Best Beat ‘Em Up Games 2020

Whether it’s 2D side-scrolling action, top-down fisticuffs, or 3D button-mashing mayhem, there’s something so exciting about beating up groups of bad guys in dirty alleyways. While the demand for beat ‘em ups may not be as high today as it once was during the arcade era, there are plenty of passionate fans who still find them appealing.

Match that with a growing number of indie studios looking to tap into the niche market and design retro-inspired games for modern audiences. With simple controls, straightforward mechanics, and local co-op built into a majority of beat em ups, they’re able to cater to both casual gamers and diehard fans of the genre.

Here, we’ll be highlighting the best beat ‘em ups to check out in 2020 for a quick jab of nostalgia. This includes rereleases of classic titles as well as brand-new beat ‘em ups that pay homage to the ones that came before. Make sure to check back as we continue to update this list in the future and consider reading our other curated lists to learn about more great games:

Related:Best Hack And Slash Games 2020Best Fighting Games 2020Best Platformer Games 2020

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Considering almost 30 years had passed since the release of Streets of Rage 3, fans weren’t counting on getting a new entry anytime soon. However, thanks to the combined efforts of three studios, the series would make a fantastic comeback with Streets of Rage 4. The sequel sought to breathe new life into the iconic beat ‘em up while maintaining the spirit of the original trilogy.

In both regards, SoR4 exceeds expectations, delivering the brutal combat the series is known for and fleshing out the game’s universe with new fighters and environments. All of which are presented in stunning hand-drawn graphics that feel like a natural progression for the classic beat ‘em up. New additions, such as wall splats, supers, and a combo system, help elevate SoR’s simplistic combat and keep the player feeling engaged.

Acting as a sort of yin to SoR4’s yang, The TakeOver is a more modest side-scrolling beat ‘em up that’s not afraid to try out new ideas. The best example is in the graphical department, with the game employing a mix of pre-rendered character sprites and highly-detailed backgrounds. Additionally, the story is told through comic book-inspired vignettes that help establish The TakeOver’s gritty yet vibrant atmosphere.

Like most beat ‘em ups, the game takes place in an urban setting and sees you traversing seven stages ranging from rain-drenched city streets to neon arcades, and even the occasional sewer tunnel. The TakeOver includes local co-op support and features three playable characters that can be swapped out in real-time. Diehard SoR fans will also be happy to learn that legendary music programmer Yuzo Koshiro contributed to the game’s soundtrack. 

River City Girls is a love letter to the Kunio-kun series that takes a couple of liberties in adapting the formula to create a fully-realized modern beat ‘em up. The story focuses on two high school students named Kyoko and Misako, who set off on a quest to rescue their kidnapped boyfriends. Developer WayForward was able to build upon the core gameplay loop of the original while introducing subtle RPG elements.

These include raising your character’s stats using power-ups and accessories, purchasing new moves, and teaming up with allies throughout the game. The game features a vibrant, pixel-based presentation that’s further complemented by a catchy synthpop soundtrack. While it’s not without its flaws, River City Girls is a one-of-a-kind brawler that takes the beat ‘em up genre in some exciting new directions.

The Yakuza series may be categorized as action-adventure but have always maintained the spirit of beat ‘em ups. While the franchise is littered with remarkable entries, for this list, we’ve decided to highlight Yakuza 0, which serves as a prequel that sets up events for later installments. It chronicles the beginning of Kazuma Kiryu’s criminal career and has you guiding him from low ranking thug to head honcho of the Yakuza crime family.

The game tosses you into semi-open world environments where you’re forced battle rival gangs using a variety of melee weapons or sometimes just your bare fists. In true Yakuza fashion, the game does an excellent job of toeing the line between drama and comedy, presenting both serious and absurd sequences that benefit from satisfying combat and great writing.

The remastered version of this Xbox 360 classic still holds up in 2020 thanks to a host of graphical and technical improvements. For anyone who may be unfamiliar, Castle Crashers is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up that supports up to four-player local/online co-op. The base game includes a full-length campaign that sees you and your allies on a quest to save the princess and defend your kingdom from monsters.

As you progress, your character learns new attacks that can be combined in some truly cool and unexpected ways. Outside of the story, the game features a robust PVP mode where you can face-off against other players using over 40 different weapons in free-for-all and team matches. Developer Behemoth has continued to release additional content over the years in the form of new mini-games and characters.

Mother Russia Bleeds is another unforgiving beat ‘em up that tries to leave players feeling shocked at every turn. It’s basically a cross between old school beat ‘em ups like Streets of Rage and ultra-violent action games like Hotline Miami. If you can stomach the gruesome attack animations, you’ll be rewarded with an unconventional brawler that brings some fresh ideas to the table.

