Tuesday, May 5

Top 20 Indie Beat-Em-Up Games on Nintendo Switch


[Last Updated: 11/9/20] The classic arcade beat-em-up is a staple for many older gamers, though through the years the genre hasn't tended to be as well represented as it used to be. Buoyed by the rise of indie developers looking to tap into the passion of genre fans it has really come back into its own on the Switch though.

Streets of Rage 4 - Right out of the gate I had an admission to make, when it comes to the beat-em-up genre I’m firmly a Final Fight guy, always have been. With that out of the way I’ll quickly make a bold (but having played the game quite a bit, very simple) declaration… even with no allegiance to the Streets of Rage franchise this is hands down the best overall beat-em-up I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. It looks amazing, each of the characters have similar but distinctive moves you’ll need to really dial into to be effective, it supports both local and online multiplayer, it’s tough but not often cheap, and it has a truckload of content to explore and unlock. Not only does it manage this laundry list all in the same package, in pretty well every area I’d say it outclasses the competition (sometimes handily) across the board as well. For fans of the genre this is your Holy Grail, and for anyone who has ever wondered why people enjoy beat-em-ups this is the best example of what it has to offer, though it may spoil you if you decide you like what you see since it stands a fair distance above its competition. If ever there was a brawler that could justify a perfect score it’s this one.


Hades - OK, so I’ll admit the folks at Supergiant Games (behind the favorites Bastion and Transistor in particular) had me with the fact that they decided to make a roguelike to begin with. But, pedigree doesn’t always mean a home run (sadly, looking at you Exit the Gungeon) so I’ll admit that despite how great this game looked I was nervous as it loaded up. Given that the bar for roguelike excellence is Dead Cells, with all of its amazing action and variety, making a big splash in this territory takes some real skill. Damn, as if their past titles weren’t clear enough, Hades locks Supergiant Games in as a real force to be reckoned with, and that’s all the way up to the AAA developers. Hades is smart and stylish, fast and fluid, tough and tense… and in general among roguelikes the surprise is that I’d also consider it very approachable, even from the get-go, for anyone with some familiarity with action titles. Where it really takes things to the next level is that it starts with the rock-solid core of several well-designed weapons, each with their own base style, but then through divine enhancements and other means of modification you unlock as you go each run can feel radically different. You can enhance each skill a little or go deep in one discipline, both approaches are valid and can give you a lot of power if you can keep moving and alive. What I love is that while the range of ways you can play is reminiscent of the likes of Dead Cells the systems in this game still feel very fresh and unique. Throw in stellar voice work, more mythological figures than you can shake a stick at, and a truckload of inherent replayability that comes with any good roguelike and this is one of the top games on the system.


Wulverblade - Full of technique, nuance, and some very challenging boss fights Wulverblade has established a new gold standard in what beat-em-ups should aspire to both in terms of story and general gameplay. A patch to pull back the challenge and make it more accessible to less skilled players was welcome and there's one particular surprise as you near the game's conclusion that you absolutely won't want to miss! The end is only the beginning!


One Finger Death Punch 2 - Ever since the early days of the genre I’ve been a big fan of a good beat-em-up. While most people immediately think of the likes of Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or any number of other classics from the late 80s into the early 90s, I look back farther with a fondness to the likes of Kung-Fu Master. Rolling with that inspiration in mind, I first got the chance to play One Finger Death Punch 2 at PAX last year and to look at it, yes, at its core it is just a two-button stick figure fighting game. However, give it a few minutes and get into the rhythm and you’ll find that it’s so much more. Yes, you have only two buttons to concern yourself with, your left and right attacks, but what’s amazing is how much the developers have managed to eke out of that system. A wide variety of enemy types (including those who’ll take multiple hits in different directions) will challenge you to be precise, essentially planning out each attack so you don’t miss and leave yourself open to taking a hit. Some will throw or shoot weapons at you that you’ll be able to avoid, block, or even grab, and keeping track of which it will be will then influence your planning for attacks since a projectile can knock out multi-hit enemies with one shot. All of this makes the game one that demands your full attention, to some degree constantly doing the math to keep track of your hits to either side. The reward for your diligence is then one of the most silly, insane, and consistently visually surprising brawls you could imagine, with crazy weapons and over-the-top special attacks of all kinds that generally left a smile on my face. If there’s a criticism it’s with the somewhat clunky overworld map that’s a pain to navigate at times, but outside of that if you love a good brawl with a surprising level of variety this is absolutely a game you should be checking out!


