It's a tale as old as time - a catastrophic threat comes into play and endangers the sanctity of everything that is good. The only ones that are capable of stopping that overwhelming force are a group of heroic fighters that join forces to save the world with their highly trained hands, feet, and signature choices in weaponry. That ladies and gentleman is the general premise for most of the classic beat 'em ups you sunk quarters into back in the arcades. One of gaming's oldest genres is still one of its very best. Moving from left to right, assaulting varied baddies, utilizing random items in battle, and eating food right off the ground are the defining factors of such a legendary gaming genre. Now's the appropriate time to celebrate that beloved gaming staple as we list the 40 best beat 'em up games ever made (and played!).
The 40 Best Beat 'Em Up Games of All Time
Best Beat 'Em Up Games
1. 'River City Ransom'
This 8-bit brawler infuses elements of RPGs to produce a beat 'em up that set itself apart from many of the same games within the genre at the time. River City Ransom's side-scrolling clashes were at the heart of the action, of course. But what gives this game its legendary status is its non-linear approach to world exploring, unlockable moves, and upgradeable stats for both Alex and Ryan. Saving Ryan's girlfriend from the evil clutches of high school gangs in this game still delivers thrills to this very day.
2. 'Double Dragon'
The Lee Twins are video game icons due to their heroic exploits in the genre-defining Double Dragon. After everyone's jaws dropped during the game's intro sequence where Billy's girlfriend Marian gets punched in the stomach, a sense of justice entered whichever two-player squad decided to give this game a go. The simple act of kneeing bums in the face, cracking fools with steel baseball bats, and landing flying kicks on cruel street thugs are what make Double Dragon such an enjoyable foray into playable street justice. Damn you Abobo for making our lives so hard back in the arcade!
3. 'Double Dragon II: The Revenge'
Thank god the sequel to the groundbreaking Double Dragon kept the good vibes going. Double Dragon II: The Revenge upgrades everything that came before it with two directional-based attacks that cover your character's sides and a lethal "Hurricane Kick" that makes for great crowd control. Billy and Jimmy Lee obviously return to deliver their own batch of revenge. And they do it by punching and kicking all sorts of varied gang members across equally varied environments. This game's plot is pretty dark, too - why did the leader of the Black Warriors have to shoot and kill Marian like that, bruh?
Back in the days of smoky and deafening arcades, you could usually spot your favorite caped crusaders beating up evildoers in side-scrolling arcade games. The X-Men arcade beat 'em up that arrived in 1992 gets high marks from us for being one of the most exciting takes on the Marvel Comics' mutant saviors. If you're lucky enough to have five of your best friends in two and spot a six-player cabinet for this game in the wild, be sure to give it a go. The simple brawler action, attractive visual style, and random bits of voice acting make this one an unforgettable experience. Konami's track record of good to great licensed games is tied to the legacy of this heroic beat 'em up.
5. 'Final Fight'
Mike Haggar, Cody Travers, and Guy are recognized the world over as the conquering heroes of Metro City. All of them made their grand debut in the beat 'em up that raised Capcom's status as one of the GOAT's, Final Fight. Marching through the mean streets of Metro City with another player by your side is such a joy thanks to the game's heavy feel when it comes to pulling off stage-clearing combos. There's just something about that chaotic train stage that defines why we love the first Final Fight so much. Sorry to that dude whose car we destroyed during that one bonus stage. Our bad, fam...
6. 'The Simpsons'
Matt Groening's animated series The Simpsons are simply pop culture royalty. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggy have been at the forefront of anything and everything you can imagine. They've been planted on bookbags, video games, food boxes, and video games. Konami put out one of the best games based on the comedic cartoon in the arcades with this outlandish beat 'em up. The Simpsons is all about getting Maggie back from Mr. Smithers by any means necessary. And that means getting to utilize funny weapons (like Marge's vacuum cleaner, for instance!) against all of Smithers' bodyguards. The wild boss fights and true-to-life animation style make The Simpsons a bonafide classic.
7. 'Alien Storm'
This beat 'em up is an awesome hybrid that offered up traditional run 'n gun mechanics. Sega went the alien invasion route with Alien Storm and ended up creating a classic in the process. Playing as one of the "Alien Busters" is such a hype endeavor thanks to all the varied weapons and movesets each of them owns. Running and gunning are great on their own, plus the first-person sequences offered something fresh to switch up the formula from time to time. Blasting hideous aliens (make sure you check out the enemy designs from Alien Storm!) never gets old with the crew of Karen, Garth, and Scooter.
