Let me be absolutely upfront about this. I love beat-em-ups. Growing up I played through the likes of Streets of Rage 2, Final Fight and Golden Axe endlessly. The potential for combos and an ever-improving run kept me coming back to those titles, their short length a plus for the sake of replay-ability. Battletoads wasn’t really a game I ever considered. It’s place in my gaming schema was tucked away in a file cabinet labeled “meme games”. That was the case until 2015 when Rare Replay released and I finally got my hands on the original 1991 Battletoads. And it was- fine. Not really a remarkable brawler in any regard but also not as bad as many made it out to be in the twenty-four years since it’s initial release. So how does DLaLa’s reimagining of that the infamous Battletoads game you’ve always heard of but never played fair?
As mentioned above, the NES iteration of Battletoads was filled to the brim with variety. Turbo Tunnels and Surf Cities actually made up a majority of the action. Gimmicky for sure, but interesting nonetheless. Battletoads for Xbox One and PC takes this concept and runs from coast to coast with it. Turbo Bikes, Hacking, and QTEs make up the often wide gaps between combat areas. These mini-games are hit and miss. While some will leave you wanting more, others will have you begging to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But not the Turbo Tunnel. Those sections are solid and capture what made the Toads first hoverbike sequence so memorable. Even if it’s far more forgiving this time around. Collectables are also strewn across each stage, with an extra awarded at the end for coming in under par time. They add some amount of replay value to an already short experience. Finding them is satisfying as you’ll need to keep a keen eye. However there are no rewards to speak of other than achievements which is disappointing. Especially compared to Streets of Rage 4 which launched earlier this year, offering a gang of unlockables.
Battletoads is a beat-em-up though. So the aspect most players will expect to be at the core of the experience is beating up baddies. The toolset for fights here is large and almost unnecessarily so. All three Toads play slightly differently. Rash is the balanced fighter while Zits is more focused on speed and Pimple is the power Toad. My personal favorite during my playthrough was Zitz. his combo carry potential is very high considering how fast he is. Each has a basic attack as well as a launcher to keep combos going and a heavy which can be charged to break through stubborn enemy guards. To accompany this, LT is used as a Toad tongue modifier for players to pull themselves towards enemies or pull the enemies towards you as well as travel between the background and foreground. A limited bubblegum charge can also be utilized to lock enemies in place. It all coalesces into a combat suite that can make you feel like an absolute champion at times. But there’s so much to it, it’s often easy to forget what all the options in a given situation might be. Enemy types will keep you on your toes, wanting to neutralize the most deadly or annoying first. Boss fights feel very basic, usually only asking you to dodge projectiles of some kind then wail on a tuckered out enemy.
With how gratifying the combat can be it’s absolutely astonishing that Battletoads opts-out of any online functionality for co-op play. Especially at a time when friends aren’t really able to hop on over to each others homes for couch co-op sessions. I realize it’s not a simple as flipping a switch to include online co-op. But with Microsoft’s backing you would think something could’ve been worked out.
The story of Battletoads seems to be fully aware of the legacy the franchise carries in tow with it. The story picks up with the Toads realizing their last two-plus decades of adventuring hasn’t meant zero, as they’ve been trapped in a simulation underground for the entire time. It’s clever. Attempting to encapsulate and tear down the real-world mystique of the franchise by stripping the three Toads of their in-game accolades allows for a fresh slate. As the story unfolds each Toad battles with some sort of personal quirk. Rash can’t let his days of saving the universe rest behind him. Zits requires validation as a leader. Pimple has a very serious anger problem. It could be brilliant paired with the game’s modern cartoon art style and genuinely funny voice acting. But those character beats end up falling flat and in the case of one, feel completely forgotten. It goes places. Just really haphazardly.
Instead of The Dark Queen as the evil entity this time, the Toad Trio are up against two floating, gaseous deities; The Topians. Their dialogue is funny and comically delivered well enough, albeit questionable at times. The new character additions to Battletoads 2020 feel weak all around, but the writing props up the original four characters well enough with call backs, easter eggs and nice chemistry that you’ll be genuinely laughing at the numerous gags played throughout.
Music and Sound
Remixing the somewhat iconic Battletoads theme in a heavy metal style absolutely rips. These tracks will have you amped while smashing aliens into dust. Weighty sound effects make connecting with strikes feel solid and satisfying. Battletoads sound design and music is something to praise for sure, and while there may not be a whole lot of it you will certainly notice it. But where is that banging pause menu music?! What an omission.
The Saturday morning cartoon comparisons have been apt. At times Battletoads had me chuckling out loud and it’s art style might not be anything to write home about, but it still fits the spirit of the Toads themselves: chaotic and colorful. But it’s not quite that main event cartoon you eagerly anticipate all week. Battletoads is the show on after that big one. You know, the one you remember twenty years later and search through the internet for clips on a whim. It’s funny and there are plenty of good times to be had. So as the beat-em-up fan I am, I can safely say that unless it really resonates with you, or you’re a big time beat-em-up fan or Battletoads fan, it’s probably just a pretty decent gap title. Battletoads combat is fun, even if it perplexing disappears at times to make way for other gimmicks.
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