Ape Out - As someone who loves playing things that are different and a bit daring, Ape Out has easily shot out as one of the games I’ve enjoyed playing the most on Switch. Its level of difficulty isn’t to be underestimated but the fortunate thing is that everything resets pretty quickly so you’ll be right back in the action to give it another try. Though it may seem simple there are definitely strategies to learn, or at least ways to help you cope with the insanity. Much like the great dynamic jazz that backs up the gameplay Ape Out is really all about improvisation, taking in the situation you’re giving and making it work. Similarly that will mean not everyone will “get it”, but I have a load of respect for the vision and rock solid execution all of the people behind this title were able to realize.


River City Girls - While the beat-em-up genre was absolutely a staple of both the arcades and the early console days more recently titles have been few and far between. The great news is that if you’ve been aching for a new excuse to dust off your brawler skills and smack some bad guys around River City Girls is easily among the best offerings available on the Switch. In general reminding me of the excellent Scott Pilgrim beat-em-up from a number of years ago there’s a quality to the presentation, action, and obvious love for the genre here that’s unmistakable and it’s a blast to play solo or with a friend. Of course if you’re someone who’ll simply settle into what combos work and fail to make full use of your attacks the that continue to unlock as you progress it will probably feel repetitive but that’s simply the nature of the beast and it won’t have been for the game’s lack of trying to give you new moves to work with as you level up.


Super Crush KO - Early in the Switch lifespan, when the pickings were sometimes a bit more thin, there were some core Nindie titles that helped occupy my time. Among my favorites was the very distinct high-score-chasing space shooter Graceful Explosion Machine which encouraged repeated play as I’d try to get top ranks and a few rungs higher on the leaderboards for every stage. Who knew the same core concepts of multiple attack styles, a sense of flair, and a scoring system that pushes you to keep changing things up would work so well in a beat-em-up? Apparently the folks at Vertex Pop did! Very similarly to GEM I love the flow of things, and how you need to continually improvise not only to keep out of harm’s way but also in order to chain more and more attacks into your combo. It can be almost meditative when you’re in the zone, dodging, dashing through bullets, throwing uppercuts, and even shooting. In terms of raw stages, much like GEM there aren’t a ton to get through, but the joy here is in revisiting and climbing the online leaderboards, and for that this game crushes it.


Ninjin: Clash of Carrots - This is another title changing up the classic formula, combining elements of a runner with the mechanics of a brawler. Positioning on the screen, smart use of your attacks, and choosing the right weapon from an array of all sorts of silly choices are the keys to your success. Silly, light, and simply a lot of fun (though still certainly challenging), Ninjin is breath of fresh air for the genre.


Streets of Red: Devil's Dare Deluxe - With a distinctive art style, multiple characters that play quite differently, and a slew of pop culture nods Streets of Red is a very self-aware beat-em-up. While it isn't a terribly long game there's enough challenge and variety offered up by its numerous characters (some of which need to be unlocked) and crazy bosses that it can be fun to return to periodically, especially if you have some friends to enjoy it with.


Fight 'N Rage - After many years where the classic beat-em-up wasn’t getting much representation indie developers have really begun to rejuvenate the genre. While there have been a variety of takes on things, adhering almost too much to the old formula to shaking things up significantly, Fight’N Rage shows a great deal of reverence for the classic feel of titles like Final Fight without copying it too much, and throws in some great combos and variety that helps keep the fighting feel a bit less stale. That’s already a pretty tempting package for brawler fans but then, best of all, it comes in at a very fair price, has multiple characters who each have their own feel, and features loads of unlocks to help you refine the aesthetics for a little more fun. A great beat-em-up well worth your time!


Speed Brawl - Taking the genre to a slightly different destination with its focus on combos and keeping things moving Speed Brawl can be a lot of challenging fun. Upgrades, some tricky enemy designs, and the ability to tag out one of your fighters for another give it a controlled chaos kind of feel at times. The fact that each brawler you acquire plays differently makes determining which two you go with on any given level a serious choice to consider, and generally prevents the gameplay from getting stale.


Akane - If you appreciate great pick-up-and-put-down play sessions that are intense and keep you coming back for more Akane may be a great match. For the most part the objectives feel like they’re in a sweet spot where they’ll push you to complete them but they also aren’t unobtainable by any means. While I wouldn’t call this a roguelike there are some similar principles at play that I appreciate, with the ability to change up your gear in order to alter how the game plays in small but meaningful ways. For the right audience this is absolutely a budget title you won’t want to miss.


Lost Castle - As a huge fan of both beat-em-ups and roguelikes this game is a bit like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup game for me, mixing things up to create a challenging and surprisingly varied package. While its art style may not appeal to everyone with its simplicity and in the early going you’re going to die quite a bit as you grind to unlock better weapons and upgrade yourself, if you’re patient and give it some time you’ll continue to get more formidable and smarter in how you proceed. How you gear up and make the most of your skills and items you pick up along the way really becomes the key to success as not all weapons are created equal and whether you prefer ranged weapons, close-up melee, or something that gives you the ability to do both you’ll often get many opportunities to change things up over the course of your run. If you’re a fan of both styles of play this is a great marriage of them both and worth checking out.


