You may think that retro games are no longer in the running for your money, but you would be wrong. Capcom has their own Beat ‘em up bundle available on Steam and Dotemu is still selling Double Dragon Trilogy from the late 80s and early 90s. Now, it’s not a bad development at all to see the old classics being kept alive even today, but nostalgia only goes so far when you need to pay full price for simple ports that are 30+ years old.
While you should definitely play the classics too, there are modern brawlers available today that capture the best of the old games, but also augment the classics with some of today’s mechanics to make beat ‘em up games enjoyable for gamers who have no reason to be nostalgic.
Double Dragon Neon by WayForward Technologies
At some point, we need to rethink the definition of “modern” because Double Dragon Neon was released over 10 years ago and the game is still 22+ years younger than Double Dragon III. Although Double Dragon Neon did not receive the popularity among popular critics that it should have back then on consoles, the game has since grown to become quite popular on the PC.
Don’t go by the strangely biased reviews, just see what actual players have to say about it, watch a few YouTube videos, and pick it up on the next seasonal sale. The graphics do not look dated even in 2022, the special effects are awesome, and there is a heft to every punch, kick, and fire dragon you throw at your enemies. The soundtrack itself is an homage to retro gaming and WayForward Technologies have indeed created the best Double Dragon game since 1990 with this one.
Streets of Rage 4 by Dotemu
No critic had any complaints about 2020’s Streets of Rage 4 though, which is perhaps indicative of the fact video game critics are widening their horizons. There was a lot of criticism before the game came out though, but all that was wiped clean after Streets of Rage 4 proved itself to be (arguably) the best modern brawler game around.
Try to get the whole bundle during a sale, which comes with the Mr. X Nightmare DLC included. It adds extra playable characters, more villains, and more stages to the original game. Although Streets of Rage 4 can be a bit demanding on system requirements, it runs well on new laptops with Intel Graphics. If you are not sure whether your PC really has the right Intel Arc APU, check the following post: https://www.lenovo.com/us/en/faqs/intel/intel-graphics/.
Midnight Fight Express by Jacob Dzwinel
When someone mentions indie game development studios, they usually mean a small team of yet unestablished, but talented software programmers. However, Jacob Dzwinel takes the term literally, as he is the sole developer behind this amazing modern brawler that is like nothing you have played before, and yet is reminiscent of the old Arkham games.
The gameplay is based on fluid controls and twitch reactions, just like a real fighting game should be. There are elements of Sifu in it, but the game was in development long before Sifu. Midnight Fight Express adds an isometric 3D view, that is not common in the brawler genre at all. The best part is that it all works out quite beautifully.
This concludes our list of the best modern brawlers that take away nothing from the classic games but add more to them. Honorable mention goes out to Sifu and Wulverblade, which are both wonderful brawlers in their own separate sub-niches.