During the late 80s and especially during the early to mid-90s, beat ’em ups became one of the hottest and most popular video game genres across the various consoles. The importance and popularity of the beat ’em up cannot be overstated during a period known for fantastic games and a frenetic release cycle.
The best beat ’em up games, especially, became near-instant classics that gamers from around the world still remember very fondly and with more than a bit of nostalgia. Unfortunately, after the golden age of the 90s, the genre fell by the wayside and remains forgotten to this day and age by most video game developers.
For this reason, and because I’ve been playing a ton of Capcom’s Beat ‘Em Up Bundle on my Switch over the last few days, I’ve decided to honor the cool games the genre has to offer. And to do so, one need not look beyond that generation’s best console, the SNES.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, arguably one of the best video game consoles in the history of the industry, had its fair share of beat ’em up titles. Some of these games were extremely popular, while others remained in obscurity, but most of them were solid entries in a packed market.
Therefore, including every single great beat ’em up ever released on the SNES wouldn’t be practical because there are so many. So, I’ve gone ahead and pruned the list down to my personal favorite top 15 titles.
Join me after the break, then, to read all about the 15 best beat ’em up games on the SNES.
15 Best Super Nintendo Beat ‘Em Up Games
The Ninja Warriors
The Ninja Warriors is a 1994 SNES sequel to a popular 1987 Arcade title of the same name. While entirely different in terms of graphics and level design, The Ninja Warriors for the SNES retains the fine-tuned DNA of the original arcade game: featuring colorful graphics, a banging soundtrack, and the fact that players get to choose from three deadly Ninja characters, each with their own set of amazing moves and skills.
One of the things that set The Ninja Warriors apart from many of the other titles in the genre is the fact that combat is much more deliberate. Blocking and grappling are important elements that add a layer of extra depth to the typical button-mashy style that the genre is known for.
There is also a special gauge bar that slowly fills as you progress through the level which allows players to perform powerful blaster attacks to clear the screen during critical moments.
The enemy AI is very competent as well, meaning the game can feel like an action version of paper rock scissors, with grappling, blocking, and attacking forming the 3 basic elements.
This game will test your reflex speed and decision-making with its tough and thoughtful combat and tight controls. The synth-heavy soundtrack will get your blood pumping to go along with the tense action. All in all, The Ninja Warriors is one of the best beat ’em ups on the SNES.
The SNES had more than its fair share of licensed comic book titles; some of which have gone down in history as truly bad representations of the genre (I’m looking at you Batman Forever). However, Batman Returns is pretty much universally acclaimed for some of the best gameplay and atmosphere the beat ’em up genre has to offer.
Released in 1993, Batman Returns is heavily based on the 1992 Blockbuster of the same title, and published by the legendary Konami.
Like most of the other titles on this list, Batman Returns is a Left-to-Right action brawler with plenty of bone-crunching action (except for the brilliant batmobile level). However, what put this game on everyone’s radar was the fact that each level was brilliantly inspired by pivotal scenes of the film.
The game has some of the most impressive graphics in the genre, with Batman and his ilk of enemies wonderfully animated, and a very robust moveset that keeps players engaged throughout the entire duration of the campaign.
There is your typical combo of punches and kicks, as well as block maneuver to mitigate damage. However, the developers added access to several of Batman’s handy tools such as the Batarang, grappling hook, and a test tube bomb.
Final Fight 3
The next game on my list of best SNES beat ’em up titles needs little to no introduction: Final Fight 3.
The Final Fight franchise is one of the most popular, influential, and critically acclaimed in the beat ’em up genre, and Final Fight 3 took the familiar gameplay to new heights.
Released in 1995, follows the story of the previous titles and introduces two new playable characters that quickly became fan favorites, as well as added some innovative elements.
Each character has a set of regular attacks and special moves that give the player a ton of replayability, including some new Dash moves.
The game also includes a single-player mode, a multiplayer mode for a couch-co op experience, and a surprising AI-assisted mode where a computer-controlled character joins you as you rampage through the enemies.
There are a total of 6 stages, each with branching paths that alter the types of enemies faced by the players, and each stage is capped by a ferocious boss.
