Friday, January 7

Top 30 / Best Indie Beat-Em-Up Games on Nintendo Switch


Last Updated: 1/7/22!

Streets of Rage 4 [DotEmu] - 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.


The Legend of Tian Ding [Neon Doctrine] - While there have been quite a number of side-scrolling action/brawlers this year, for the most part they’ve been coming up short in one area or another. If you’ve been itching for something particularly compelling in the space, the great news is this is a game that should absolutely scratch it. What I like most about it is the overall flow of combat and how capable you are with your base abilities but can opt to grab enemy weapons to use as well, and there’s quite a variety to choose from. This sort of setup lends itself to very few extended battles playing out similarly since you’ll need to work with what opportunities you’re given without much time for planning. Throw in the many rooms you’ll encounter that will challenge you to make full use of your arsenal of traversal skills effectively and there’s plenty to be satisfied with on the platforming side as well. Put them together with a tale of a modern hero that has some colorful characters and odd humor and the package comes together to make for a terrific choice for action fans on the Switch.


One Finger Death Punch 2 [Silver Dollar Games] - 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 [Gabe Cuzzillo] - 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 [WayForward] - 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.


Wulverblade [Darkwind Media] - 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!


Clone Drone in the Danger Zone [Doborog Games] - One genre that’s lacking in depth and variety on the Switch has definitely been fighters. Sure, there are both some AAA and indie efforts that will let you throw down in the traditional 2D sphere, whether more serious or a bit casual, but there aren’t many games that dare to break the mold. Clone Drone is a title that does just that, moving play into 3D voxel-based arenas where you’ll play as a sort of robotic gladiator, taking on foes and various lethal traps in mortal combat where your goal is to take out the opposition using whatever weapons you have available to you. Even if you’re unable to get an instant killing blow the good news is that partial damage like hacked away limbs will still help make your job easier but those same vulnerabilities can work against your own surprisingly fragile bot as well. The roguelike format is challenging and can be fun, at least for a little while, but it’s the multiplayer options that include both cooperative and competitive that show the extra effort and give the title additional distinction. I doubt it will appeal to everyone, and learning to hone your technique with the somewhat limited core attacks and weapons can be tough when there’s not a ton to work with, but there’s just something unique about being in an arena with some other people trying to survive, with both excitement and sometimes silliness playing out in the process.


No More Heroes [Grasshopper Manufacture] - There’s something to be said for being authentically original, for me that’s especially the case for when the general plan is to be just a bit crazy. No More Heroes is, in many regards, the antithesis of big business design by committee game making. It’s cartoonishly violent, has many over-the-top characters (who you’ll mostly be killing), a storyline that charts a dark and bloody path but is still also consistently silly, and a protagonist who is ridiculous on many levels. Your goal is to literally cut a path through the world’s top assassins to take your place at the top, and on that journey there will be a ton of bloody madness. Sequences where you’re simply plowing through big bads and their minions are broken up by completely bizarre mini games and activities like spending time with your cat to help break things up, which does help to distract from what can, at times, be a bit of a grind. Also, the fact that Travis (your character) is a pretty sexist pig and there are an abundant number of provocative angles taken featuring the female characters may be a bit much for some people to take now, making the game feel a bit dated on a level besides the overall look. While it is by no means a perfect game if you can deal with the flaws it is absolutely a rollercoaster of violence and weirdness that can be quite a lot of fun.


Super Crush KO [Vertex Pop] - 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.


Speed Brawl [Double Stallion Games] - 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.