The story is set in an alternate version of the U.S.S.R. and focuses on a crew of imprisoned street fighters who break themselves out of prison before immediately heading down a warpath against crooked police, rival gangs, or really anyone who gets too close. There’s a good amount of level variety and game mechanics to mess around with, such as characters using drugs to restore health or temporarily increase their strength and speed.

While technically a hack n’ slash series, Devil May Cry has historically always played like a beat ‘em up, with demon prince Dante traveling from point to point as he mercilessly kills waves of enemies. Devil May Cry 5 is the most recent entry and goes a long way towards advancing both the narrative and gameplay of the long-running franchise.

In it, players reprise their role as Dante while also being joined by demon hunter Nero and V, a client of Dante’s who can cast spells and conjure up familiars. The trio set off on an adventure to defeat the Demon King Urizen before he destroys the mortal realm. Combat can get pretty ruthless at times and relies almost entirely on building your combo with a wide array of weapons, including swords, guns, and even a motorcycle.

Wulverblade is another modern-style beat ‘em up that pays homage to classics like Golden Axe, Sengoku, and Knights of the Round. In it, you play as three guardians on a mission to liberate Britannia from the Roman empire by waging war with the Ninth Legion. The historical-inspired story unfolds throughout eight challenging levels with unique 2D scenery.

One of our favorite features in the game is the ability to swap between each playable character on the fly, which is something we don’t see enough nowadays. Despite its cartoonish visuals and flexible party system, Wulverblade is tough as nails when it comes to difficulty. While each hero can wield massive swords and straight-up body slam enemies, they can just as quickly get themselves destroyed by incoming attacks on either side of the battlefield.

Playing beat ‘em ups is our preferred method for blowing off steam after a rough day. Any anger you’ve been holding onto seems to magically disappear once you’ve spent enough hours ruthlessly pummeling unnamed thugs behind a dumpster. However, for games like Paint the Town Red, that’s simply not enough. This 3D voxel-based beat ‘em up isn’t afraid to go overboard when it comes to gore and location variety.

Played from a first-person POV, Paint the Town Red drops you in themed-arenas ranging from a biker bar to a disco nightclub and even a pirate cove where you’ll fight loads of enemies using different weapons or just your bare knuckles. The best (or worst part depending on how you look at it) is the game’s dynamic voxel-based damage system, which allows you to dismember enemies and turn every battle into a giant bloody mess.

This one’s kind of a cheat since it’s not technically a single game, but rather a collection of memorable retro beat ‘em ups pulled from Capcom’s extensive back catalog. Included with the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle are seven standout titles: Final Fight, Knights of the Round, Captain Commando, The King of Dragons, and Warriors of Fate. Additional games include Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit, which were previously unavailable on consoles.

Considering a majority of these titles would go on to inspire many of the beat ‘em ups we’ve highlighted on this list, they’re worth checking out to brush up on your beat ‘em up history. Each game has been updated to include more modern features such as save states, local/online multiplayer, and both Japanese/English language versions.

Return of the Warriors is a reboot of the original arcade beat ‘em up The Ninja Saviors. In it, you play as one of five robot ninjas and set out to defeat the evil Banglar and his army of henchmen in a dystopian future. While the reboot makes some compromises, such as limiting movement to a single plane, it introduces a ton of improvements and features that help elevate the 30-year-old classic.

This includes improved animations, updated 16-bit visuals and soundtrack, two new playable characters, and an online leaderboard. When it comes to gameplay, Return of the Warriors runs silky smooth while maintaining the satisfying side-scrolling action of the original. If you’re a fan of the series or just want to take things old school, this is one of the best beat ‘em ups to scratch that itch.

Last up, we have another compilation that bundles together 18 combined entries in both the Double Dragon and Kunio-kun series (11 of which had previously never been released in North America). The Retro Brawler Bundle is a great way to experience these NES/Famicom classics while benefiting from a plethora of improvements that make them more approachable in 2020.

This includes fully localized in-game text, new screen and sound options, in-game achievements, and support for both local and online multiplayer. While most of the titles have had their original versions maintained, many now include an optional ‘quality up version’ that prioritizes performance. Sure, not every game is a smash-hit, but we’d argue they still deserve recognition for playing a part in beat ‘em ups lengthy history.

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Justin Fernandez
Justin Fernandez

As a fan of both indie and triple-A games, Justin finds joy in discovering and sharing hidden gems with other passionate gamers. In addition to reporting on the latest and greatest titles, he manages GamingScan’s social media channels.

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