Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

Beat ‘Em Up Sales Numbers

I've studied these numbers across the year, developer, and even climate. I'm starting with Devil May Cry 1 because I believe that's when the third and most recent age of beat 'em ups began, marked by their migration to consoles after their presence in arcades ended in 1997 after the release of Capcom's Battle Circuit.

Devil May Cry

  • Developer/Director: Capcom/Hideki Kamiya
  • Released: October 2001
  • Units Sold: 2.7 Million (PS2 exclusive)
  • Why: DMC was a hugely publicized launch-era title (end of the first year) for the PS2, as it should have been. It essentially ushered in the new age of the genre by introducing so many innovations and novelties it changed the face of the action game completely and its influence is still felt today. Its success was no marketing phenomenon though; it's an incredibly solid product.

Devil May Cry 2

  • Developer/Director: Capcom/Hideaki Itsuno
  • Released: January 2003
  • Units Sold: 1.8 Million (PS2 exclusive)
  • Why: DMC2 was taken from Kamiya and given to Itsuno, a then newcomer to combat. The game just wasn't very solid as either a game or a combat experience (I think it somehow got worse) but it had the already all-powerful DMC brand attached to it and that got it into the hands of a lot of people. For what it's worth, Itsuno would eventually prove himself as a remarkable action game director.

Viewtiful Joe

  • Developer/Director: Capcom/Hideki Kamiya
  • Released: June 2003
  • Units Sold: .3 Million (Gamecube launch, eventual PS2 release)
  • Why: Viewtiful Joe would typify the type of game Kamiya would continue to make for the rest of his directorial career; incredibly well constructed mechanics all wrapped up in inaccessible Japanese gestalt. Viewtiful Joe didn't perform the way other titles on this list did, not by a long shot, but it was an intentionally low-budgeted and experimental Capcom project that ended up being just successful enough to warrant a sequel. The game's fan following is remarkable and praise for the game was universally positive.

Ninja Gaiden

  • Developer/Director: Team Ninja/Tomonobu Itagaki
  • Released: March 2004
  • Units Sold: 1.5 Million (Xbox exclusive)
  • Why: Having already spent some years developing Dead or Alive, Team Ninja was a combat-centric company that completely hijacked a powerful and classic brand, and then took it in a very different direction from DMC with an emphasis on rhythm over style. Ninja Gaiden was very well constructed and very well received, despite its unforgiving difficulty. Ninja Gaiden's success is very interesting to me; its devoted fan base not only appreciated the difficulty this first installment would bring but would come to expect it from future titles. Ninja Gaiden makes me believe that there are still at least 1.5 million arcade souls out there willing to spend money on games of this nature that don't hold their hands.

Viewtiful Joe 2

  • Developer/Director: Capcom/Atsushi Inaba
  • Released: November 2004
  • Units Sold: .7 Million (Gamecube and PS2)
  • Why: Honestly, I didn't even know there was Viewtiful Joe 2 until recently. I simply recall the game climate of late that year as being shadowed completely by 2004's seminal first person shooters Half Life 2 and Halo, and the release of the third Metal Gear Solid title. Rough time to be a sequel to a very quirky and mostly unknown game. But .7 million is no joke for a title like this.

Devil May Cry 3/DMC3:SE

  • Developer/Director: Capcom/Hideaki Itsuno
  • Released: February 2005/January 2006
  • Units Sold: 2.5 Million (PS2 exclusive)
  • Why: DM3 had a very interesting life. In what was most likely a response to Ninja Gaiden, DMC 3 had an infamously high default difficulty level, and performed poorly in America because of it. In what is one of the most interesting publisher moves of all time, Capcom would release a special edition version of the game a year later with the difficulty tweaked substantially for wider appeal. The special edition would end up pushing the kind of units the original did and is considered by hardcore fans of the genre to be the best beat 'em up of all time. The combat in DMC 3 really is phenomenally well made and furthermore, very INTERESTING, but it is strangely antiquated in the stiffness of its controls. Luckily, this year would be the end of that classic tactile inflexibility.