8. 'Batman Returns'
If you're an OG out here in these gaming streets, then you'll remember the major differences between certain games on the Sega Genesis and SNES. In the case of Batman Returns, the Super Nintendo version is miles better than the inferior Genesis rendition. And that's why this caped crusader beat 'em up made its way onto this list. You can never go wrong with a solid action game starting the "Dark Knight" and that's exactly what the SNES version of this Batman Returns is. Since it was developed by Konami, it's easy to see why this licensed game came out as good as it did. Walking from left to right to assault a horde of clowns and getting involved in some crazy boss encounters was & remain as fun as ever here.
9. 'Captain Commando'
For most folks, the first sight of Capcom's futuristic savior came in the first Marvel vs. Capcom. Those same folks probably returned to his main source of origin, which is a dope beat 'em up that's named after the hero himself. Captain Commando is such a quirky brawler thanks to the zany cast of playable characters, strange-looking enemies you get to smack around, and the flashy moves available at your disposal. Being able to hop in robots and pick up firearms to dish out some damage adds so much to this Capcom classic. Big shout out to Baby Head (we always ran with the baby in the robo suit during our first playthrough of this gem!).
10. 'Streets of Rage 2'
This is the beat 'em up that comes up the most for all the old heads that dedicated their lives to the Sega Genesis. The first Streets of Rage is a pioneer for the genre, but it's the second game in the series that deserves the most acclaim. Visually, Streets of Rage 2 looks miles better than its predecessor. Plus on a gameplay level, landing hits feel more impactful and the co-op fun involved in it all never falters. The iconic OST of this game helps give this side-scrolling brawler Hall of Fame status thanks to the composing talents of Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima.
11. 'Cadillacs & Dinosaurs'
Capcom's arcade output back in the day bled so many youngsters' pockets dry - you just couldn't walk away from the sights, sounds, and addictive gameplay put forth by its top-quality games. This beat 'em up is one of the better licensed games out there as it's based on the comic book series, Xenozoic Tales. Plus it lifts its visual inspiration from the old animated series, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs. This three-player beat 'em up takes place in a chaotic wasteland ruled by gangs and dinosaurs. Madness and a whole lot of fun ensue as you and two other players embark on an adventure to beat up and shoot all sorts of goons that are in cahoots with the evil "Black Marketeers." This game's driving levels are what makes us come back to this game time and time again.
12. 'Knights of the Round'
The courageous exploits of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are perfectly encapsulated within this Capcom classic. Knights of the Round gives players the ability to unite Britain by thwarting the evil exploits of King Garibaldi. With Arthur, Lancelot, and Perceval at the players' beck and call, you get to wander through wartorn villages and massive castles while you hack and slash an army of bad guys. This game's level-up mechanics give it that sense of uniqueness that makes it such an unforgettable gem. Playing with a max-level Arthur and going up against the final boss makes everyone feel like a king.
The original NES Battletoads is a classic that's equal parts fascinating and frustrating. But it's the arcade installment of the series that hits way harder and surprisingly features way more blood/gore than its more kid-friendly console counterpart. Rash, Pimple, and Zitz get to beat up some oversized rats and the rest of the Dark Queen's minions across the universe in one of the most visually alluring beat 'em ups we've ever played. The over-the-top moves are in cahoots with the Battletoads' ability to turn their limbs into actual weapons. The first time you hop into this game and decapitate someone with your chainsaw leg will keep you strapped in for what else this wild brawler has in store for you.
14. 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time'
TMNT: Turtles in Time is damn near pure perfection. When the "Turtles in a Half-Shell" enter the conversation, a lot of fans' best memories will revert back to this esteemed Konami beat 'em up. The first arcade game to feature the likeness of the Turtles is great, but Turtles in Time is the one that's simply the best. The oomph you get from connecting with your weapons while fending off the Foot Clan and Master Shredder's other goons feels amazing. The music that accompanies each stage playthrough is highly acclaimed. The art design based on the cartoon shines. And the four-player co-op action that happens on screen offers unparalleled fun, even to this day.
15. 'Golden Axe'
Death Adder has to go - it's as simple as that. That mission statement propelled players to take on the role of their favorite medieval fantasy archetype and cut through waves of evil soldiers that fought on the big boss' behalf. Golden Axe lets everyone live out their Conan the Barbarian fantasies by allowing them to batter baddies with their sword or ax. This Sega beat 'em up still holds up as its extravagant screen-filling magic attacks, ridable mounts, and concise controls keep everything delightful. The first Golden Axe is arcade/Sega Genesis royalty.
