Few genres provide the simple pleasure of a good old-fashioned beat ‘em up. After all, these arcade-style games let you and your buddies punch and kick dozens of often colorful enemies in the face. What’s not to love? Double-teaming mobs of enemies or a sturdy boss strengthens bonds. Conversely, repeatedly grabbing health pick-ups “on accident” with a full health bar while your friend hangs on by a thread can reveal cracks in a relationship. Whatever side of the fence you’re on, we’ve all likely played these sorts of games, and the last decade has seen modernized takes on the winning formula. Here are 10 of the best contemporary beat ‘em ups (in no particular order) that you can play right now. No quarters necessary.
Developer Dotemu successfully resurrected the Streets of Rage series from decades of dormancy with this stellar fourth entry. Players control old favorites like Axel and Blaze and newcomers Cherry and Floyd to dish out hard-hitting, combo-heavy street justice that feels satisfying. An eye-catching comic-inspired art direction replaces the pixelated sprites, and a bumping soundtrack featuring tracks by original SoR composer Yuzo Koshiro completes this entertaining package. Streets of Rage 4 proved itself a worthy entry in the series at launch. Still, DLC updates such as this year’s Mr. X Nightmare expansion sweetened the deal by adding new playable characters, a survival mode, and music tracks by beloved retro composer Tee Lopes. | Our Review
Young Souls’ winning formula combines beat ‘em up-style action with a dungeon-crawling progression and exploration. As two troubled, orphaned teenagers, your adoptive father has been kidnapped by underground goblins. During the day, you’ll explore your suburban town to pump stat-boosting weights at the gym and buy armor and weapons in order to complete evening runs through the goblin kingdom. Double-teaming these monsters alongside a friend rocks, but Young Souls makes playing solo just as fun by letting players tag the twins in and out, adding a fighting game-like strategy to combat. With a killer art direction and an unexpectedly touching story, this timed-Stadia exclusive can’t spread its joy to more platforms soon enough. | Our Review
Prefer a more traditional arcade experience that still feels like it launched this generation? Fight’N Rage is a little-known gem that rules the school. It boasts charming pixel art enhanced by a CRT-style presentation. You’ll feel like you’re sitting in front of that old TV (set to channel 3, of course) fighting bad guys with two other buddies. Fight’N Rage boasts smooth combat and a killer combo system, letting you air juggle foes with dozens of hits before they explode into a humorous pile of bones. Don't let this one pass you by if you’re searching for a good, simple, fun brawler.
2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a flag bearer for the beat ‘em up renaissance of the PS3/Xbox 360 era. Based on the cult-favorite movie based on the cult-favorite comic series, the game borrowed heavily from River City Ransom and other classics to form a winning experience all its own. Unfortunately, Scott Pilgrim was delisted from sale in 2014, making it lost to time for the unlucky souls who never purchased it. Prayers for a return were answered in 2020 when Ubisoft remastered and re-released Scott Pilgrim (complete with all of its DLC) for modern platforms. Don’t miss out a second time. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game remains a delight over ten years later, regardless of whether you’re a fan of the source material or not.
Every game on this list owes some of its existence to River City Ransom, and the classic series is still kicking thanks to the fresh River City Girls. As the name implies, you throw hands as high school students Misako and Kyoko, girlfriends of series protagonists Kunio and Riki, who have been captured. This flip of the script offers enjoyable melee combat backed by one of the best soundtracks in recent memory. Seriously, you’ll be humming this game’s tunes long after you’ve pummeled the final goon or wacky boss. River City Girls isn’t perfect, and its difficulty can be punishing at times, but fans of old-school throwdowns won’t be disappointed. | Our Review
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Streets of Rage must be grinning ear to ear while blushing in embarrassment. The Takeover is an unabashed homage to Sega’s classic series in a way that borders on being a pure rip-off. Its presentation (though 3D), combat, and even jazz-fueled soundtrack feel extremely familiar, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t fun or lacks its own tricks. Quite the contrary, as players can use guns as an additional range attack, unleash powerful rage moves by filling a meter, and can reign hell with screen-clearing special attacks. The Takeover may be too liberal in how much it borrows, but at least it executes established ideas well.
Like Scott Pilgrim, Castle Crashers was also blessed with the remaster treatment, giving the king of the modern beat ‘em up another reign at the top. One of the most popular indie games of its time finds new life thanks to 60 frames-per-second gameplay, a new multiplayer mini-game, and every piece of DLC it ever received. Laying the smackdown as the four colorful knights remains a joy and rekindles fond memories of countless parties back in 2008. Castle Crashers Remastered is the best way to relive that excitement with friends old and new.
Beloved RPG maker Vanillaware took a chance with Dragon’s Crown in 2013, and it paid off. The studio applied its role-playing expertise, storytelling chops, and famous art direction to a cooperative hack ‘n slash adventure that, frankly, was a blast. The game has since become a cult classic that has left fans pining for a sequel to this day. Until that day (hopefully) comes, they’ll have to settle for Dragon’s Crown Pro, an enhanced re-release that sports a 4K presentation, cross-platform play, all of its DLC, and even a rerecorded orchestral soundtrack. Dragon’s Crown Pro is a strong option if you prefer more RPG with your brawler.
Billy and Jimmy kicked their way back to relevance with Double Dragon Neon, a vibrant return to form for one of the pillars of the genre. Love interest Marian once again finds herself kidnapped, laying the way for a nostalgia-fueled adventure that plays better than the old games ever did. One reason for that is a new evade mechanic, where dodging foes at the precise moment rewards powerful counterattacks. Neon’s presentation and vibe drip with the 1980s, which may go unappreciated by young ‘uns, but older fans asking, “whatever happened to Double Dragon?” need not look any further. | Our Review
This may be cheating, but why have one good brawler when you can have seven? The Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is a treat for genre connoisseurs since it assembles a classic in Final Fight with harder-to-find gems like Captain Commando, The King of Dragons, Knights of the Round, Warriors of Fate, Armored Warriors, and Battle Circuit. Best of all, each title supports online multiplayer and comes in both their English and Japanese incarnations. The bundle also serves as the first home console release for Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit, giving history nerds a chance to experience long-lost arcade relics. Welcome to the pupu platter of arcade brawlers.
What beat 'em up games are your favorites? Let us know in the comments! Be sure to check out our other Top 10 lists by clicking the Goose below.