God Of War 1

  • Developer/Director: Sony Santa Monica/David Jaffe
  • Released: March 2005
  • Units Sold: 3.7 Million (PS2 exclusive)
  • Why: A funny thought I sometimes have is that God Of War marks the end of a fourth age of beat 'em ups in which most beat 'em ups made from 2005 onward simply wish they were God Of War. Its staggering success is not unusual. Immaculately constructed, it brought all kinds of feel good violence to players by taking very well implemented combat mechanics to the next level.  It was the first famous American made beat 'em up ever, and is to this day, one of the most successful action game series of all time. I believe (bitterly) that a big part of its success is the marked absence of the intimidating tactical depth found in its Japanese counterparts.

God Of War 2

  • Developer/Director: Sony Santa Monica/Cory Barlog
  • Released: March 2007
  • Units Sold: 3.5 Million (PS2 exclusive)
  • Why: Losing very little momentum, God Of War 2 was a juggernaut. Arriving at the end of the PS2's lifetime, GoW 2 squeezed every last drop of power out of the console and cemented its status as the great and mighty American made champion of action games. Its success is especially remarkable given the videogame climate's focus on the newly released generation of high powered consoles.

Devil May Cry 4

  • Developer/Director: Capcom/Hideaki Itsuno
  • Released: January 2008
  • Units Sold: 2.7 Million (Xbox 360, PS3, and eventual PC release)
  • Why: The first entry in the next gen beat 'em up roster, DMC 4 was fascinatingly controversial. In a very bizzarre move, Capcom introduced a brand new character that you must complete the first half of the game with before getting to play as series' regular Dante. Despite both characters being VERY well implemented, I do agree that not having Dante playable from the start hurt the game's success a lot. It may have pushed as many units as the first DMC, but it was also across three platforms. It's unfortunate given how well done the game actually was, and doubly saddening considering this is roughly when the Japanese game industry's identity crisis began manifesting.

God Of War: Chains Of Olympus

  • Developer/Director: Sony Santa Monica/Ru Weerasuriya
  • Released: March 2008
  • Units Sold: 2.0 Million (PSP exclusive)
  • Why: Chains Of Olympus was given to Ready At Dawn, an American studio formed by ex Naughty Dog and Blizzard members with ties to Sony Santa Monica. They killed it. COO was a solid original addition to the seminal series.

Ninja Gaiden 2

  • Developer/Director: Team Ninja/Tomonobu Itagaki
  • Released: June 2008
  • Units Sold: 1 Million (Xbox 360, PS3)
  • Why: The return of the king of maddening difficulty. Ninja Gaiden 2 had a huge platform advantage over the previous (the first NG being an Xbox exclusive) but it still lost some momentum. While the combat was as solid as it had ever been, fans of the series had also sat through multiple re-releases of the first game in the form of Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden Sigma. Furthermore, many considered it to be a sequel of little improvement as the few additions to the gameplay were hampered by newly introduced camera and difficulty problems.
Castle Crashers
  • Developer/Director: The Behemoth/Dan Paladin
  • Released: August 2008
  • Units Sold: 2.7 Million (Xbox 360, and eventually on PS3)
  • Why: Castle Crashers was an independently developed 4 player co-op beat 'em up that struck a chord with an incredible amount of gamers. The game's combat was fairly shallow, but the mechanics were well implemented and there was just enough variety across the character specific abilities, discoverable weapons, and familiars that the product had a lot to offer. A co-op game like CC that is chock full of charm, humor, and style is a very powerful thing, as evidenced by it's remarkable success. The game's value is not in its depth or genre evolution, but in the raw accessible fun on display for a surprising variety of players. CC is the only game on the list I am comfortable referring to as a "modern throwback". It's eventual appearance on the PS3 was insignificant, at least in comparison to the monstrous success it had already amassed on the 360.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade

  • Developer/Director: Vanillaware/George Kamitani
  • Released: April 2009
  • Units Sold: .5 Million (Wii exclusive)
  • Why: Muramasa was made by the fascinating and obscure Vanillaware, a Japanese company known primarily for their incredible hand painted aesthetics. Muramasa, like their previous games, is much more of an aesthetic experience than it is a compelling combat experience. All things considered, it's combat is solid, and every new game is a marked improvement in the studio's ability to produce satisfying combat, which is obviously the type of gameplay they are most passionate about. Unfortunately, Muramasa is one of the most Japanese games ever made, and despite its incredible value as a visual and audio experience, it did not have the appeal to make it into the millions.


