Way back in 1991 Rare developed Battletoads for the NES. While it was several years after that before I got to play it, I remember it for two things: it’s one of the most difficult NES games I’ve ever played, and that friggin’ Turbo Tunnel was partly responsible for that. Still, it was a pretty solid beat-em-up for the NES. A few ports were made for arcades, the Game Boy, and a couple of other systems, as well as a crossover game with Double Dragon. Beyond that, though, there hasn’t been anything Battletoads-related since then. Until Rash was added as a guest character in Season 3 of the 2013 version of Killer Instinct. When it was announced that a brand new Battletoads game was coming out I was genuinely excited. Granted this could partially be because I love seeing old franchises from the NES days make a comeback of sorts, but Battletoads was a great game back in the day, but will the new one be just as fun? Will it be just as difficult? Will the Turbo Tunnel make a return and ruin everyone’s lives like it did back in the early '90s? Let’s find out.
It's been well over two decades since the Battletoads have fought and defeated the Dark Queen and the Toads are just as popular as ever…or maybe not. Turns out they’ve been living a bit of a fantasy life since their glory days and it’s time for them to face reality; they’re not as popular as they once were. Once they come to that realization they try to live a normal life with normal jobs. Rash isn’t satisfied, though, as he has eventually pinpointed the location of the Dark Queen and convinces Zitz and Pimple to head out to her location. The Toads head out on Turbo Bikes and seek out the Dark Queen.
Much like the previous games, Battletoads is a beat-em-up where you’re basically defeating every enemy in each wave before moving onto the next wave. Rash, Zitz, and Pimple all have their own characteristics and moves. You can freely switch between them at any time with the D-Pad. X, Y, and B all perform various attacks and actions, and using them in various combinations can pull off certain combos in battle. You can also use your tongue to eat flies for health, leap into the background in certain stages, pull enemies closer, or pull you over to them.
The Battletoads don’t have lives so to speak, but if any Toad runs out of health you’ll automatically switch to another one. The defeated Toad will have a countdown timer on his HUD at the top of the screen. Once it hits zero, he’ll be revived with some of his health replenished. If all three Toads are KO’d before one can come back, you’ll have to restart at the last checkpoint. The checkpoints tend to be pretty frequent so you won’t be getting set back too far if you game over. You'll likely just restart whatever fight you died at. As stated, some enemies will produce flies that the Toads can eat to refill a bit of their health, though trying to get to them in the heat of battle can be a bit troublesome as the game progresses.
While the previous games mainly focused on the beat-em-up aspect…well, this one does too, but there is more than just waves of enemies to fight. Remember, the Toads had to get regular jobs now that the glory days are over. One of the stages in Act 1 is the Toads at those jobs. It’s essentially a small group of minigames where you just mash buttons. The better you do, the better your overall score for the level. It may seem meaningless but it does move the story along and is a nice break from beating up enemies all the time. This also isn’t the only time in which a level in an Act isn’t beating up enemies, but more of a relaxing mini-game of sorts to give the player a break.
Some stages even include minigames between waves of enemies such as circumventing security systems. They’re not entirely difficult and add a bit of a puzzle aspect to the game. You also have collectibles to find in each stage in the form of yellow crystals. Some are found out in the open, others are a bit more hidden and require you to perform certain actions to obtain. There are several boss fights with some being straightforward and some requiring some patience—at least until you learn the boss’s patterns and mechanics before you’re able to land any attacks.
Something I really enjoyed in my time with Battletoads is how similar it feels and sounds to the original. There are even a few references to the NES game (at least that I noticed, there might be more). A couple of the audio tracks are taken directly from the NES game or are straight-up remixes. One of the first things you’ll hear is the pause music from the NES game playing from a music box in a room. If you’ve played the NES original you’ve likely rocked out to that simple drum beat numerous times when you’ve paused the game.
