Report Card: Battletoads (Review)

Reviewed on Xbox One (also available on PC)

By John Wahl

It’s been 26 years since the Battletoads last appeared in a video game. The series was created in the early 90’s to try and take advantage of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon, but the world has changed quite a bit since that time. When their last game, Battletoads Arcade, was released in 1994, nobody had yet heard of Harry Potter, there were only three Star Wars movies, and the television show Friends was beginning it’s first season. So much time has passed that it begs the question, is there room in 2020 for Rash, Pimple, and Zitz?

In their attempt to bring the Battletoads into the 21st century, original developer Rare enlisted the help of relatively unknown developer Dlala Studios to reboot the series for modern audiences, many of whom have probably never heard of the Battletoads, or were even born when their last game came out.

This new iteration of Battletoads stays true to the spirit of the original in many ways, featuring hallmarks of the series that fans would come to expect, but it also carves out it’s own identity with a fun, animated art style, a self aware sense of humor, and a wide variety of gameplay styles that will always keep you on your toes.

As the game begins, the toads are at the top of their game, saving the galaxy once again in dramatic fashion to the cheers and admiration of their millions of fans. This first level plays out how you would expect a sequel to Battletoads to, as a fairly traditional brawler that has you punching, kicking, and obliterating the enemy in a variety of fun ways. As you defeat the final boss of the stage though and walk the red carpet in celebration, reality sets in as the toads are unearthed during a construction project, revealing that they have been buried underground and it was all a delusion. 26 years has passed since anyone has seen them and they are very much, to their dismay, not famous anymore.

From here they hatch a plan to once again become the greatest heroes in the galaxy, and more importantly, become celebrities again. It’s here that it becomes clear that this game has a very distinct sense of humor and tone. I appreciate that they attempted something different here as opposed to just coming up with some boring, throwaway plot, but the comedy in the game can be a bit of a mixed bag. At first I was rolling my eyes at the juvenile nature of the jokes, but as I got further into the game I remembered that this series was born in the age of Bill & Ted and Beavis & Butthead, so it makes sense for this game about heroes stuck in the past to strike a similar tone. And while some of the jokes are pretty cringe-worthy, there are others that were legitimately clever and had my laughing.

The game is playable either solo, or with up to two other players. If you’re playing by yourself (which I did for most of the game) you can switch back and forth between the different toads at any time, and if you die in battle you’ll automatically switch to another toad. The character that died is then sidelined while a 20 second timer ticks down to when he can enter the fight again. If all three fall before one of the timers is up, it’s game over. It’s a good way of forcing you to play as all three of the toads, each of whom controls and plays a little differently.

The level variety is what surprised me the most with regards to gameplay. I went in expecting a fairly standard brawler with a cool art style, but what I got was the Old Country Buffet of video games, loads of variety and options (but with less diarrhea and regret). While a good chunk of the game features the brawler type levels that the series is known for, they also throw in other levels in the style of everything from a bullet hell shooter to a traditional platformer, with plenty of mini-games thrown in between. There is so much variety to the levels that I never knew what they were going to have me doing next.

Like the jokes in the game, the levels can be hit or miss as well. While most were pretty fun, some were decidedly less so. One particular scenario has you performing multiple tasks at a spaceship control panel. There can be up to 6 different tasks to complete before time runs out, and you never know in which order you have to do them. The problem is that they don’t explain how any of them work, so it was a matter of trial and error, dying multiple times just to figure out what they wanted me to do.

The infamous “speeder-bike” levels also make a return in the new Battletoads, and like their predecessors, they are probably the most challenging, frustrating, and overly long sequences in the game. The entire game is actually a bit more challenging than I expected it to be, which can be either good or bad depending on what you’re looking for. I played the game on medium difficulty and was challenged throughout, thankfully though it never resulted in frustration thanks to generous checkpoints, quick loading, and the ability to turn on invincibility if you die too many times in a row (a feature I only used once).

Those features are nice for those that might be interested in playing the game co-op with a younger player, although the game is enough of a challenge that I would still probably recommend starting out on the Easy difficulty. My daughter and I had quite a bit of fun the few times that she jumped in, but I’d probably dial it back when we go for a full playthrough together.

Finally, it’s worth calling out the 30 minutes or so of animated cutscenes that play out in between levels. They are pretty well done and entertaining, and seems like something that would be right at home on Cartoon Network (despite their 1992 attempt at an animated series not going very well).

The return of Battletoads doesn’t hit a home run, but offers enough fun in it’s 4 hour adventure to make it a worthwhile weekend of fun either alone or with some friends. The goofy story, colorful art style, and varied action make the game stand out, even if some of the jokes and levels fall flat. Considering how so many of these retro revivals go, Battletoads is a pleasant surprise and lays for the groundwork for what will hopefully be an even better sequel.

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