Flex those muscles readers, it’s time to check out the best beat em up games of the year!
Ah, the beat em up game, possibly the best way to blow off steam after a long day of listening to Brandon… I mean… working hard at Retro Dodo HQ. These games have been working out our button mashing reflexes since the 80s, bringing all the joy of the arcade to our sofa while we sit in out pants.
In other words, they make the good life even sweeter!
From back-alley brawls to medieval quests, the best beat em up games take us on epic adrenaline pumping adventures, listening to kick-ass soundtracks while saving the world and cleaning up the streets.
But the question remains; which are the best beat em up games on the scene?
Which titles are we still reaching for today, and which games make us want to wear double denim and beat back the local thugs?
Let’s find out!
20. Alien Storm (1990)
Alien Storm kickstarts this list of the best beat em up games of all time. Enter the Alien Busters, a team of mad gun-toting soldiers destined to save the earth from invasion.
How do you defeat aliens that hide in everything from drums to postboxes though?
Simple; just blast everything in sight!
Each character has a super-slick special move that they can pull off to help clear the screen of enemies, such as calling in a plane to drop bombs on the enemy.
Be warned though; it takes a lot of energy to call in a plane or disappear and leave bombs where you were standing, so time these attacks right!
Team up with a friend to battle minions and humongous alien bosses. This is a fun title that fans of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy are bound to enjoy.
19. X-Men (1992)
Defeat Magneto and save professor Xavier; sounds like X-Men is up next!
It seems criminal to put this game in 19th position, but there are just so many amazing classic beat em ups to choose from that it’s still a fantastic spot in my eyes.
Play as Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, and more as you and up to six players take to the streets to stop Magneto’s minions.
Just look at the still above – nothing says uber-nerd like X-Men working together to take down The Blob, acquiring mutant power with every mammoth defeat.
And when you’ve finished the game and defeated Magneto, the whole thing just starts again in true 90’s fashion.
Who will you choose? I’m Colossus, every single time!
18. Fight’N Rage (2019)
Fight ‘N Rage is the first of a few newer beat em up titles to feature in this list.
That’s right, the genre is still going strong, so much so that we’re all anticipating the arrival of Final Vendetta, a new title from Bitmap Bureau.
Paying homage to the golden age of gaming perfectly, Fight ‘N Rage perfectly captures all the not-so-subtle nuances of the beat em ups of old while adding some neat new features.
For starters, the graphics look fresh on any TV while still retaining that retro vibe. There are speedrunning setting, multiple paths, additional difficulties, and changeable weapons.
So what’s the story here?
Mutants roam the earth, humans are in hiding.
Well, not all of them.
Two humans team up with a mutant to bring law and order back to a crazy world. It’s one hell of a ride and certainly one of the best beat em up games to drop in recent times!
17. Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage (1994)
From maximum mutants to maximum carnage, Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage takes the 17th spot in this list of the best beat em up games to chokeslam into our living rooms.
I’m not going to lie; this might not be a winner for you unless you’re into Spider-Man or Venom. It certainly appeals strongly to the Marvel fans amongst us, which should pretty much be everyone out there reading this article.
When did Venom learn some of Dhalsim’s tricks too? Who knew he was a Yoga master?
Carnage is causing havoc, but players can bring it to heel by using both Spidey & Venom, the latter leading the player through alternative level sets as you move towards the final fight.
Swing from webs, punch enemies, and use web as an all-important shield as you attack… attack… ATTACK!
16. Captain Commando (1991)
Contrary to popular belief, Captain Commando isn’t a superhero that fights crime without wearing underwear.
Metro City seems to crop up in so many games; either there’s a lot of shady things going on in one city like Terry Pratchett’s Ankh Morpork, or it’s just a popular name.
Either way, it’s up to Captain Commando to stop the Scumocide mutants from taking over the known universe.
No pressure, then?
The main problem is that Scumocide mutants have pretty much infiltrated the human race perfectly.
