BRAWLERS: The Best Brawling Games In The World Right Now

Call me a weirdo, but I say brawlers have more in common with Robotron than they do Street Fighter-style one-on-one fighting games. In brawlers the enemies don’t try to mimic human opponents, they have set patterns of movement and attack. You are more than a match for any enemy in the game on an individual basis, the challenge comes from handling them in numbers with various combinations of enemy types while navigating an environment full of hazards. While you may have all manner of combination attacks and counters to unleash on a single hapless foe, the real game here is taking apart the entire mob of enemies without getting too torn up yourself in the process. Position and crowd-control are the top priority in brawlers. Think “Oldboy.”

Over the last couple years there’s been a miniature explosion of brawlers for the PC, so let’s take a look at some highlights:

Shank 2

Mark of the Ninja may have a more interesting premise, but to me Shank 2 is the best game Klei ever made. A 2D God of War with better gameplay wedded to an aesthetic that’s equal parts Robert Rodriguez film and Story of Ricky. The puzzle bosses from Shank 1 are gone and it has a meaty aftergame. I give it a thumbs up in general, but if you want a brawler with more depth, read on.

Fairy Bloom Freesia

A pretty 2D brawler by the Japanese indie developer who made Ether Vapor, one of the prettiest Indie shmups of all time. This game feels like a mix of PS2 era brawling with an 80s platform arena game like Bubble Bobble or Snow Bros. You play a squeeky-voiced fairy kicking the living shit out of an army of clay golems. The game emphasizes getting huge consecutive hit combos by knocking enemies into each other for ludicrous domino chain reactions. Some levels the game mixes things up by adding floating Macguffins the golems are trying to destroy that you need to protect, but you can inadvertently damage the Macguffins yourself if you slam an enemy into one, so you have to be more conscientious with your juggling. A fun trifle.


This is a perfect example of a simple brawler making bad decisions in order to trick lazy game reviewers into thinking it has depth. It starts off promisingly enough with a small handful of basic enemies that could be challenging when combined with more advanced foes. Later on the advanced foes show up… and they’re the same basic enemies with color-coded shields that require a specific move as an opener to break the shield before you take them apart the same way you had many times before. Later when you gain the power to instantly switch between the light world and the dark world, those same basic enemies show up as silhouettes, requiring you to press a single button to enter their world in order for your attacks to connect. This faux-depth extends to the platforming as well. You’ll be challenged to wall jump up a pipe, but each wall is in a different world, requiring you to hit the switch world button every jump. SO DEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Unless the idea of a poster advertising a game called “Casa Crashers” makes you bust a gut, or your favorite Superfriend was El Dorado, I’d give this game a pass.

Fortune Summoners

A few years ago a brawler called “Demon Stone” experimented with a concept that could best be called “single-player co-op.” In it, you played a party of 3 characters, directly controlling one at a time, the other two under AI control, and could switch between them at will ala. Lost Vikings. This lead to interesting situations where if the guy you were controlling got surrounded, you could switch to one of the other teammates and come to your own aid. Alas, I can’t get the game to run properly ever since I upgraded to 64-bit windows 7.

Fortune Summoners is a Japanese indie game translated to English that picks up where Demon Stone left off with 3 playable characters switchable at will. Unlike Demon stone, where the mage controlled pretty much exactly like the warrior only somewhat slower, the characters in Fortune Summoners are quite different: a warrior, a healing mage, and a fire mage. The game clearly expects you to play the warrior most of the time, keeping enemies off of the mages so they have time to unleash their nuke spells, but there are many situations where the warrior can be disabled for several crucial seconds, so you switch to the less nimble mages and to come to the rescue.

Interestingly, you can either play this as a grind-heavy action RPG or a straight up action game if you’re good enough. The game has a level limit and a level floor that are increased by picking up hero’s marks found in every dungeon. If you suck, you can grind up your levels and buy better weapons to make the hits you do manage to land do more damage and give you an edge. If you’re good, the game’s combo system increases the damage of your attacks the higher the combo meter goes, compensating for your weaker weapons, and the rising level floor ensures you’re never too weak stat-wise to take on the game’s latest challenges.

Sadly, like almost all Japanese indie games, to get to the awesome gameplay you have to hipster up and pretend to ironically enjoy the game’s super duper girly story and protagonists, as well as the squeeky little girl shrieks your warrior makes in combat.

Beginner Protip #1: Your attacks in this game have a significant execution delay and the AI is reactive, so button mashing will get you murdered. If they’re not already committed to another move, slimes will ALWAYS pounce when you try a basic slash.