I Am The Hero - This surprisingly-good side-scrolling brawler has more than a cool look going for it. The core moveset you begin with is already pretty deep but the fact that you're then able to unlock former enemies to take control of as well, each with their own unique styles themselves, keeps things pretty diverse and interesting. While many of this kind descend into button mashing the various ways you need to deal with enemies and a push to keep your combo meter up help elevate this budget title to being worth of your time.


Going Under - As an enormous fan of anything roguelike Going Under has been on my radar since I first saw it announced, billing itself as a sort of insane 3D beat-em-up where you can pick up just about anything to use as a weapon. When I got the chance to check it out at PAX East this year I could see the promise of the fun in it, and I began to see the humor that actually serves as one of the game’s surprising areas of appeal, but there was just also something that didn’t quite click for me. With the full release now available to me I still feel like something’s missing in the formula that somehow keeps it from true greatness but that isn’t to say it can’t be fun to take for a spin of challenging and often chaotic combat. Since you’re able to use so many sorts of objects you find laying about, and in a pinch you won’t always have ideal choices around you, it does have a rough early learning curve. Weapon durability, range, effectiveness… you’ll generally just need to experiment to get a feel for these things. The same can be said for many perks and items you’ll have to work with, the brief descriptions aren’t always as instructive as they could be so it can be a bit of a mess until you sort it out. The skewering of corporate culture is spot on and often hilarious if you’ve ever worked in a cubicle farm, so that helps bring the experience up but it may be offset by meta progression that, compared to its competition, doesn’t feel quite as helpful as normal… perhaps making the grind to success feel a little less rewarding on the way. I have mixed feelings about it in the end, really appreciating the silly tone and its addressing a flavor of roguelikes I haven’t seen much of to this point but at the same time missing the spark in it that drives my enthusiasm to recommend it with more than somewhat above average force. Roguelike and beat-em-up fans should appreciate and enjoy a change of pace, but everyone else will probably be fine missing it.


Mother Russia Bleeds - All in all I’d say that Mother Russia Bleeds is likely a game best left to genre fans due to its level of violence and difficulty. In general just about anything else will be a milder experience, or at least not as excessive. That said, if you’re someone who loves a tough beat-em-up experience I’d say this is pretty well a must-buy for doing the genre proud with challenging gameplay and quite a number of surprises along the way. If you’ve been bemoaning the same old same old in brawlers get ready for a kick in the teeth with Mother Russia Bleeds, it’s hardly ordinary.


Furi - This was a tough title to find a genre for since it isn't so much of a strict beat-em-up as a tough-as-nails boss rush title that will test your abilities and your patience. Just getting through the game's tutorial will take some work as you're walked through your myriad abilities which you'll then be expected to apply with great effectiveness against a string of increasingly-tough opponents which each will require a different combination of tactics to defeat. Though it won't be a game for everyone there's simply nothing else quite like it on the Switch.


Omensight - On the whole while I had some concerns with a few picky issues Omensight still manages to be pretty brilliant and well worth checking out. If it were just full of slashing combat it would have been decent but the added layer of an interesting story full of fleshed out characters who aren’t just one-dimensional archetypes really seals the deal. Add in the fact that there aren’t too many titles that have explored this style of play on Switch and it’s worth having on your radar.


The Takeover - Up until this year while the beat-em-up was pretty well-represented on Switch there wasn’t a clear front-runner in the genre. That really all changed with the release of Streets of Rage 4, and now that really is the bar any other genre title must be measured against. With that in mind The Takeover certainly has a distinctive look, some flair, and some mechanics that set it apart… but it isn’t without its issues. There’s just something in the movement and flow that feels a bit stilted, holding back the action a bit. The somewhat shiny rendered look I think likely fares better on the PC or more powerful consoles, on the Switch it just can have a somewhat odd quality. At the end of the day it is a satisfying brawler and worth your time if you’re a genre fan, competing well against the second-tier titles available, just in the competition to be the best it doesn’t hold up so well.


Way of the Passive Fist - While I wouldn’t recommend the game to everyone due to its overall difficulty and what ends up being a fair amount of repetition, ultimately for brawler fans seeking out a challenge it delivers something both tough and fresh. Learning every enemy attack, getting a feel for their timing, and being on top of anticipating their moves so you’re able to block, dodge, or get in a special attack can be very satisfying. If you’re up to taking a bit of a beating as you absorb the game’s nuances it can be a rewarding overall experience.


This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!