I think my next door neighbours might be some, to be honest!
Play as Captain Commando, Ginzu, Mack, or Baby Head, who perhaps has the most unfortunate name of any super-soldier I’ve ever met.
The gameplay is a little chaotic, it has to be said. Still, once you attempt to get a grip of what’s going on, it becomes incredibly fun. And any game with Capcom’s original mascot in it has to be a winner.
That’s Captain Commando, not Baby Head.
15. Golden Axe (1989)
Ah, Golden Axe, a game the really needs no introduction but one that I am contractually obliged to give regardless.
This game is still one of the quintessential arcade beat em up games of all time. It’s wholly iconic; the title that went onto spawn the Gauntlet series will always have a special place in my heart.
Can you remember the first time you headed out to defeat Death Adder? Even the sentence itself gives me shivers.
Take control of Ax Battler, Tyris Flare, or Gilius Thunderhead as you move through side-scrolling levels chopping up giants and laying waste to every servant of darkness that comes your way.
You can even ride around on those lizard things above too!
Listen, Golden Axe isn’t just one of the best beat em up games of all time, it’s one of the best games for any console, full stop!
14. Castle Crashers (2008)
I only recently came to the Castle Crashers craze. Yeah, I know I’m late to the party, but better late than never, right?
This button-mash beat em up is seriously addictive, especially when playing with a friend.
The weird thing is that you team up together to defeat other soldiers and enemies, and then have to defeat each other to win a damsel’s love.
Talk about cutthroat!
Unlock magic and better moves for your character a you progress. That’s if you don’t die every ten seconds, which is highly likely.
Collect weapons, fight in arenas, and get all Golden Axe-esque while riding around on lizards.
Yeah, I guess it’s an Alien Hominid-style version of Golden Axe, which isn’t something to be sniffed at!
13. Final Fight CD (1993)
Final Fight CD is perhaps one of the only games that could tempt a person to buy the Sega CD add-on today. It makes what would otherwise be a pointless console a must-have peripheral.
No wonder it’s one of our best Sega CD games!
Ok, so Final Fight appeared on real consoles like the SNES too and was a hit on all platforms.
And if you think it has a bit of a Street Fighter feel to it, then you’ve got keen eyes. This game was actually supposed to be a sequel to the classic Street Fighter title, bringing it in line with titles like Streets of Rage instead.
I think they made the right decision sacking that idea off, don’t you?
Play through Metro City (see what I mean), battering bad guys in 6 levels while pulling off combos and special moves galore.
It’s also got a little of the Mortal Kombat fatality factor to it too, with gory cut scenes and continue screens where players almost succumb to a chair stuffed with dynamite.
This is definitely one to have a bash at if you’re determined to try out the Sega CD.
Lord knows there isn’t much else you can play on it!
12. Cadillacs & Dinosaurs (1993)
Cadillacs & Dinosaurs takes the 12th spot in this list of the best beat em up games!
This concept is going to seem incredibly ridiculous to most people unless they’ve actually checked out the popular animated TV series previously.
Yep, ride around in a Cadillac in post apocalyptic levels filled with velociraptors. It’s so bizarre it’s untrue, but it certainly makes for an epic game!
Ok, so the names of the characters aren’t exactly P.C – Hannah Dundee is clearly Scottish, and there’s no guessing as to where Mustapha Cairo is supposed to be from.
It’s basically Streets of Rage with Dinos, which can only ever be a good thing. Pick up weapons, fight roid-raged loonies, and revel in a side scroller that looks bloomin’ good for 1993!
11. The Warriors (2005)
The Warriors takes the halfway spot in this best beat em up games list. Not only is it one of my favourite cult movies, but it’s also yet another Rockstar games classic!
The great thing about this game is that pretty much all of the original cast for the film feature in the game to voice their characters.
Plus, this game provides a bit of an extra gift for fans of the film as it’s actually set before the events of the movie. Think of it as a bona fide prequel!