Beginner Protip #2: Your attacks remain potent for the entire frame, and you slide a short distance after running, so you can make up for the short reach of your sword by running at an enemy and sliding into them while executing a short stab.

Game I dare not mention by name

The company that holds the rights to the IP this freeware game pays homage to put a cease-and-desist on its distribution less than a week after its official release. It has recently received a massive update that was released without any announcement fanfare. Just download from the mirror I linked and thank me later.


If it seems like I’m always singing the praises of Japanese indie games, it’s because people generally don’t go to the bother of exporting the shitty games produced by Japan’s indie scene. Croixleur is an exception to that rule. A TERRIBLE boring ugly slow game that apes the circular arena gameplay of Devil May Cry’s Bloody palace, but without any depth to the combat system or enemies capable of being a threat except in overwhelming numbers. It even penalizes you for trying to speed things up by dash-canceling. Adding insult to injury, the loading screen is a full page warning that goes, “Woah careful! This is an intense and fast paced game and probably too much for your lazy gaijin ass to handle. Better take frequent breaks before this game overwhelms you!” Yeah I’ll take a break… permanently! Shame on Nyu media, they’ve usually got great taste with it comes to their catalog. Even at the budget $5 I paid, this game’s a rip-off.

Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae

Yeah, just because you translated the game to English doesn’t mean you should give it a title in English as well. I picked this up as part of a bundle and was pleasantly surprised. It’s like Croixleur, only it doesn’t suck.

You play the developer’s katana-wielding jack-off fantasy battling waves of demons dressed in 3-piece suits with bicycle helmets. The combat system is reminiscent of the Ninja Gaiden games. Essentially, you work the enemies over to crank up your rank, then cash it in with an ultimate move that clears the screen of all your foes. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where they came from! The fighting is fast paced and fun and you really get that Ninja flip-out feeling as you zip around cutting everything to shreds and finish by sheathing your sword, causing all the enemies to explosively bleed to death. And if you’re going to spend the whole game staring at someone’s ass, it might as well be a hot chick in a short skirt.

While you can carry over unlocked skills from a single save into subsequent playthroughs at higher difficulties ala. Devil May Cry, I would actually advise against that because the more expensive unlockable moves are flat out superior to the beginning moves. Killing enemies at high style rank without getting hit spits out hundreds of times as much XP as low-style kills. I think the point of the game is to start from scratch and play the early levels so flawlessly that you can afford to unlock the greatest moves in time for the final boss. That would explain the puzzling lack of a scoring system.

Alas, like in Ninja Gaiden, the camera can be a real pain in the ass. Generally speaking, though, if enough enemies get behind you to crowd out the camera, you weren’t playing it right in the first place.

Protips: Instead of waiting for the Holy Slash to charge, you can hit the “release” button (default R1) to instantly charge up at the cost of some katana energy. Use this against blocking enemies. Also, the sword sheathing move only affects already bleeding enemies and does more damage the higher your style meter.

The game is really short, but has 4 difficulty levels that increase enemy aggressiveness, and rewards you for finishing each difficulty level with a new costume. As much of a blast to play as this is, $15 is a stretch for such a short game.

Aces Wild

Yaaay! The best brawler on the list is by an American developer! USA! USA!

Call me crazy, but I say this brawler beats out Volgarr the Viking for indie action game of the year in 2013. A brilliant little game of position and crowd control.

I gained an increased appreciation for it when I realized it is not a punching-based version of Bangai-O because dashing eats just as much rage bar as tapping heavy (launcher) attack, (and tapping launcher attack only eats as much rage bar as dashing), so the wall jump mechanics weren’t just for show.

A great thing about this is that you have a gameplay incentive to crank up your rank (arcade speak for “adaptive difficulty”), because rank controls how quickly your rage bar refills. Higher rank means the enemies do more damage, but it also means you hit harder, can dash into optimum position for a launching more often, and can tear through the levels faster.

You do have unlimited lives, but you start the current room over again with zero rage and zero rank (plus a permanent scoring penalty) so it takes a long time to build up momentum. Interestingly, using the “panic” move to refill your health is worse for your level grade than dying.

While this ain’t Devil May Cry 4 Dante, the game does have some depth with the counter attack system. Light counters give you a free dash while heavy counters give you a superior longer ranged launcher.

Like in God Hand, enemies semi-randomly transform when you KO them, only in this game instead of turning into demons, they become a massive CLOUD of low-HP ninjas. I have zero complaints about this game. Even my usual complaint about having to unlock content has been addressed as you start the game with the full level select and both secret characters already unlocked!

If you choose to take advantage of The Inverse Ninja Law and play Eagle Morris, you would be well advised to use one of his palette swaps.

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Mischief Maker

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