Beat ‘em ups were once one of the most popular genres of video games. If you could go back in time and visit an arcade you would instantly notice the games with the largest crowd around them were beat ‘em ups. Beat ‘em ups were designed to coax as many quarters out of gamers as possible.
One of the ways they accomplished this was by being very difficult, but another was by also being extremely fun. With the near extinction of the arcade in modern gaming, beat ‘em ups have become much more balanced in terms of difficulty versus skill to appeal to console owners. Here are the best modern beat 'em ups available ranked in order of greatness. If we missed one, or if you disagree with the order, be sure to leave a comment below.
10 The TakeOver
If you’re a fan of beat ‘em ups it will not be hard to tell what games influenced The TakeOver. It looks very similar to the classic Streets of Rage series for the Sega Genesis with a little Final Fight added to the mix. The game’s graphics are a little more polished than those two classic franchises of course, being a modern game.
The player has his choice of three characters: Ethan, who has a balanced mix of speed and power, Megan, who is a little faster than she is strong, and Connor, who is the strongest and slowest of the three. Like many beat ‘em ups The TakeOver’s setting is the urban sprawl of a big city. This game has a lot of features that aren’t apparent from a screenshot, and some of the music was composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro.
9 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game
When you watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World years ago, did you think to yourself, “this would make a great beat ‘em up.” Well, the game developers at Ubisoft did, and they were right – this is a fantastic beat ‘em up. The player can choose to play four characters from the movie/comic: Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers, Stephen Stills, and Kim Pine. There is also an unlockable character, NegaScott.
The events of the game follow the movie for the most part, but there are a lot more enemies to fight than Scott fought in the movie. Sadly this game is no longer available, and as this was a download only title the chance of this game becoming “lost” is a real possibility. Ubisoft needs to at the very least change the character sprites and story just enough to avoid copyright infringement and re-release the game under a new title.
8 Dungeon Punks
Dungeon Punks is a fun beat ‘em up set in a fantasy world. The player has their choice of six playable characters: a knight, a drakken (lizardman), a dwarven warrior, a were-witch (spellcasting werewolf), a djinn, and a hierophant (that looks like the Egyptian god Anubis). The player actually selects three characters, two of which are computer controlled.
At any time the player can switch between the three chosen characters. As you progress through a level you earn gold and souls by defeating enemies. You can use the gold to purchase new weapons and items, and the souls are used to unlock new abilities. This game has so much content that one play-through will probably not be enough to discover it all or complete every quest.
7 Castle Crashers
Like Dungeon Punks, Castle Crashers’ is set in a fantasy world. The player controls one of four color-coded knights on a quest to recover a mystical gem and four princesses from an evil wizard. Along the way the player can find new weapons for his knight, and even special pets that will accompany your knight into battle.
As the player advances through the levels, which can be replayed, they will earn experience and go up in level. Castle Crashers has a very cartoonish art style to it, and the music is excellent. Definitely give this one a try if you like beat ‘em ups.
6 Diablo 3
Some of you might be thinking that Diablo 3 isn’t a beat ‘em up, and doesn’t belong in this list. It is commonly called a hack-and-slash game, but what is a hack-and-slash game if not just a beat ‘em up with weapons. If the view of the game was a 2D side view instead of a top-down isometric perspective it would be almost identical to nearly every game in this list.
The player can choose from seven characters: the barbarian, crusader, wizard, monk, demon hunter, witch doctor, and necromancer. The necromancer is not available for every console though. The player fights through numerous levels, divided into four acts, on your way to defeat the dark lord Diablo. Many gamers consider Diablo 2 the superior title, but Diablo 3 is still a great game.
5 Fight ‘N Rage
Fight ‘N Rage is another beat ‘em up that uses a retro graphical style, and resembles games for the 16-bit systems of the 1990s. The player can only choose from three characters in Fight ‘N Rage: Gal, Ricardo (a minotaur), and F. Morris. This title borrows from two popular beat ‘em ups – Streets of Rage and Final Fight. The title of the game is actually an amalgamation of those two games.
This game is set in a future where humans share the planet with anthropomorphic animals; in fact nearly all the enemies are these mutant hybrids. The character designs are well done and have a Battletoads feel to them. The controls for Fight ‘N Rage seem simple, but it actually has a fairly robust fighting system.
4 Mother Russia Bleeds
Set in Soviet era Russia, Mother Russia Bleeds is gory to the point of rivaling the Mortal Kombat games. The player controls one of four characters: Sergei, Ivan, Natasha, and Boris. Each character has different ability scores in the four character stats; which are force, speed, range, and jump. The characters are street fighters who wake up in an underground laboratory after government agents kidnapped them. They must now fight their way to the surface to gain their freedom.
The game has some interesting additions that set it apart from most beat ‘em ups, such as using a syringe on fallen enemies to extract some of the drug that has animated the corpses you fight. This drug can be used to heal your character’s wounds or for a temporary power boost.
99Vidas has more of a retro look than most of the games in this list; it also has more playable characters than the other games in this list. There are six characters to choose from, and an additional five that can be unlocked. The 99Vidas (99 Lives in English) is an ancient artifact that has the power to destroy the universe.
It has been stolen and it is up to the playable characters and you to make sure it remains secure. This game has an experience system, which is not typically seen in beat ‘em ups. The experience the player earns can be used as currency to purchase new abilities and extra lives. Fans of beat ‘em ups looking for a nostalgic gaming experience should give 99Vidas a try.
2 River City Ransom: Underground
This is a continuation of a franchise that began on the Nintendo Entertainment System. There are ten playable characters in Underground, each with a unique fighting style. The game takes place twenty years after the NES title, with a similar plot revolving around rescuing a kidnapped woman. In the city the player fights their way through are numerous gangs trying to stop the player.
Each gang has a style to differentiate themselves from the others; examples include the Luchas who are luchardor wrestlers and the Roids who are muscle-bound athletes. The game also has a day/night cycle - which is a nice addition. If you are a fan of the River City Ransom franchise, or beat ‘em ups in general, you won’t be disappointed with Underground.
1 Dragon’s Crown
Not many game publishers consistently put out great games like Atlus does, and Dragon’s Crown is no exception. This game is another beat ‘em up set in a fantasy world. There are six playable characters: a fighter, a dwarven warrior, an amazon warrior, an evlen archer, a witch, and a wizard. The game’s hand-drawn graphics are very polished and stylized, and the animation of the characters is very fluid. It is easy to see the influences of Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow of Mystara by Capcom; which is another great game that is available for download. Dragon’s Crown is the best game in this list, and if you haven’t tried this underrated title you’re definitely missing out.