  • Developer/Director: Platinum Games/Hideki Kamiya
  • Released: October 2009
  • Units Sold: 1.8 Million (Xbox 360, PS3)
  • Why: Good question! I honestly don't know why this game did as well as it did. You know how I feel about Bayonetta, but the response to the game was so repugnant that it baffles me to see how many units it pushed. Check out that first link if you want elaboration on Bayonetta as a game experience, but I truthfully have little insight into its remarkable success. I can only imagine that the impassioned response significantly boosted its unit movement.

Dante's Inferno

  • Developer/Director: Visceral Games/Jonathan Knight
  • Released: February 2010
  • Units Sold: 1.7 Million (Xbox 360, PS3)
  • Why: Dante's Inferno is a pretty generic beat 'em up that took its cues (on pretty much everything) from God Of War. The game's combat is okay, but its numbers were no doubt hugely boosted by EA's completely ridiculous marketing campaign where they did a bunch of disgusting things to journalists and conference attendees in order to promote the game. The entire product is grossly sensational, and for whatever reason struck a chord with the action game audience. And for what it's worth, the game's downloadable demo was solid. Obviously, the multi-platform release helps.

Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow

  • Developer/Director: Mercury Steam/Enric Alvarez
  • Released: October 2010
  • Units Sold: 1 Million (Xbox 360, PS3)
  • Why: Lords Of Shadow took one of the most classic and revered game franchises of all time and turned it into something completely new and different. Mercury Steam had a much publicized relationship with Kojima Productions, who was asked by Konami (the issuers of the Castlevania license) to lend their expertise to the game's production. While not at all resembling any Castlevania of the past beyond superficial environmental resemblance, Lords of Shadow was actually a completely remarkable product. While a million units is pretty great, I'm not certain why it didn't push more. The only logical conclusion is gamer shock/repulsion based on much of a radical departure LOS was from modern Castlevania titles.

God Of War 3

  • Developer/Director: Sony Santa Monica/Stig Asmussen
  • Released: March 2010
  • Units Sold: 4.3 Million (PS3 exclusive)
  • Why: GoW3 was the next generation installment of the biggest beat 'em up IP in the world. There had not been a God Of War since 2008's Chains Of Olympus, and this was the biggest and baddest and most spectacular God Of War yet. Sony Santa Monica somehow knocked another out of the park with number 3. Graphically it was a giant and no doubt moved PS3's with it, and while the gameplay itself showed little evolution from previous titles, it was as solid as it had ever been was by and far much grander in every way. I would argue that almost every hardcore action gamer in the world crawled out of the woodwork to possess a copy of this titan. And for an exclusive! It's incredible. The only problem with GoW3's massive success is the perpetuating of the horrific thought contagion now prominent among action game designers; that players want spectacular automatics and epic presentation over genuine challenge and mechanical depth.

God Of War: Ghost Of Sparta

  • Developer/Director: Ready At Dawn/Dana Jan
  • Released: Novemeber 2010
  • Units Sold: .75 Million (PSP exclusive)
  • Why: The poorest performer of the IP, GoS is simply "another entry" in a series that has been explored and refined to death. I feel like its exclusivity on a dying handheld has a little importance here, but I would argue that its marked lack of improvement or evolution is responsible for its poor comparative performance. In any case, 750,000 units is still a great performance.

Average - 2.2M!

This is actually an incredible number for a genre of games with its roots in the most unforgivable parts of videogame's history. I chased down all this information because I was trying to establish how much money we stand to make by tapping into the group of people who buy beat 'em ups. I might be way off base here, but given how little the genre has changed over time, my guess is that these are the same people who have been playing and buying beat 'em ups for as long as they've existed. And when you think about how few of these games brought in new gamers into the fold it only reinforces this notion. This is also why I believe the God Of War series has been so successful! THESE are the games with this power. They brought the beat 'em up down from on high into the hands of a much larger audience; people who like action games but don't possess the sensibilities of the hardcore arcade gamer. Unfortunately, there's no real way to know exactly what the potential audience is here, but going off of the average is very insightful and interesting. So remember, for those of you making your own beat 'em up...there are 2.2 million people out there who ALWAYS show up to buy the new expertly crafted entry in the genre. ;)


  • Tyler

    I’d be curious to know what the stats are for games such as Shank that came out to consoles through the arcade (XBLA,PSN,etc). Do they reach these same levels of interest, or is the market mostly interested in hard copy releases?

    • Me too! Couldn’t find Shank’s numbers though. :(

      • I know just the Humble Bundle with Shank in it sold over 400,000 copies. Sales figures are difficult to find meaning in now that so much exists only in digital sales, playing by the new rules growing there.