At the time, my young mind could not handle the amount of choice given by Final Fight 3. I was obsessed with seeing and exploring every possible aspect of this game.
The Peace Keepers
Known in Japan as Rushing Beat Syura, The Peace Keepers is another fantastic beat ’em up game.
The Peace Keepers is the third and final game in the Rushing Beat franchise, which features Rival Turf and Brawl Brothers (which you can read about below). Being the third game in a popular franchise, The Peace Keepers set out to distinguish itself from the previous titles by adding new characters and new gameplay elements to the mix.
Like Final Fight 3, The Peace Keepers also featured a roster of playable characters, each with their own set of moves and abilities, as well as branching paths and even multiple endings.
While the game follows the standard gameplay formula of the genre, i.e., strafing right with the ability to punch, kick, and throw hordes of enemies, what set this game apart in my humble opinion was how tight everything felt.
The animators did an excellent job at converting the strength and power of each of the playable character’s moves.
T.M.N.T. IV: Turtles in Time
Turtles in Time is probably the most popular and well-liked beat ’em ups ever, often topping lists and rankings like this one, and it is glorious.
A port from the Arcade to the SNES in 1992, Turtles in Time featured single, two, and four-player modes to make sure that you could round up the whole gang and go to town on the Foot Clan and beat the ever-living crap out of Shredder.
From a narrative perspective, the story makes no bloody sense, and I love it all the more for it. The turtles go on a time-skipping adventure that takes them all over history as they fight enemies new and old.
Each turtle featured a different moveset suited to their individual styles, and the game introduced some new gameplay elements such as power moves, slams, and dash attacks. The controls were very tight, and the gameplay was butter smooth.
On the animation front, the game is STILL to this day one of the most beautiful and colorful pixel-graphic games ever created. The artist brought a large cast of bizarre and dynamic characters to life and put the competition to shame.
This game is magical.
Alien Vs. Predator
Alien Vs. Predator, released in 1993, is another entry in the ever-popular head-to-head franchise. As a beat ’em up title, this classic brawler follows the standard formula where the player fights against a horde of enemies except this time the enemies are deadly, horrible xenomorphs hankering to make you dinner.
Players take control of the titular Predator as he advances through various stages filled to the brim with savage, sharp-toothed Aliens.
The story is simple enough and par for the franchise. Players find themselves on a human-colonized planet that is about to be overrun by the deadly xenomorphs.
The gameplay itself is standard fare, but the cool enemy design puts this one above many other titles in the genre. You see, xenomorphs can take on the traits and characteristics of their host subject.
The game developers took clear advantage of this creative freedom and included bosses that were based on dolphins, apes, snakes, bats, etc., each with their own animations and distinct attack patterns.
Based on one of the most unique and funniest media franchises ever, The Tick beat ’em up for the SNES is a must-play.
Released in 1994 by Fox Interactive, The Tick SNES follows the traditional side-scrolling formula of the genre, but it does so with panache and a singular sense of humor that the industry often lacks.
The animations are so unique and well-realized, and the visual art design is some of the best of the SNES generation. The game also followed an unconventional formula wherein falling off the stage, certain death in most other 2D games of the time, pitted you against a boss!
Another cool touch is the fact that power-ups allow you to call forth or summon classic characters such as Arthur, American Maid, etc.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
There are two great SNES beat ’em ups based on the popular Power Rangers franchise, but Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie is the best one of the two.
Released in 1995 and published by BANDAI, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie is a solid beat ’em up that allows up to two players to choose from 6 available characters based on the 6 Rangers: Red, Blue, Yellow, Black, Pink, and White.
I loved the fact that you started each stage as the “human” character and had to actively fill a Morphin gauge that would allow you to transform into the corresponding Power Ranger, thus gaining access to more power and an expanded moveset.
Each stage was capped by one of the franchise’s villains with the final boss being Ivan Ooze from the titular movie.
The Adventures of Batman and Robin
1994 saw the release of The Adventures of Batman and Robin for the SNES, a great little beat ’em up based on the Batman: The Animated Series.