Asterix & Obelix: Slap Them All! [Mr. Nutz Studio] - While the genre struggled in the early days on the Switch, the beat-em-up has proven to be alive and well on the Switch, including some titles I’d consider genre-defining that have arrived over the last 2 years. Asterix and Obelix, taken from the French comic, are characters I’m not at all familiar with so I can’t comment on their use here, though I will note their personalities as well as the unusual characters they interact with in the story, do provide a decent basis for light humor. Gameplay-wise you’ll be dealing with the contrast between the smaller and more precise Asterix and the much larger and brawling Obelix, though since the controls are the same for each at a high level they perform similarly. The play tends to be pretty traditional, though perhaps a bit light on overall strategy compared to some more accomplished titles, but I do appreciate the inclusion of some secret spots on the periphery you can find and that help to encourage exploring the space. Playable solo or with a buddy what strikes me most is that within the genre this may be the most stripped down but still enjoyable titles I’ve played in the space, and with the co-op I could see this being a great title to play with a younger or less experienced gamer, helping to bring them into the fold a bit more gently. It isn’t the most complex or satisfying brawler out there by a fair margin, but there’s something to be said for its sense of humor and accessibility that many of its brethren lack.


Metallic Child [Studio HG] - OK, so to start I’ll admit that just on paper I was already rooting for Metallic Child a bit. An anime-style roguelike beat-em-up brawler? Yes, please! OK, so the story feels a bit to filler-y and getting down to business took longer than I would have preferred. Add to that the fact that the style is more grindy than technique-driven and the tendency to get down to button mashing in places feels a bit inevitable. To boot, I’ll admit that in order to maintain the hectic pacing of things I didn’t usually do much thinking when encountering power cores and upgrades, rolling with my gut and letting the chips fall as they may. The thing is, even with those observations and criticisms it’s still a damned fun time and will keep you challenged to refine your techniques with the different weapons and equipment you can find to stay alive and keep going. It may be a bit on the chaotic side, even among its brethren in the roguelike action space, but it still delivers some intense fun if you’re game for it.


Shing! [Mass Creation] - When it comes to beat-em-ups the Switch has really fleshed its line-up out since the early days, which generally makes it tougher for new titles to make a strong impression with something new. The people behind Shing have done just that though, offering up an experience that may generally adhere to the gameplay elements you’d expect but that approaches the controls in a completely unique way. While you do have the option to go the traditional button route in order to execute your attacks the new way is to instead use the right stick, whether using simple directions or swiping moves, and that really does give the gameplay a unique sort of flow. To boot, some of the tactics you’ll need to use for specific enemies and most bosses are generally a step above the norm, requiring a bit more care and planning than simply button-mashing your way through all of your problems. Throw in the ability to play with up to 3 friends, or to freely switch between the game’s 4 characters as you play to be sure to tackle enemies with the style that may be most effective in the moment and it’s a challenging and very unique experience for what’s typically a more straightforward genre.


Tunche [LEAP Game Studios] - With its attractively-animated characters and environments, Tunche absolutely doesn’t look like any other beat-em-up on the system. Throw in the fact that a roguelike spirit beats in its heart and it doesn’t quite play like any other as well, and depending on your perspective that may be a good or a bad thing. For anyone not familiar with roguelikes, what that means is that out of the gate your character’s attacks won’t be quite as varied as you’re used to and certainly not as powerful, leading to some inevitable grinding to be done on your way to success. The positive is that once you’ve locked into your favorite character you can somewhat cater the way they play to your own preferences. One complaint is that you can’t really try out a given character’s style without taking them on a run and that their skill progression, since their styles vary, also doesn’t carry over… meaning if you like to experiment it’s going to be a tough per-character grind to discover what works for you. That said, for the most part the action is quick, your enemies don’t generally fit into the traditional generic molds so much of the experience feels fresh, and the ability to have some friends play along is welcome since you can usually use some help.


Going Under [AggroCrab] - 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.


No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle [Grasshopper Manufacture] - It’s a tough thing to make a follow-up title to a game that is revered in part because it breaks the mold. On either side you have the pitfalls of deviating too far from the path of the original’s success and the risk that people will just consider it more of the same. Perhaps it helps when you’re dealing with a title like No More Heroes though, which undoubtedly had a solid helping of craziness integrated into the mix. While this sequel doesn’t make too many major changes at the core, it does work to trim out some unnecessary elements like needing to ride around town to missions (even if your bike was cool) and pretty well doubles down on the helping of over-the-topness that made the original a blast. There were several times this sequel threw some great “WTF?” moments at me an elicited a laugh, the lack of any attempt at having a tether to reality at times could be considered a little too silly by some I suppose but for me it just further enhanced the fun that makes the title a stand-out. Now, again I will warn that Travis and people he deals with are pretty well sexist pigs and the somewhat constant focus on scantily-clad female anatomy can get a bit old and even creepy after a while, but when it comes to the action and strange story elements going along for the ride is full of unexpected fun.