16. 'Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder'
If you can get your hands on a SEGA Astro City Mini or the Arcade1Up that has this game, do it just so you can play the best follow-up within the entire Golden Axe franchise. Golden Axe: The Revenger of Death Adder takes things to a whole 'nother level with greatly upgraded graphics that makes all the onscreen brutality that much more satisfying to watch. Goah the Giant, Stern Blade the Barbarian, Dora the Kentauride, and Little Trix join forces to end the latest tyrannical reign of Death Adder. And pulling that off is a blast thanks to flashier magic attacks and larger sprites that pop up during every battle encounter. The inclusion of multiple pathways to embark on feeds this game more replay value. Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder is most certainly one of the best beat 'em up games.
17. 'Comix Zone'
Comix Zone still gets a ton of kudos from us for offering one of the coolest concepts for a beat 'em up. After getting sucked into his own comic book realm, Sketch Turner (what a fire name!) makes it his mission to escape his animated prison and bring an end to his evil creation's sinister plans. Making that happen entails jumping through comic book panels and beating the hell out of enemies drawn on the spot by your tormentor. Comix Zone's rocking OST and its infinitely cool main character (shout out to his pet rat, BTW!) blessed the Sega Genesis with one of its best exclusives.
18. 'Splatterhouse 3'
Before Resident Evil's horrifying intro made it hard for so many kids to sleep at night, Splatterhouse 3 brought on the most unforgettable nightmares thanks to its eerily realistic-looking cutscenes. Besides all the scares that this game brings your way, there's a super fun beat 'em up at the heart of this more complex and open-ended foray into Rick fighting to save his wife and son. Marching through Rick's mansion to put his hands and feet to work while he brings the pain to all sorts of hideous creatures in this game is still an awesome time.
19. 'Armored Warriors'
Before Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness emerged as Capcom's main mech fighter, Armored Warriors marked the grand debut of all those recognizable fighting robots. Heading into battle with two other robot commanders at your side is such a thrill due to this game's explosive and hard-hitting combat. The best part about this game is the fact that you can change up your bot's current equipment just by ripping certain items away from your mechanized opposition. Robots will forever be awesome - hop into this retro beat 'em up to get your thrills with them in one of the best ways possible.
20. 'Warriors of Fate'
Dynasty Wars is a solid video game rendition of the Tenchi wo Kurau manga. But it's the follow-up known as Warriors of Fate that lifts the series to a higher level of quality. Capcom makes sure to inject more on-foot action as players take on the role of Mongolian war heroes who must end the tyrannical reign of Akkila-Orkhan. This pick earns its placing here on the list of the best beat 'em up games due to its cool themes inspired by the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the ability to summon a warhorse to cause even more devastating damage to your foes.
21. 'Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara'
Capcom went all the way in with the RPG mechanics that helped the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop games become a smash hit. Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom was the first product of that collaboration, which is definitely an adequate beat 'em up worth going back to. We decided to go with its sequel here, though. Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara not only has everything that made the first game so great, but it also has two new playable characters (Thief and a Magic User), more unique character class abilities, and multiple endings. This game offers one of the deepest and most rewarding RPG mechanics that a beat 'em up has ever adopted.
22. 'Alien vs. Predator'
It's a crime that Alien vs. Predator was never ported to home consoles. And by the sound of it, we may never get this classic beat 'em up as a part of a future Capcom arcade collection due to the licensing issues attached to it. If you can get your hands on one of those Capcom Home Arcade sticks, then you'll instantly become a believer in this game. Alien vs. Predator lets you tear up an army of rampaging Xenomorphs from a roster of two badass cyborgs and two Predators. The fast-paced action is off the charts here - hacking, slashing, and blasting aliens provides some of the most exciting beat 'em up action there is. Linn Kurosawa will forever be our queen, plus we'll always get a kick out of spearing baddies as the Warrior.
23. 'The Punisher'
We'll always have a huge appreciation for The Punisher's penchant for dishing out all types of brutal vigilante pain. That world-renowned trait of his got replicated surprisingly well in this Capcom-made arcade beat 'em up. Two players (with the second player taking on the role of a pre-Samuel Jackson Nick Fury) went ham on all sorts of underworld baddies in an attempt to take down Kingpin and his criminal empire. The comic-book style presentation, usage of firearms, and high level of brutality that stuck close to The Punisher's source material are this game's finest attributes. The Punisher isn't just one of the best beat 'em up games - it's also one of the finest comic book games ever made.
24. 'Sengoku 3'
The beat 'em up genre wasn't as prevalent as it was in the 2000s as it was during the 90s. But there were still some publishers/developers out there making stronger strides to apply that time's technological enhancements to those types of games. SNK and Noise Factory dropped Sengoku 3 in 2001, which is an extremely extravagant beat 'em up in the visuals department. The gameplay is equally efficient as two players can join up to bring the fight to a wealth of evil undead forces. The satisfaction that's derived from Sengoku 3's combat is next-level - landing Kurenai's flashy attacks never gets old.