Follow the story of each of the Warriors while discovering how they joined the gang. It’s a pretty brutal game, though that shouldn’t be a surprise knowing that Rockstar are behind it.
Mug people, steal stuff, train with weapons, and blow stuff up.
Yeah, that’s a Warriors-themed brawler alright!
Will you choose to stealthily attack opponents or go in all fists blazing, so to speak.
Come on, it’s a Rockstar game; it’s got to be the second option!
10. Altered Beast (1988)
Altered Beast sees a legendary fighter resurrected by Zeus to rescue Athena from Hades realm.
Does it help to know about Greek Mythology? Not really; the resurrection happens in the first second and then it’s basically just you beating back weird enemies while turning into a wolf man.
Yes, you heard me right; a wolf man.
In a sense, it’s got an early Bloody Roar: Primal Fury feel to it, one of the best GameCube games for featuring anamorphic fighters.
There are only five levels for gamers to venture through, but it’s still a good laugh and a great game to have a bash at.
With the gods on your side, anything is possible!
9. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: Complete Edition (2021)
The ninth spot in our best beat em up games goes to Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: Complete Edition!
Defeating seven evil exes to date Romana Flowers now plays even better thanks to the Limited Run game run coming with extra DLC content!
This is another epic retro-themed side-scrolling beat em up to come out in recent years. Four players can battle it out together through levels that culminate in a battle with one of Ramona’s exes.
If you’ve seen the film, then you already know what you’re letting yourself in for. Graphically, I think it’s an incredibly exciting title, especially when playing handheld on the Switch!
You can even perform attacks together in co-op mode. Unlock weapons and characters together and even partake in a zombie mode!
8. Streets Of Rage 4 (2020)
For those of you that thought Streets of Rage was a game of the past, think again. Streets of Rage 4 features all of the same vibes that we know and love from the original titles but looks as fresh as a daisy.
Albeit a daisy with massive fists and a lust for rage.
Get ready for stellar hand-drawn visuals and a soundtrack that will leave you pumped long after you put the game down.
All the usual suspects from previous games make a return to the stage once more, including classic bad guys too.
The best bit – new moves to use when taking down cronies.
Can you believe the gap between SoR 3 and 4 is 26 years! That’s a hell of a long time to wait for a new entry in undoubtedly the best beat em up games series ever made!
7. Comix Zone (1995)
Comix Zone takes the 7th spot in this list of the best beat em up games of all time, and man is it a clever title.
This was one of the first games I loaded up when I bought my Sega Mega Drive Mini, a side-scrolling beat em up based in a comic book. Seriously, what’s not to love!
Sega went to the effort of patenting a ‘Videogame system for creating a simulated comic book game’ for this game. Everything from the speech bubbles to Sketch jumping between the comic grid lines is utter perfection.
So, what’s the score here?
An NYC artist named Sketch gets trapped inside his own comic by the very evil villain he created.
Never leave your art near a window while a storm is raging, readers, or the same could happen to you!
Now, Sketch must beat back every bad guy he’s ever drawn and utilise the help of the many protagonists he’s drawn into his world.
Drink iced tea to top up your health (so hipster) and work your way back to your comfortable yet crummy flat and normal existence.
6. Alien vs Predator (1994)
Alien vs Predator could well be one of the gnarliest titles in our best beat em up games list.
Everyone knows about AvP by now. Based on the classic comic series, this game takes place on New Shanghai where Aliens are causing havoc.
Enter a ship full of Predators looking for worthy trophies, and an epic battle like no other.
Players take on the role of a mighty Predator, slaying aliens via a shoulder cannon, spear, and picking up anything sharp that they can find!
The scene above could have jumped straight from the comic book, Comix Zone style! The aliens get bigger as you move through the game too, with brutal boss battles around every corner!
5. Double Dragon (1987)
Double Dragon remains one of the best Master System games of all time and a regular go to game for me and my mate Al when we’re hungover.
