Battletoads is one of those ’90s franchises that, despite a handful of video game releases and a very short-lived cartoon, fizzled out for all except a group of dedicated fans. For those of us who do remember Battletoads, the classic beat ’em up/platformer remains a classic. What started as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles clone became a NES title notable for its legendary difficulty and the way it altered the gameplay from level to level.
Now, with a revival of the series about to drop for a new generation, the question is: how do you make a modern Battletoads game? That’s what the team at Dlala Studios had to ask themselves because it’s one thing to just make a really difficult game and call it a day. Battletoads is really more about the personality and the variety. Even with said variety, classic Battletoads was at its best when it was a side-scrolling beat ‘em up. Looking back, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs on SNES had a fantastic first level in that style, but then threw it out the window in favor of different and harder types of levels that weren’t all that fun to play.
On the other hand, arcade Battletoads probably suffered from not stretching out into other directions enough. You had your regular beat ‘em up levels, the one where you lower into a pit, the gunner level, and I guess you could argue that the snow level was different enough to count. It still felt very same-y overall.
Fortunately, Battletoads 2020 hits the sweet spot — for the most part. I want to say about 60% of it is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, which feels like a cross between arcade Battletoads and Arc System Works’ River City Girls. The only issue I really have with the game is how front-loaded those levels are. Later Battletoads levels jump around various genres and sometimes forget about hand-to-hand combat altogether.
The game is made up of four acts. Overall, it feels like each act is a different episode of a cartoon, one big story told in installments. Speaking of cartoon, the game has a fantastic art style that overlays Rise of the TMNT animation over backgrounds and designs that look like they came out of Rayman Legends. Each toad has their own distinct personality, with Zitz as the neurotic leader, Rash as the delusional egomaniac, and Pimple as the peaceful voice of reason.
Release Date: August 20, 2020
Platform: PC (reviewed), XBO
Developer: Dlala Studios, Rare
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Genre: Beat ‘em up
After a basic, yet at times rather surreal first level, we find that these days, the Battletoads are has-beens and it’s possible they never had it to begin with. They’re now stuck in a mundane reality of nine-to-five jobs while living in a total craphole apartment. Rash, driven to depression and desperation, wants their fame and fortune back and only knows one way to do so: find the Dark Queen and beat her up again. His fellow toads (nobody is sure whether they’re friends or brothers or what) agree to see his insane and sad plan through.
Off they go on their turbo speeders to hunt down the Dark Queen, not knowing that they’re all wrapped up in a much bigger story than they realize.
As most of the game falls under the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre, you can choose between Pimple (slow and strong), Rash (fast and weaker), and Zitz (juuuuuuust right). The combat system harkens back to the classic installments, but the three characters also have ridiculous shape-shifting powers that enhance their attacks. These shape-shifting abilities include everything from growing giant fists to weird stuff like Rash turning his hands into giant fish and slapping everyone around him or Zitz turning into a jackhammer. And there are plenty of fun animations that liven up these combos.
Each toad’s basic offense includes the standing combos, jump attacks, a launcher, a slow-but-strong attack to shatter defenses, and a heavy attack that affects all enemies in close vicinity. Surviving the game’s hectic fights also means having to use other skills, such as dashing, using your tongue to pull opponents towards you, and spitting bubblegum at enemies to hold them to slow them down.
The game features only local multiplayer, so no online team-ups (kind of unfortunate given the current state of the world). In multiplayer, players can revive fallen comrades, but if you’re in single-player, combat in Battletoads works in tag team system. Once your toad is toast, another one will pop into his place. Those who are KO’d can come back after a timer runs out, but they’ll only get half a life bar back. If all three toads are taken down before any can respawn, it’s game over.
This is important: you can’t just mash buttons and hope for the best in Battletoads. You absolutely need to approach battles strategically. Different enemies have different tactics and advantages, so you’ll have to pick your targets and figure out who gets hit when and with what attack or you’re going to get your ass handed to you.
The other levels in this game are all over the place. I mean, the second level includes mini-games that include Pimple as a masseuse and Zitz trying to send emails on a broken computer. There’s an update of the infamous Turbo Tunnel level from the original game, puzzle-based platformers, cartoony gymnastics, a series of shoot ‘em up levels, a chase level in the style of the original’s Rat Race, an outright bizarre take on rock/paper/scissors, and more.
One of the highlights is a Pimple-centric level that I can’t spoil, but it comes out of nowhere and is one of the most cathartic moments of the game.
As expected, parts of the game are extremely difficult at times. There’s a side-scrolling sledding level where you have to match your button commands to whatever surface you’re sledding over (ice, sponge, or carpet) or you die, all while hopping over insta-kill spike hazards. THANK GOD there are infinite continues and tons of checkpoints because I had to re-do one of these sections well over 100 times before finally getting past it. Certain levels are insanely unforgiving and I shudder to think how people are going to finish the game on its hardest difficulty level.
It took me just six hours to get through Battletoads on medium difficulty. That was six hours of awesomeness where even the frustration felt like it paid off. In terms of replay value, most levels have five “collectables” hidden throughout, plus a sixth collectable that you earn by beating a level by a certain amount of time or getting a combo rank of at least “A” for each section of a beat ‘em up level. You don’t get any additional perks for unlocking these collectables but it is a reason for completionists to go back through the game.
At a time when beat ’em ups are making a big comeback, Battletoads is a welcome name to add to the pile of new entries. At only $20, the game is an absolute steal and is filled to the brim with good times and a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. The game is a surprising return to greatness for the franchise.