Prepare your thumbs because your controller will suffer: here are some of the best beat ’em up games of recent years. Note that these are more traditional side-scrolling beat ’em ups, so games like Zeno Clash, Bayonetta, Devil May Cry or Transformers: Devastation (which, believe or not, some people consider part of the beat ’em up genre) weren’t taken into consideration for this article. Being one of the first genres ever created, there are literally hundreds of beat ’em ups out there and while I did some research to make sure most of the best ones are represented here, I might have missed some of them. If you feel like I did, use the comments below to share your favorites.
10. Sacred Citadel
Released in 2013 as a prequel to hack-and-slash brawler Sacred 3, Sacred Citadel puts you in the shoes of one of four heroes that fight hordes of enemies in the once peaceful land of Ancaria. The available heroes come with their own sets of skills and you can also pick up loot, ride dinosaurs, use items and level up your characters. If you have some friends over or an internet connection, you can play three-player coop.
9. God Hand
Developed by Clover Studio (Okami, Viewtiful Joe,) God Hand is an over-the-top action game that has achieved a cult status over the years. So what’s so special about God Hand? Well, its quirky characters, insane story and the fact that there are hundreds of attacks to perform are definitely part of its charm, so if you like games that don’t take themselves too seriously, this is for you. Note that this is an acquired taste and while some people speak highly of this game, others simply detest it, so read some reviews or watch some footage before tracking down a copy.
Developed by The Behemoth, Castle Crashers must be one of the best two-dimensional beat ’em ups you can play, but make sure you have a buddy to play locally. There are unlockable characters and weapons, RPG elements, animal orbs that you can fight alongside and some extra modes that change the rules a bit.
7. Double Dragon: Neon
Do you remember martial arts stars Billy and Jimmy Lee? They are back in a re-imagining of the classic beat ’em up series Double Dragon that was developed by Wayforward (Ducktales Remasterd, Bloodrayne Betrayal.) As you’d expect, this game allows you to fight your way through countless baddies as you try to rescue Marian. Some of the new features include the possibility of combining attacks and abilities and using classics weapons, such as bats, knives and whips. As you’d expect, there’s also a cooperative mode to play with a friend.
6. Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds
Based on a Japanese fighting game, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a frantic beat ’em up with chibi characters. There are retro graphics, levels based on Tokyo locales, customizable characters and some traditional modes (including story, arcade and local multiplayer.) Of course, the best way to experience all the beating up is with other people and that’s where four-player local coop mode comes in handy. Unfortunately though, there’s no online coop.
Over the years, this sidescrolling became sort of a modern classic that reminded a lot of people of how entertaining beat ’em ups could be. Indie game Shank achieved that with grindhouse qualities, entertaining boss fights and a peculiar art style and the best part about this game is that if you enjoy it, there’s a sequel called Shank 2. Unfortunately, only local multiplayer is available.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game
Based on the popular series of graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is a console-exclusive (available on both PSN and XBLA) that’s really easy to recommend. It can be difficult and the online multiplayer doesn’t support the drop-in and drop-out feature, but the soundtrack is fantastic, the visual style is attractive and the entire game feels like a love letter to the beat ’em up genre.
3. Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
Although not necessarily a modern beat ’em up (this is a collection that compiles Capcom’s classic arcade games Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara,) this game deserves to be on this list. Not only because it holds up well enough, but also because the compilation has some new features, such as achievements, online coop with GGPO support, drop-in and drop-out and online leaderboards.
2. The Warriors
Rockstar re-imagined one of the best cult films of the late 1970s in the form of a terrific beat’ em up. The game takes place in New York City, allowing you to play as different members of the notorious gang known as The Warriors. As those who watched the movie already know, someone accuses your gang of a crime they didn’t commit and they have to return to their territory safe and sound. Actors from the film reprised their roles and some of the most iconic parts of the movie were recreated in the game. Apart from the main story mode, there are some unlockable missions, including one that pays tribute to Double Dragon. Can you dig it?
Viewtiful Joe is hands down, one of the best beat ’em up ever made. Not only because it’s entertaining, but because it takes a genre that’s grown stale over the years and completely reinvented it. New mechanics come in the form of Viewtiful Effects powers that allow you to run faster, slow down time, paralyze enemies and the list goes on and on. Apart from that, the game has a great sense of humor, parodying classics films and Japanese sentai series. Viewtiful Joe 2 is also a terrific beat ’em, so make sure to pick that up as well.