The game follows the genre formula well, with long wonderfully realized stages capped by some of Batman’s large roster of bad guys. But, what the game does extremely well captures the spirit of the cartoon. Each stage legitimately feels like an episode of the animated series, with familiar title cards, soundtrack, and more.
Controlling Batman is simple, but he is well animated and movement is very tight. The gameplay, however, is fairly challenging and highly rewarding.
The King of Dragons
King of Dragons wears its heavy D&D influence on its sleeve, and it is one of the most unique beat ’em ups for the SNES.
The game is set in a fantasy land full of goblins, orcs, trolls, harpies, undead, and a ton of other magical creatures.
Players control one of five characters, each a different class with distinctive traits and fighting styles. They are the Fighter, Cleric, Dwarf, Elf, and Wizard.
What truly set this game apart was the inclusion of an RPG leveling system that allowed character progression in the form of attribute improvements and access to new abilities and equipment.
X-Men Mutant Apocalypse
Another solid beat ’em up from Capcom, X-Men Mutant Apocalypse featured tons of exciting action and allowed players to control different members of the X-Men roster.
However, unlike other beat ’em ups with rosters where players had to choose one character to play, X-Men Mutant Apocalypse made fans play with all five of the available characters: Wolverine, Beast, Gambit, Cyclops, and Psylocke.
Staying true to the source material, each playable comic book character featured a completely distinct playstyle which gave the game some fantastic variety in a genre that often failed to capitalize on this.
The game was long, with very large stages and the difficulty was pretty challenging. One design choice that perhaps made the game harder than it had to be was the fact that players had one pool of lives that were shared among characters, rather than individual life counts for each.
Brawl Brothers was the second game in the Rushing Beat franchise.
Brawl Brothers allowed players to pick from a moderate cast of 5 characters, each with unique movesets that made finding the perfect fit easy enough. You could play the game single-player, two-player, or even join in on a versus mode that was a blast.
As usual, players had to fight their way through hordes of enemies using a mixture of punches, kicks, and throws.
Players also had access to a variety of weapons that could be used to deal higher damage. You could also pick up items that had healing effects and, interestingly enough, keep them in hand to be used in the future. This provided the game with a slight level of strategy that was not common to find at the time of its release.
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is arguably the best Battletoads game ever made.
The titular Battletoads return from their cult-favorite NES game and arrive in a modernized version that took full use of the SNES power.
The game was divided into 6 stages (if you don’t count the two hidden levels) each with its own unique gameplay twist. For example, while the first stage, Khaos Mountains, emulated the traditional beat ’em up formula, the second stage sees players slowly drifting down a tight vertical space.
The game was just as difficult as the original Battletoads title from years earlier and provided young kids like me with countless hours of fun and frustration.
Knights of the Round
Knights of the Round follows King Arthur and his two most trusted knights, Lancelot and Percival as they fight their way through hordes of enemies in their epic quest to defeat the evil king Garibaldi and unite the peoples of England.
Knights of the Round allowed players to control each of the three titular knights and figuring out which character to bring to each stage was half the fun.
Arthur was the most balanced of the three, with a good amount of speed and power which made his special attack devastating.
Lancelot, on the other hand, was the quick and nimble character whose special attack was a swift aerial kick.
Percival was the tank, being the slowest and most powerful member of the team.
The game was divided into 7 stages, each capped with an imposing boss. The bosses were my favorite aspect of the game, as each one was a menacing behemoth that took precision and perseverance to defeat.
Super Double Dragon
The last game on my list of the best SNES beat ’em ups is Super Double Dragon, released by Tradewest in 1992.
Double Dragon was the first beat ’em up I ever played and it probably had a lot to do with me becoming a gamer. The sheer joy I experienced as a young kid is hard to describe, but when I finally got my hands on Super Double Dragon, it felt like coming home.
Even today it is easy to see that the Super Double Dragon had expressive character animations, colorful sprites and stage design, and challenging encounter design. And while it can be argued that Super Double Dragon did little reinvent the genre, it is hard to deny that the game was a fine-tuned example of the mindless satisfaction that beat ’em ups on the SNES could provide.