Beat 'em ups have been a staple of gaming since the mid-1980s when Kung Fu Master birthed the genre in the arcades. It was arguably 1987’s Double Dragon which kicked off the golden age of the side-scrolling brawler, though, and some of our best gaming memories involve strutting down streets and getting into digital scraps, usually with a Player 2 at our side. There's a beautiful simplicity and accessibility to beat 'em ups that make for perfect local multiplayer fun. Whether side-scrolling, single-plane or top-down, pummelling the heck out of encroaching bad guys and moving on at the first flash of 'GO>' is the name of the game. Simple!
The fact that Switch is king when it comes to local multiplayer makes the genre a great fit for Nintendo's system, but what are the very best Switch beat 'em ups? The console has an ever-growing roster to choose from, ranging from re-released classics to homages or totally new takes on the genre. Below we've assembled a ragtag bunch of belt-scrolling brawlers for your enjoyment.
So, turn your back to the camera, tie a sweatband around your head and crack those bare knuckles as we take a look (in no particular order) at the best beat 'em ups on Nintendo Switch.
We kick things off with none-too-subtle callback to the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage (more on them later). Fight'N Rage was a wonderful surprise; an homage to the classics of the genre that didn't die under the weight of its retro references and reverence. Whether you rock the optional CRT and scanline filters or not, this is one of the best beat 'em ups on the system, old-school or otherwise.
If you're after something that's not dripping in pixel art but which does boast tight controls and co-op brawling content to rival the arcade classics, Castle Crashers Remastered is just the ticket. Updating 360-era original with cleaner visuals, improved performance and extra content, The Behemoth's irreverent humour and sharp, colourful art style is matched with frantic four-player co-op gameplay that makes it a great option for Switch gamers. Just slide off the Joy-Con and you're good to go.
Looking back to 8-bit brawlers for graphical inspiration, Streets of Red riffs on its references in a charming way without turning into a repetitive round of nudge-nudge-wink-wink. With a range of modes to keep you occupied, it's in four-player mode where the game really comes into its own. If you can put up with things getting very hectic on screen, Streets of Red is definitely worth a punt.
Collecting together a broad range of Capcom's finest arcade entries in the genre, from Final Fight to Battle Circuit, the Capcom Beat 'Em Up Bundle is a classy nostalgia trip which honours some of the less well-known examples in the company's back catalogue with local and online multiplayer, save states and a host of extras which includes the option to choose between the Japanese and English language versions. If you're just dipping your toe into the genre, this serves as a very fine introduction indeed.
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If you're after a challenge, Wulverblade is a great modern take on a brutal beat 'em up in the Golden Axe vein. The beautiful presentation disguises a particularly unforgiving game, though, so we'd recommend even veterans of the genre making sure they have a friend handy to liberate Britannia. If you like your beat 'em ups bloody and teetering on the edge of 'sadistic', grab a large weapon and get acquainted with Wulverblade.
The only game on our list with a top-down perspective, Ape Out is a rather unique little gem and one that'll have you frantically bludgeoning baddies to an erratic jazz beat that builds as you improvise your escape from incarceration. With a Saul Bass-inspired art style and an exceptional, utterly intrinsic soundtrack, the game borrows a layer of strategy from the likes of Hotline Miami as you choose your targets carefully and strategise to eliminate gun-toting guards patrolling in search of your escaped ape. It's still a beat 'em up at heart, and a particularly brutal one. You feel every blow in Ape Out and the game doesn't outstay its welcome, either. If you're after something a bit different with a unique flavour, look no further.
Actually, please do look further - there's lots of neat stuff below. Just remember that Ape Out is excellent and download it on your Switch.
Bringing together a collection of 18 games from both the Double Dragon and Kunio-kun series (11 of which had never previously seen release in North America) the Double Dragon & Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle serves up an irresistible helping of NES and Famicom classics updated with optional performance improvements and achievements. The 'new' games have been given full localisations and if you've ever enjoyed River City Ransom or a Double Dragon game, this is a no-brainer.
Data East's Night Slashers from 1993 throws a healthy dose of Hammer-style horror onto the Final Fight template and has you going up against zombies in a fun, brainless brawler with added undead bowling. It's on Switch as part of the Johnny Turbo's Arcade series, and this is the first time the game has been available on home consoles (although oddly it's not on the European eShop at present - you'll need a US Nintendo Account to access it). Frankly, the emulation is underwhelming at best, and this edition lacks the sort of visual options and care you'll find in other re-releases on this list. However, the game underneath is still a strong one and if you just can't get enough Switch beat 'em ups, Night Slashers is a very good one to blast through with a pal.
What's a 16-bit console compilation doing on a beat 'em up list? Well, when this particular compilation includes both the Mega Drive Golden Axe and Streets of Rage trilogies, it would be rude to exclude it. The SEGA Mega Drive Classics collection gives you access to regional variants of the games (which means you can play the brilliant Bare Knuckle III and not the butchered Streets of Rage 3 we got in the West) and some basic visual settings to play with, but having access to all of these in one place - not to mention all the other classics included - is the real draw here. We're big fans of the Streets of Rage series, and if you want to experience the full the classic trilogy before playing the excellent Streets of Rage 4, the SEGA Mega Drive Classics offers the perfect way to do so on Switch.