  • Aztez look like more Castle Crasher serious version than DMC, GOW and other same style.

    their study is very valid, but it would be better to know the total number of players on the market, they pay for downloadble games and find out how many percent a beat’n up represents the total share of games. This would give you a better idea of the size of the audience you want to achieve.

    maybe this will help:

    • Hey thanks! I love these reports. Unfortunately, it’s not super insightful in this case. It does reinforce that their are a lot of action gamers out there, but that’s a pretty fair assumption. In any case, thanks for the link!

  • What, no platforms for Dante’s Inferno? ;)

  • Bayonetta’s response was “repugnant”?! It has an 87 metacritic!

    I don’t get it man, surely you’ve taken a small slice of the market here? I don’t think that final average is a decent indication. My understanding is God Hand sold less than 50,000 copies for example. What about all these'em_ups ?

    • Gary the Llama

      God Hand selling less than 50k is a shame. That game was so awesome.

      Also, surprised you left Castle Crashers out of the equation since that was a mega hit (over 2.6 million on the 360 alone).

      • I shouldn’t have! I simply forgot about it. Will add!

    • Response doesn’t always correlate to the bottom line, though! Obviously the vanguard of journalists saw it for what it was but as soon as it was beyond them, things got wacky tobaccy. How many people do you know that like the game? Even amongst my heavily gaming developer friends, I know ONE other person. Obviously I don’t represent all gamers but online discussion amongst players (not journos) mirrors the notion that Bayonetta is a pleasure so guilty it’s stealthy. Metacritic is great, sales are great, yet no one knows anyone who bought the fucking game. It’s fascinating.

      And I see what you’re saying about a representative market slice but I’m only picking on the big dogs because I only have so much time. And trying to make rudimentary guesses by measuring the relatively large group of people who throw their money at the AAA entries in the genre is a better exercise in my mind than I don’t know, not. But I don’t typically think like this, so if there’s a better way to stab in the dark and what we stand to gain then I’m all ears…provided it won’t take an unbelievable amount of time (like playing and studying and researching all of the beat ’em ups from the last x years).

  • Sure, sorry, I can deffo understand you not wanting to make a comprehensive study. How about taking a random sample though? Look at the list I posted, get some random numbers (as many or few as you like), check out the games at that index in the list.

    Sorry to be demanding, but I just don’t see anything that you learn from the 2.2million number. I mean obviously, if you select the most popular games-that-are-like-your-game and draw any impression from them, it’ll seem as though games-that-are-like-your-game are more popular than they really are, right?

    • I wish I could. The thing is, there are some sites out there that make educated guesses for you on the unit performance of specific titles; I scraped them to find the numbers in this article. But the further back you go and the more obscure the game gets, the less likely there is to be any kind of sales information. My point is, most of the games on the list are total question marks. They’re either too old, too irrelevant, or were just straight coin-op games where there is no such thing as units sold. :(

      I suppose the thing I was trying to learn is “how large is the pond that I’m about to drop a hook into?” I like the idea of knowing that if I push a beat ’em up to market that sells 500k units, that I only tapped into roughly 1/4th of the demographic. Why? How? Etc. I realize this is REALLY clumsy math, but it’s the best I can do given the information I have, and given the brain I have, too. Haha! Math and I are not the strongest allies.

      And I’m not quite sure what you mean by “it’ll seem as though games-that-are-like-your-game are more popular than they really are, right?” Can you clarify?

      • Mmm, well, it looks like this is an inescapable problem, but here it is anyway.

        Stats on sales of games are most likely to be found/hosted by fans of the games.

        A game with a small number of fans is less likely to have stats on its sales available.

        A game with a small number of fans is likely to have sold fewer copies anyway.

        Therefore, all available stats will be the stats of games that sold a lot of copies.

        Therefore available stats will make it look as though the average game is very popular. If you had ALL the stats you ever wanted, the average would be brought down.

        • Okay, I totally see what you’re saying.

          Maybe it’s inappropriately lofty, but I feel like we’re entitled to the same large pool the big dogs are, which is I’m okay using an average skewed way towards the top. So I’m certainly not expecting millions of people to buy this game but because of my own personal standards, I’m (not to invoke an awful cliche) shooting for the stars on principle.

          It’s this kind of superfluously positive thinking that keeps me going. Haha!

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