One of the easiest ways to grab a gamer’s attention is by sitting them down with a good old fashioned beat ‘em up. The act of picking one’s favorite character and clearing a series of stages by beating down wave after wave of baddies is simple fun. For decades, the beat ‘em up games genre has endured by adopting varied graphical styles, offering deeper combat mechanics, and featuring memorable characters to boot.
Today’s landscape of PC games is practically awash in quality beat ‘em ups. Classic franchises in the genre, such as Double Dragon and Streets of Rage, exist alongside brand new IP’s that adopt the winning ways of those aforementioned greats. Development teams that have been inspired by beat em ups of the past have gone on to create playable homages of their own that keep the genre alive and well. Their commendable work has gifted gamers with amazing titles that would fit comfortably in a retro arcade cabinet. And thankfully, we’ve done a good job of finding 10 of the finest beat ‘em ups that deserve such a top honor.
The beat ‘em ups featured on this list push you from left to right as you dish out vicious beatdowns on countless foes alongside your local/online allies. You’ll end up sinking plenty of hours into these games as you overcome overwhelming threats, eat food off the ground to replenish your health, and restart countless times as you die at the hands of a cheap boss. That last part might sound terrible, but trust us – it’s just a natural part of an incredibly fun genre. To celebrate TechRadar's PC Gaming Week 2020, enjoy your time with these amazing PC beat ‘em ups and be sure to invite a few friends to the party.
1. Streets of Rage 4
The wait for this oft-requested sequel was painfully long. Before the gaming world was blessed with Streets of Rage 4, fans were left to lament the absence of the series since 1994. Thankfully, SEGA gave their beloved beat ‘em up IP’s rights to developers Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, and Lizardcube to create a fourth official entry. Their combined talents led to the creation of one of the best modern day examples of a beat ‘em up done right. 90s babies rejoiced once Streets of Rage 4 made its grand debut and breathed new life into a franchise that had been under ice for far too long.
Streets of Rage 4 (opens in new tab) does an impeccable job of honoring the past while refreshing some elements for the current gaming landscape. The pixelated art style of past entries is swapped out in favor of a fully animated 2D art style. The main cast of street brawlers is extremely mobile and capable to pulling off flashy combos with their allies’ assistance. The soundtrack includes the familiar elements of electronic dance music while presenting them in a fresh package. Old school Easter eggs, cool unlockables, and a wealth of challenging modes makes Streets of Rage 4 a destination experience for beat ‘em up fans.
2. The TakeOver
The TakeOver (opens in new tab) is a playable love letter to the 90s gold rush era of beat ‘em ups. The neon-colored stages, throwback soundtrack (which features tunes from famed Streets of Rage composer Yuzo Koshiro!), and the game’s simple premise are all callbacks to titles such as Final Fight. But there’s two aspects that make this pick on our list stand out – its unique art style and surprisingly deep combat system that even the best fighting games would envy. It’s entirely possible for an expert FGC player to keep an enemy in the air for at least eight seconds while they batter them into with devastating punches and kicks.
Besides The TakeOver’s open-ended approach to combos, it also allows each character to wield a sidearm that adds even more complexity to each enemy encounter. Your usual array of beat ‘em up game modes are here and accounted for, plus you can swap between all four characters during real-time gameplay in the game’s Relay Mode. The TakeOver evokes warm memories of past titles in the genre while offering the fun combo complexity of fighting games. You’re going to love pulling off dragon punches during your extended stay in Steel Haven.
3. River City Girls
The River City Ransom franchise has been going strong since 1989. Gamers flocked to it because of its incredibly fun fisticuffs, open-world exploration, and action-RPG character progression mechanics. The stumpy design of the good guys and bad guys also had a lot to do with the series’ popularity. The latest entry in the long-running franchise arrived in 2019 and this time, it focuses on two super cool ladies who’re on a path of vengeance. After their boyfriends (Kunio and Riki) have been kidnapped, Kyoko and Misako step up to save them the best way they know how – by beating up everyone that stands in their way!
River City Girls (opens in new tab) is a gorgeously animated 16-bit brawler. And that’s thanks to the masters of retro video game experiences, WayForward. Along with the game’s incredible art design, River City Girls offers large regions to explore, plenty of items to utilize in and out of battle, and a soundtrack full of catchy tunes to beat up people to. Both Kyoko and Misako have the ability to expand their moveset over time, which helps this game stay fresh throughout your many sessions spent with it. River City Girls is undoubtedly the finest entry in the River City Ransom series.
4. Castle Crashers
If you consider yourself an Xbox 360 OG, then this next pick on our list should instantly be familiar to you. During the 2008 Xbox Live Summer of Arcade, Castle Crashers hit the digital marketplace and became an instant hit. Then in 2012, it finally arrived on PC and successfully brought over its brand of beat ‘em up hilarity to the gaming platform. And judging by the overwhelmingly positive response for everyone who played it on Steam, it’s well worth delving into for curious onlookers.
The four main multicolored knights that inhabit Castle Crashers (opens in new tab) are badass killing machines. Their skillset widens over time as you acquire ability-granting pets and learn new magic attacks. You’ll need all of these attributes and the aid of three other players if you’re looking to get the full Castle Crashers experience. The current version of this classic beat ‘em up has a full content suite that makes it a worthy investment for anyone and everyone.
5. Double Dragon: Neon
Billy and Jimmy have mastered the art of bashing in the skulls of countless thugs as a well-oiled machine. Since the 80s, the iconic brotherly duo from the Double Dragon franchise has handled that task amazingly well. WayForward and Abstraction Games got the opportunity to modernize the adventures of Billy and Jimmy. And thankfully, the final product came out to be a quality good time filled with retro goodness and co-op perfection.
