If you’re a gamer of a certain age (mid to late 30s) you’ll likely have memories of Battletoads. If you’re like me, they’re mostly fond, with some frustration and despair mixed in for good measure. Having played and finished 2020’s Battletoads, it’s safe to say developer Dlala Studios has succeeded in recreating those feelings in me completely.
Battletoads is phenomenal.
To take an IP that’s been dormant for so long — 26 years — and carry on without missing a beat is an impressive feat. But to do it while simultaneously expanding the notion of a ‘Battletoads’ game and breathing new life into 16-bit characters is wild.
Right off the bat, Dlala sets the tone brilliantly for Battletoads. Leaning into the length of time it’s taken for a sequel to Battletoads in Battlemaniacs to appear; Pimple, Zitz and Rash discover they’ve been trapped inside a bunker for 26 years. They’re not the famous superheroes they thought and are, in fact, nobodies. From here, an uneasy alliance with their old nemesis, the Dark Queen, menial jobs, space combat and even a little Scientology take the toads along their journey to defeat the evil Topians.
The plot is absolute nonsense which is exactly as it should be and Dlala has cleverly used Adult Swim as a basis for Battletoads which would slot in seamlessly as a show on Cartoon Network. There are clear nods to Biker Mice from Mars, Rick and Morty and Futurama amongst others, though Battletoads walks a weird line between being both suitable and unsuitable for kids. Not all the gags land and on a few occasions the dialogue is downright terrible but it’s easily forgivable given how great the overall package is.
Each of the Battletoads has a clear, distinct personality that takes them from silent, pixellated sprites to fully-fledged, fleshed-out characters. Sure, they may be anthropomorphic toads but they also have unique thoughts, feelings and ideas. It’d be easy to write the Battletoads off as cheap TMNT knock-offs but that’d be wrong and would ignore the personality and nuance Dlala has given Zitz, Rash and Pimple.
So bringing these long-dormant characters to life has been a smashing success, but how does the gameplay fare?
Like its predecessors, Battletoads is a beat-em-up/platformer/collection of mini-games. The sidescrolling beat-em-up levels are Battletoads biggest asset and best strength. Playing either single-player of co-op (couch only) punching the crap out of baddies, building up combos, using special moves and watching the Toads transform into weird and wonderful things is an absolute dream. As soon as I booted up the first level I was 8 years old again, playing Battletoads next to my dad on the couch laughing while Pimple grew ram’s horns and Rash foot grew five times its size.
In beat-em-up stages, the Toads use X for light attacks, Y for launching uppercuts and B for heavy attacks. By combining button presses players can perform special moves and combos that smack enemies around the stage and keep them airborne for extended periods. However, Dlala floods the screen with baddies and so simply going on the attacks isn’t going to cut it.
To create some space each Toad can spit a wad of gum at an enemy by holding LT and pressing A. This keeps them stuck in place for a few seconds and if they’re a ranged attacker, prevents them from firing at your for a moment. The Toads can also use their tongues to drag enemies to them or drag themselves to enemies.
These additional moves create an acrobatic feeling to combat which could have devolved into mindless button mashing. Thankfully, Battletoads’ combat is cleverly designed to keep players on their toes, always on the move and thinking two steps ahead.
The infamous hoverbike mission is back, with a vengeance, this time putting the player’s view behind the Battletoads rather than side-on. I’m not sure if it’s more or less difficult, but it’s certainly edge of your seat stuff. Speeding into the screen while walls, holes and barriers appear giving you a split second to maneuver is thrilling stuff. The same can be said for most of the one-off mini-game levels.
One sees you sledding on an unconscious diplomat (just go with it) and requires you to press a specific button after jumping in order to land on the next platform depending on its surface. For example, if the platform is carpeted you’ll press B. If it’s ice, X and if it’s a sponge, Y. You can imagine as the level progresses and you’re jumping to avoid spikes and enemies and to make it over gaps while having to constantly press the right button to stay alive, things get hectic.
Another series of levels is “inspired” by Galaga and has you flying through space shooting enemy ships and avoiding attacks. These levels are some of the most difficult in the game and had me considering whether to quit altogether on more than one occasion. Battletoads also features a series of strange hybrid platforming levels that almost feel like Donkey Kong which are probably the game’s weakest section. Not that they’re bad but compared to everything else that’s going on, they’re a little bland.
That being said, these levels and every other one are difficult, very difficult. That’s part of the Battletoads charm as is the frustration and despair you’ll feel when you fail for the 10th, 50th and 100th time. There’s even a tip on one of the loading screens that says “Deep Breaths, You Can Do This.”
The cheek of it! It’s brilliant.
Your mileage from Battletoads will vary but overall it’s a great throwback game with modern elements which has somehow reinvigorated a long-dormant franchise while expanding the lore and bringing its characters to life.
I can’t even imagine how daunting a task it must have been for Dlala to develop Battletoads but a huge round of applause is in order.
Battletoads will simultaneously make you smile, laugh, rage, cry out in despair and want to throw your controller through your TV and if that’s not the truest recreation of gaming in the 90s, I don’t know what is. If there’s a problem with Battletoads it’s that there’s no online multiplayer which just seems insane. This is a brilliant multiplayer game but the fact that you can only play couch co-op, especially during COVID means lots of players are going to be riding solo for quite a while.
It’s a bizarre oversight, especially from Microsoft who has the Xbox eco-system and has always been a huge proponent of online gaming. Hopefully, a patch is already in the works.
Regardless, playing with friends, or playing alone, Battletoads is utterly ridiculous and stupidly good fun which is exactly what we need right now.
Battletoads was reviewed on Xbox One using a digital copy provided by Microsoft.