25. 'Guardian Heroes'
Legendary developer Treasure has produced some of the most underrated games of all time. In the case of Guardian Heroes, we're going to give it its just due. This game originally launched on Sega Saturn and captured a ton of fanfare due to its beautiful 2D anime art style and surprisingly deep action RPG mechanics that went in tandem with its beat 'em up playstyle. It's such an exhilarating activity to just figure out the big combos the game's expansive roster can pull off. Guardian Heroes is an infinitely replayable experience filled with branching paths that lead to different boss fights and so much more. This OG Saturn release is clearly one of the best beat 'em up games.
25. 'The Warriors'
Thinking back on it, Rockstar Games was the perfect studio to tap into to create a gritty video game rendition of the 1979 film. The development studio's penchant for producing lifelike visuals and experiences centered around a mature theme came through front and center in The Warriors. As one of those rare 3D brawlers that are much better than expected, this inner city romp brings players into the film's events and lets everyone get into brutal street brawls along the way. Navigating the mean streets of Coney Island with your fellow Warriors by your side is a moment all beat 'em up fans should be a part of.
26. 'Viewtiful Joe'
"HENSHIN-A-GO-GO-BABY" That hype-inducing catchphrase comes from the costumed savior that Capcom debuted in 2003. As a part of the Capcom Five, Viewtiful Joe gained plenty of adoration thanks to its clever implementation of video effects into all the action. Players can beat down their foes at regular speed, pull off slick moves in slow motion, and even assault multiple foes with the "Mach Speed" VFX power. The game's cel-shaded art style makes everything pop off the screen, plus the music features enough catchy bops that'll keep you humming while you save your girlfriend from the colorful realm of "Movieland." Viewtiful Joe is easily one of the best GameCube games and one of the greatest beat 'em ups of all time.
27. 'Castle Crashers'
Back in 2008, Xbox 360 console owners got to bask in the greatness of the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade promotion. A slew of classic downloadable titles became a part of this memorable effort from the Xbox team - one of those iconic releases is Castle Crashers. The concept of this beat 'em up is easy to wrap your head around - choose your heroic knight of choice and bash everything that tests you while you look to rescue the kingdom's princess from an evil wizard. Getting four players together to smash and bash everything in sight within this cartoonish good time is a must. Development studio The Behemoth knocked it out of the park with this one.
28. 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game'
Whoever made the decision to put this game back on the physical/digital marketplace after its heartbreaking delisting a few years back deserves everything great in life. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game got so much acclaim during its original launch since it replicated the graphic novel's art style to perfection and offered a playable flashback to the days of 16-bit brawlers. Scott, his closest buddies, and his current (and ex) love interest join forces to smash some baddies across wonderfully animated stages supported by catchy chiptune tunes. The light RPG elements at play here and trippy Subspace stages are two more parts of this game we love to champion.
29. 'Dragon’s Crown'
Japanese developer Vanillaware makes the types of games that look like you're playing within paintings placed upon the walls of your local museum. That distinctive art style is front and center in this classic beat 'em up that feels like a new-age take on Golden Axe. Dragon's Crown's premise delves into the world of medieval fantasy as you choose from six character classes to master and battle alongside your allies. The dungeon runs you'll embark on here offer some surprising challenges in the form of unexpected enemy placements and wild plot developments. The Amazon's "proportion" still trips us out, yet we still can't get enough of Dragon's Crown.
30. 'Fight'N Rage'
Fight'N Rage totally looks and plays like a lost arcade relic that just got unearthed out of nowhere. It earns its spot here among the best beat 'em up games thanks to those standout retro factors. The short and stocky characters that run up on the screen let you and your co-op fam go crazy, battle royale style. The game's expansive nature comes through in its character movesets to master, pathways to explore, and a huge bevy of unlockable content that extends this game's lifespan much longer than you'd initially think. It feels great to throw on that CRT visual filter to make it feel like you're playing this thing in a dark and dingy arcade.
31. 'Double Dragon Neon'
Witnessing the glorious return of an 80s or 90s pop culture staple is always so gratifying. In the case of the Double Dragon series, this 3D comeback for the fighting twins is an awesome return to form. Double Dragon Neon sticks to the greatest hits of the franchise while also honoring the decade in which it was introduced. Picking up cassette tapes to unlock new special moves and stat boosts is such a cool way to widen the repertoire of both characters. And the fun stage layouts and enemy hordes that you can smash into oblivion give this game a lot to work with still. Everything about this game feeds into our nostalgia for Double Dragon in the best ways possible.