Double Dragon: Neon (opens in new tab) offers a visual update that takes Billy and Jimmy to the realm of 3D. Both brothers go out of their way to rescue Marian once again from the grasp of familiar baddies such as the whip-wielding Linda and the massive Abobo. As you make your way through this beat ‘em ups’ chaotic stages, you’ll unlock new abilities as you acquire new mixtapes. You and your chosen co-op partner can pull off slick combos together and big each other with super cool high fives. Double Dragon: Neon stands out as Billy and Jimmy’s finest action-packed epic yet.
6. Fight’N Rage
Fight’N Rage (opens in new tab) keeps it simple and gets straight to the point of its existence, which is to offer the perfect 90s beat ‘em up throwback. The art style of this beautiful brute is eye catching and a cool homage to the games that inspired it. The three main heroes available to you all play their roles very well and give you varied movesets to master. Juggling foes in the air and mastering this title’s clever parry system gives way to combat mechanics that are deeper than most of Fight’N Rage’s contemporaries.
Fight N’Rage’s replay value is through the roof thanks to a number of cool features, such as the ability to explore alternate paths and change the final outcome of your character’s heroic crusade. The game’s custom display modes actually give you the chance to employ an option that makes it appear as if were on a CRT screen within your favorite arcade cabinet. A training mode also exists, which means you can brush up on your combo skills and master the repertoire of the game’s massive character roster. And if you’re looking to beat down Fight’N Rage’s villains in as little time as possible, feel free to utilize the in-game speedrun timer. There’s a lot to love here is all we’re saying.
7. Shank 2
The first Shank kicked all the asses, and when the time came for the sequel treatment, Klei Entertainment knocked it out of the park. Shank 2 (opens in new tab) is the perfect B-movie action crusade that you used to rent from Blockbuster back in the day. The main character is a master with his twin shanks, but he’s also an amazing death dealer when a whole litany of other weapons comes into play. Handguns, shotguns, chainsaws, grenades, and plenty of other cool pieces of gear make every combat encounter you get embroiled in feel immensely entertaining.
Figuring out the best weapons to utilize against each enemy type is the fun puzzle at the heart of this bloody brawler. Stage hazards push you to experiment with your killing ways and stay ahead of incoming dangers. Shank 2’s survival mode gives you and a fellow brutalizer several fun ways to try out your offensive synergy against waves of foes. So you’ll always have plenty of enemies to slash and blast in a single-player and co-op setting. Shank 2 makes you feel indestructible, incredible, and a tad bit insatiable for blood and gore.
8. Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds
The chibi versions of Phantom Breaker’s all-female cast know how to deliver a ton of damage in the beat ‘em up realm. They’re capable of showcasing their huge combo potential within the excellent spinoff title known as Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds (opens in new tab). You’ll hop into a 2D rendition of Tokyo, Japan as you master and upgrade the flashy abilities of 10 femme fatales. Each character can be strengthened over time, which lends this beat ‘em up some light RPG elements to become enamored with. A total of eight stages give you the chance to save the world with the use of cute but oh so deadly ladies.
The myriad special attacks each character can pull off all look awesome in action against waves of funny looking goons. There are even massive dragons and killer robots to destroy! You can choose to vanquish these enemy types alone or with a friend, plus you can take on three other players within the confines of PvP battles. Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is the perfect beat ‘em up for gamers who adore Japanese culture and want a fun way to explore its most popular locales in a 2D presentation.
9. Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
Capcom ruled the arcades during its 90s hot streak. Besides the satisfying array of fighters they produced for hungry gamers, the Japanese publisher/developer also developed top tier beat ‘em ups. Once they got to work with the Dungeons & Dragons IP, they did right by its creators by producing two quality titles – Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. Now both of those games have been released in a worthwhile package that’s certainly a bang for your buck – Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (opens in new tab).
Both games aren’t simple “run left to right” beat ‘em up experiences. You and your allies can select different character classes and level up in an RPG –like fashion. Familiar Dungeons & Dragons House Rules can be applied to your playthrough, such as a mode that gives all of your weapons infinite durability. You can even hop into a mode that gives you tons of gold for every enemy you kill and every chest you open. This definitive collection’s GGPO-powered experience means you and your three fellow world saviors will have smooth online play sessions every time.
10. Capcom Beat ‘Em Bundle
Capcom also has another beat ‘em up package deal that’s worth a buy. The Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle (opens in new tab) offers the following classics – Final Fight, Captain Commando, The King of Dragons, Knights of the Round, Warriors of Fate, Armored Warriors, and Battle Circuit. The best part about that entire lineup is the fact that the last two games made their grand debut on consoles for the very first time because of this amazing bundle. You can even have the option to play each game in English or Japanese if you so choose.
There’s so much to enjoy within this assemblage of coin-op classics. Final Fight and Captain Commando are simple but incredibly enjoyable brawlers. The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round adopts a medieval theme for its chaotic clashes. Warriors of Fate goes full Dynasty Warriors with its look and feel. Armored Warriors is all about smashing and blasting other robots. And Battle Circuit is a unique beast altogether that’s a Capcom hidden gem. This beat ‘em up compilation is a must have for anyone who wants to pull up to these games without having to spend a single quarter.
TechRadar’s PC Gaming Week 2020 is celebrating the most powerful gaming platform on Earth with articles, interviews and essential buying guides that showcase how diverse, imaginative, and remarkable PC games – and gamers – can be. Visit our PC Gaming Week 2020 page to see all our coverage in one place.