Akane [Ludic Studios] - 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.


Fight 'N Rage [sebagamesdev] - 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!


Omensight [Spearhead Games] - 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.


Furi [The Game Bakers] - 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.


Ninjin - Clash of Carrots [Pocket Trap] - 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 [Secret Base] - 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.


Mayhem Brawler [Hero Concept] - When I originally saw the art for this game I’ll have to admit I was a bit put off by its blatant similarities to the recent (and outright excellent) Streets of Rage 4, fearing this would feel like a derivative sort of cut and paste job. I’m happy to say that though it has much in common with that recent remake (though its general depth in the moves department is a fair distance behind), that isn’t to say that it doesn’t take some pains to set itself apart. You’ll choose one of 3 characters to start with, each of them playing pretty differently with a more agile fighter, a brawler, and someone pretty well smack dab in the middle to round it out. Your objective, in general terms, is just to steamroll your way through the underworld, beating down anyone in your way, searching for answers to what’s going down in your city. I will credit the developers with the smart move of setting up decisions at the end of most chapters which give you choices on how to proceed. At a minimum the fact that this gives you an excellent reason to return for multiple runs to see how things work out differently when you make alternative options is a smart move. Status conditions and some great unexpected villain types also raise the game above the likes of the established norm to throw in some unexpected challenges in places, requiring a bit more nuance in your fighting. It may not quite have reliable mainstream appeal, but for genre fans it’s definitely worthy of a look.


The Takeover [Pelikan13] - 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.


Lost Castle [Hunter Studio] - 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.


The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors [NATSUME ATARI Inc] - While it got off to a little bit of a slow start the Switch has been blessed with a ton of great beat-em-ups to choose from, and especially for fans of the original arcade title Ninja Saviors is a strong addition to the list. You’ll pick your ninja, each of which has their own variation in play style, and then take on a load of challenging side-scrolling slashing action. Especially for retro fans showing respect for the original game is critical, and there’s no doubt that Saviors does this, absolutely delivering what feels like an authentic sequel to the arcade classic original. Depending on how you approach the game this could be viewed either as a strength or a weakness. The game’s strictly side-to-side movement and combat are authentic, and I’m sure there’s a crowd thirsting for the simultaneous simplicity and challenge it brings, but even moreso than games where you have more ability to move around it does make much of the “filler” combat while you progress to the challenging boss fights feel generic. If you’re playing co-op with a friend this can still make for a lot of fun, and if you enjoy this more classic style you’ll likely be in heaven, but the more modern your tastes are it may feel a bit limited.


Way of the Passive Fist [Household Games Inc] - 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.


Die for Valhalla! [Monster Couch] - All in all I enjoyed playing Die for Valhalla for its relative simplicity that really does bring me back to the classic arcade quarter-pumping experience. Paired with some friends it can be a blast to simply maul your way through enemies and then fight for the glory that spews onto the screen at the end of each level. As long as you keep your expectations in check, and don’t count on it to deliver a very deep experience, it can be some good fun for at least a handful of hours of hacking up bad guys and bosses.


Full Metal Furies [Cellar Door Games] - As a game that you can enjoy with a group of friends (the more the merrier) Full Metal Furies is a unique take on a beat-em-up, peppering in some ranged characters elements of action RPG progression as well. It’s smart, sassy, and really forces you to work together to get through some tough spots that will require coordination. Unfortunately as a solo experience it suffers and ends up almost being a completely different game in the process, relatively forcing you to favor use of your melee characters and then hoping your ranged ones don’t become liabilities when you use them. If you have a group that’s looking for an action-based challenge with personality it’s a solid choice though.


I Am The Hero [Crazyant] - 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.



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!