Beyond the callback tracks the soundtrack itself is great. Even as I’m writing this review I’m sitting here listening to it in the background. The Turbo Tunnel track has also returned along with a new Turbo Tunnel stage. Unlike the original, however, now you’re playing it from a behind-the-back point of view. It isn’t quite as hard as the original (thankfully) but still requires some good reflexes.
As for the graphics, I know some people aren’t too keen on the art style. Personally I’m okay with it. Not every game needs to be full-blown 3D animation. To me the art and animation style match the general feel and atmosphere. Plus when I play a game I’m typically more interested in how the game plays rather than just how the game looks. I do understand that the game looks cartoony and like something that belongs on Nickelodeon, especially the Dark Queen which I've read a lot of complaints about from the trailers. I personally don't mind it as much, though I do understand the complaints fans have.
When you start the game you have three choices for difficulty. There's Tadpole for those who wish to focus more on the story (low enemy health, enemy strength, and respawn time for the Toads). Toad is for a normal Battletoads experience (average times for the three aforementioned stats). And Battletoad for those who are absolutely sadistic and want the hardest experience the game has to offer.
Tadpole and Toad also have an Invincibility option that can be toggled and when it’s turned on, holding Up on the D-Pad will turn on invincibility after you’ve died a few times—and you will be dying quite a bit if you’re on at least Toad difficulty.
The enemies themselves don’t hurt too much and it’s normally not too difficult to get yourself to the side of the screen and just repeatedly attack enemies when they get close. The problem lies in the enemies that can fire ranged attacks. Some of the projectiles move slowly and you can dash out of the way with plenty of time. Others come rather quickly and aren’t as easy to dodge. Getting hit by a projectile takes off a lot of health, about one-third of your health bar on Toad difficulty. Some areas will spawn several enemies and you’ll literally end up dashing around to avoid them, get in a hit or two, dash like mad again, and repeat. It does make for a challenging experience, but there were quite a few times where I could barely see what I was doing because the screen was so crowded with enemies and projectiles.
Battletoads allows for up to three-player co-op, but only couch co-op, meaning no online play. That’s a bit disappointing as this could have made for a great online co-op game, especially since you can go back and replay any level you’ve already completed. At the same time I can kind of understand why it’s couch co-op only with how the game is setup.
Co-op play is basically the same as the single player-experience, except that a player can only swap to whichever Toad isn’t currently in use, since both players can’t be the same Toad. There are some areas where having two or three players can be more of an advantage outside of combat, but naturally it’s not required. Still, the fact that co-op is included at all is a nice addition.
While the action feels like Battletoads should, the story and cutscenes add a bit of humor. I for one enjoyed it. As I was getting trounced by a massive wave of enemies who all fire projectiles, I was constantly thinking to myself how brutal the projectiles could be and just getting a bit frustrated overall. Then a cutscene or minigame stage would come up and it basically was like hitting a reset switch in my brain, reminding me of how good the writing and voice acting is, and forgetting all about the game’s difficulty.
It is worth noting that depending on how good you are at these types of games, Battletoads can be somewhat short. I mean it did take me a good several hours to complete it, but this is an arcade-style beat-em-up, not an epic RPG. Still, I was perfectly okay with that. Just be prepared to have some longer action stages along with some pretty short minigame stages.
Overall Battletoads is a fun game that brought back a lot of memories of the NES original…mostly Turbo Tunnel related, but I digress. The addition of the cutscenes, voice acting, and humor, to me, added to an already fun experience. Again, I understand the complaints about the art style but, for the most part, I'm perfectly okay with it. If you're going purely by the gameplay, fans of the previous games from back in the day will likely get a kick out of this latest installment. Newcomers might want to drop the difficulty to Toadie or turn on the Invincibility option for when they die a few too many times. The mini-game stages are a great way to break up the monotony of the beat-em-up stages. While not perfect it’s nice to see an older franchise make a comeback in a big way and still retain what made the original games great. Who knows? Maybe someday down the line we’ll get another Battletoads and Double Dragon crossover?
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.