This brings all the sounds and vibes of the arcade into your living room, beat em up action that sees two kick-ass dudes teaming up and having each others backs.
That’s these guys, not me and Al.
Put your tie around your head; it’s time to pull off some roundhouse kicks.
It’s safe to say that Double Dragon played a huge part in bringing Streets Of Rage onto the scene. In a sense, many of the games in this list wouldn’t even exist without Double Dragon,
A bold statement, but I’m sticking with it.
So the story isn’t that original – save a girl from a gang. Still, it seems this was pretty much all everyone was thinking about back in the 80s
Watch out for one-hit kills from super guns and do whatever it takes to save that damsel in distress!
4. Guardian Heroes (1996)
Guardian Heroes takes the 4th spot in this list of the best beat em up games of all time! If you’re a huge Golden Axe fan and love side-scrolling smackdown titles (let’s face it, that’s why you’ve got this far), then add this to your list.
This game is what I like to call an RPG with a difference. Imagine Lion King and Viewtiful Joe fused with Castlevania with an in-depth morality engine, and you’re good to go.
Essentially, every choice that you make has an effect on your characters outcome. Will you choose to keep your karma meter in the clear or turn into an absolute bad lad?
In true RPG fashion, there are multiple endings to uncover as you play too. That’s maximum replayability factor right there.
And to be honest, this game looks so much better than Golden Axe thanks to its slightly cartoony appearance ala Comix Zone.
Plus, the 6-player battle mode was something serious to behold.
Magic, spells, wizards, and barbarians with muscles that I don’t even know the names for. That’s Guardian Heroes alright!
3. The Simpsons (1991)
You’ve heard about taking candy from a baby, well how about taking a baby full of a diamond? That’s the premise of The Simpsons Arcade Game!
Chase after Smithers after he steals Maggie, who has swallowed a diamond that Smithers stole for Mr Burns.
Still with me? Good!
Beat back Burns’ minions using the four main Simpsons family characters.
Kick and Punch with Homer, wield a hoover with Marge, swing a skateboard with Bart, or get all Richter Belmont with Lisa and her skipping rope whip.
As you might have guessed, play takes place in classic Springfield locations. Get up close and personal with Burn’s minions in Moe’s Tavern, the Power Plant, Krustyland, and many more iconic scenes.
There are also cool minigames to try your hand at between levels too! It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
Yep, The Simpsons Arcade Game is 100% one of the best beat em up games and one of the best Simpsons games around too!
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time (1991)
Ever wondered what Streets of Rage might feel like if it had Ninja Turtles as the main characters? Well, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time should be right up your street then!
Shredder is as relentless as Bowser and King K.Rool. He’s not only trying to ruin the world at every chance he gets, but now he’s kidnapped a statue.
Lady Liberty herself, in fact!
The Turtles get lost in a time warp portal and have to fight Shredder’s minions across time if they have any hope of getting back to their own world and saving the day.
Move through side-scrolling levels kicking ass and taking names as your favourite Turtle. Send Shredder back to the shadows from whence he came (I love saying that).
Pull off moves fitting for a hero in a half shell and get it all done in time for pizza. COWABUNGA!
1. Streets Of Rage 2 (1992)
Street of Rage 2 is the best beat em up game of all time!
That’s right, this game was bigger, had more rage, and a guy riding around on roller skates. What more could you want.
With a camera closer to the action, players could feel like they were right in the fight, pulling off special moves to thwart bad guys without having to call in the Po-Po for help.
Listen, there is no better game for blowing off steam than SoR2, by far one of the best Sega Genesis games for laying the smackdown on evil cronies.
It also rekindles the idea that I’d look cool in Double Denim too, though it never comes out quite like I think it will
Defeat Mr X, save Adam from his grasp, and play with new characters in a game that is oozing with retro goodness.
Streets of Rage 2 is the best of the best beat em up games of all time, and I don’t think any other title has the balls to beat it!
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 31 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.