32. 'The TakeOver'
The TakeOver is clearly a love letter to the golden age of the genre, which places it right next to the gamut of the best beat 'em up games from that glorious time period. This game mashes up the best parts of Streets of Rage, The Punisher, and Final Fight to produce an amazing modern interpretation of everything we love about beat 'em ups. The glossy art style, sick combos, usage of firearms and grenades, and driving stages all add up to a game that honors what came before it while also standing out on its own.
33. 'The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors'
In 1994, Natsume came through with some side-scrolling ninja action on the SNES with The Ninja Warriors. Then in 2019, ININ Games released the remaster of that 16-bit beat 'em up and christened it The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors. What's on offer here is a high-octane blast from the past that lets you beat up and bludgeon a huge array of foes. We always go out of our way to choose that bulky blue ninja just so we can do that cool-ass jet thruster move of his! The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors is a nice shine job for a SNES throwback.
34. 'River City Girls'
Misako and Kyoko have to be the most loyal girlfriends on the planet. As soon as their respective sweethearts Kunio and Riki get kidnapped, both ladies spring into action to beat the hell out of anyone that has anything to do with that heinous crime. River City Girls earns a spot here on this list thanks to how much it embraces and evolves the River City Ransom formula. Beating up bums, KO'ing the strongest ones, and recruiting them for their future assistance is a cool gimmick we hope more beat 'em ups adopt in the future. "GIRL POWER!" is the theme here and we embrace it fully just so we can KO countless victims with this game's leading ladies.
35. 'Streets of Rage 4'
Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games will forever be in our good graces for taking an often ignored Sega franchise and giving in the sequel treatment fans had been crying out for. Axel, Blaze, and Adam made their welcome return to beat up an army of goons and drive crime out of their city once again. Adam's daughter Cherry and the cybernetic warrior known as Floyd join the ranks to get in on all the double-digit combo strings and impressive "Star Moves" that debut here. Streets of Rage 4's clean 2D visuals, infectious soundtrack, and a huge offering of fun unlockables (plus DLC!) hits on so many levels for us.
Here's another game that took the mantle of Golden Axe and built up everything that series did to epic proportions. Wulverblade puts you in the role of three warriors hailing from Britannia's northern tribes, who must band together to hack and slash at the Ninth Legion of the Roman army. Taking the fight to all those invaders leads to some insane levels of brutality happening onscreen - bloody brawls across war-torn locales will expose you to intense skirmishes that'll bring you so much joy.
37. 'Mother Russia Bleeds'
Pixelated ultraviolence is the name of the game here in Mother Russia Bleeds. The beat 'em up action that transpires here mashes up the impactful feel of Streets of Rage and the outlandish gore present in Hotline Miami to great effect. Moving from left to right through the ravaged Soviet Union leads to some post-apocalyptic stage scenarios where vicious assaults take place. The fact that you can inject your character with some extra "juice" to turn them into even more lethal enforcers points to how dark and visceral Mother Russia Bleeds is.
Sifu is one of those recent releases that quickly earned tons of fans and its placing here among the best beat 'em up games of all time. The revenge tale this game throws you into is such a cool nod to all those old-school martial arts flicks with all the horrible voiced-over dubs. Even though Sifu is hella challenging, learning the ins and outs of when to strike, counter, and dodge in order to overcome all the odds is addicting. The added element of dying, coming back to life, and growing older with each death/revive is such a cool concept that gives this game an extra gameplay hook.
39. 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge'
The geniuses behind this TMNT beat 'em up did a bang-up job when it came to injecting the spirit of retro coin-ops into it. TMNT: Shredder's Revenge is a natural evolution of the beloved formula put forward by Turtles in Time as it features fast-paced action and infinitely fun local/online co-op gameplay. Alongside the four famous turtles, the playable roster finally gives Master Splinter, April O'Neil, and even Casey Jones the chance to smash some Foot Clan fodder. The game's huge wealth of Easter Eggs and cameos from the original cartoon present it as a love letter to 80s & 90s babies that are still diehard fans of the "turtles in a half-shell."
40. 'Jitsu Squad'
When you first look at Jitsu Squad, your mind will immediately revert back to the good old days of Battletoads and Bucky O'Hare. And once you head into battle with the anthropomorphic fighter of choice, a ton of fun ensues. This four-player, co-op brawler is full of sick combo strings that even rival the ones you've seen in fighters such as Marvel vs. Capcom. The wild transformations, additional weapons to master, character assists from indie gaming icons, and more are all the reasons you need to hop into this game full of animal fury.
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