When Microsoft acquired Rare almost two decades ago, one of the IPs they got in the deal was Battletoads, a beat-em-up that helped games of that era earn the “Nintendo hard” moniker. As it enjoyed some success in the 1990s, it all became surreal until they got some attention back as two games in the series were a part of the superb 2015 compilation that was Rare Replay. Fast forward five years, and Battletoads is finally back, exclusively on the Xbox One and PC.
What Is It?
Initially thought up as an answer to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Battletoads are three larger than life amphibians who pretty much have the same claim to fame as Marvel’s Avengers… or so they think.
If this version of Battletoads is anything, it’s very self-aware. The series hasn’t seen a new entry in 26 years, and as much of a cult-hit as Battletoads is, that’s all it’s really ever been. The game follows the Battletoads as you punch your way through its first level and through a series of Kim Possible-like cutscenes where you find out that they’ve been in a hologram all this time and nobody knows who they are or what they might’ve done to make them think so highly of themselves. As a result, they end up hilariously taking dead-end jobs–Pimple, the muscle of the group, becomes a masseuse; Zitz, the quick-fisted leader, writes e-mails and hits his computer excessively; and Rash, the cool toad with the sunglasses, is a handler collecting autograph money for one of the characters in Sea of Thieves.
To add to the humor, you even take part in QTE segments to perform their mundane tasks. It’s all part of what’s supposed to be a lighthearted package, and while the majority of the jokes in this romp will fall flat, it’s all tolerable because the game flows well. The problem is it does too much away from what it’s known for.
Why Should I Care?
Again, Battletoads is a reboot of a cult-favorite, so if you’re reading this review, you’re probably wondering if it’s anything like its past entries. Unfortunately, the answer is kind of complicated.
While this reboot retains the series’ signature messed up difficulty, it’s also more approachable and forgiving. For better or for worse, Battletoads mashes up several genres into one package. The main one its known for (the sidescrolling beat-em-up) still feels like a good brawler that will constantly have you writhing in pain as it tears you apart with its difficulty. Thankfully, though, checkpoints are aplenty in the game, so while players will struggle, anybody who wants to be able to see the whole experience through should be able to do it.
The sidescrollering brawler parts of Battletoads initially play the way a beat-em-up should but after a while, you’ll likely be missing the flat controllers that we had in the 8 and 16-bit eras. While you should be able to mindlessly play through Battletoads without much to worry about, if you really want to amass long chains of combos and get the high score, you’ll need to make elite use of the game’s dodge maneuver that’s mapped to the right trigger. The problem is since the right trigger is analog, you’ll find yourself squeezing the gamepad more than you should, and it isn’t comfortable after long periods of time (mind you, my entire playthrough was done with the Xbox One S Controller). It’s also rather difficult getting the eating and background traversal button combinations down, so that’s also contributed to quite a few deaths. It just doesn’t feel right on a standard, current-gen controller. Heck, the game might even be more comfortably played on the Switch in handheld mode if Microsoft wanted to be ballsy again…
In addition to mastering the dodge, if you’re playing by yourself, you’ll have the complete trio of toads at your disposal and they all handle differently. Again, Pimples is a slower but powerful brawler, Zitz is fast, and Rash is more of a rhythmic fighter. The A button jumps; the X button serves as the main melee strike while the Y button performs more powerful moves, and the B button while held can be a guard-breaking maneuver whenever you see enemies block.
The first level does a great job showing you the nuances of combat, but you’ll quickly see that with the variety of enemies you encounter in huge numbers, it’ll be essential to plan out which enemies to get rid of first. You will die in the game; it’s inevitable, and when you die, another toad will take its fallen brother’s place. If you’re able to stay alive long enough, you’ll be able to tag your previously fallen toad, but if all three lose their health — it’s a game over. But like I said, the checkpoints in the game are fairly frequent, so as long as you have a real desire to, there shouldn’t be an issue going through the entire game, and it’s an experience worth seeing through. Even bosses have checkpoints–something that would’ve made Cuphead 100x more accessible.
We briefly touched upon the QTE segments to play through as the toads got through their day jobs, but that’s really just a small taste of the genre bending that this version of Battletoads puts you through. In addition to the beat-em-up segments the series is really known for, over the course of the game you’ll partake in on-rails motorbike levels, a puzzler level that’s a cross between Bust-A-Move and Space Invaders, sledding levels similar to Donkey Kong Country‘s minecart levels, and even a deceptively difficult twin-stick shooter. You’ll even find yourself in a Trine or Braid-esque puzzle platformer with no combat and a whimsical soundtrack. Each of these are blast and they’re a great distraction from the beat-em-up action the series is known for, but they’re way too frequent, and it’s to the point where “classic” Battletoads really only felt like a section and a half in the game. Some people will find that great, but it could be divisive to people that came here for the sidescrolling action.
It’s also disappointing that the beat-em-up levels don’t have any real platforming because the previous games actually did a fine job combining the platforming and action aspects that are completely separated in this 2020 version.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
With the release of Streets of Rage 4 a couple months ago, it’s great to see the resurgence of a genre I spent so much time playing as a kid. But because that game was so great, it’s hard to put Battletoads up there with it. The sidescrolling brawls are fun and the other genres thrown in add a welcome sense of variety to the experience, but what’s supposed to be Battletoads‘ bread and butter is too far and few between, and it just doesn’t compare. I liken it to going to a steakhouse and ordering fries. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but why would you?
As a whole, Battletoads is an enjoyable experience that can be completed within five hours, but it’s nothing more than that. You can probably squeeze out a little more time out of it if you’re playing with a friend, but it only supports couch co-op since there is no online play.
Despite its blemishes, it’s definitely worth some consideration with its $20 price point and is an easy download recommendation if you have Game Pass.