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Fists of gold: Xbox 360's best, cheapest beat 'em ups

Punching above their weight in pounds and Microsoft Points

Between DmC: Devil May Cry, Anarchy Reigns and the forthcoming Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, it's beat 'em up central on Xbox 360 right now. The genre's sudden resurgence is worrying in some ways - midwinter isn't a good time to release games in general, and especially games that traditionally cater to a niche audience. But let's not strip the silver lining from that particular cloud. In celebration of men punching one another according to the whims of combo gauges, I hereby present six entertaining-to-spectacular, pleasantly cheap specimens of the genre on Xbox 360.

As in my blog, the definition "beat 'em up" here includes the hack and slash, a distinct subgenre that generally stands alone. Hey, I like a bit of bladesmanship with my fisticuffs. If you have any other suggestions - and you should, because the list is hardly exhaustive - go right ahead and comment.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
You know what? I think Mercury Steam's brooding, chiselled monolith of a spin-off might be my favourite hack-and-slash game this generation. That's despite all the borrowing from God of War, the clear superiority of Bayonetta's combat system, and the fact that the script makes my eyes roll right out of my head. Lords of Shadow is all about scale - huge, mournful environments awash with sorrowing spirits, huge bosses that clip themselves together from handfuls of masonry, and a mind-boggling (for the genre) playlength, stretching well past 20 hours. Few games are as derivative as this one, but even fewer are as generous.

£8.99 (Amazon)

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Zeno Clash
OK, so it's a first-person combat sim rather than a beat 'em up or hack and slash per se, but he who spends too much time pondering the distinction is likely to get pounded repeatedly in the chops. Besides one of the most memorably weird fantasy landscapes ever to wear the label - think Lucian Freud meets, I don't know, Avatar -Zeno Clash boasts an unmissably exacting fisticuffs system, exceeding that of Condemned for physicality.

800 MP (XBLA)

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