably write it off as an artificially difficult quarter-muncher and abandon it pretty quickly. You only get one life per credit, and your character can't take very many hits. The key to surviving is judicious use of the special moves to get packs of marauding enemies off you, plus making the most of opportunities to stand still to very quickly replenish your special meter.
It's a bit more strategic and interesting than the usual beat 'em up, but aside from that (and the large character count) there isn't much to write home about. It seems like it was made on a fairly thin budget, with not-fantastic animation and some choppiness during non-interactive sequences. There's almost nothing going on between levels and the ending is as threadbare as it gets, 1989's TMNT (released five years before this) looks like a marvel of cinematic storytelling next to this game. The sound and music are also unremarkable, though the final boss music is amusing in its blatant theft of the hook from Eye of the Tiger.
Denjin Makai has enough going for it to be worth a look for big beat 'em up fans, though those not particularly disposed to the genre can safely skip it. It's much better with two players as the characters have a whole range of double-team special attacks that are specific to certain other characters.
* Move list
* Gameplay Video