Rash, Zitz, and Pimple are back in another beat ‘em up romp in Battletoads, that doesn’t shy away from its difficulty. For 26 years, this series has been lying dormant. Despite being held in a vault for all this time, developers Dlala Studios and Rare retained the notorious obstacles.
I’ll never forget the unrelenting difficulty the original Battletoads had on NES. For a young player, the challenges the game posed were so colossal that I admitted defeat and never went back. Growing up, I learned to appreciate difficult games of all varieties and prepared myself for what the new Battletoads had in store.
Although the game is modernized from its visual aesthetic, and control scheme, Battletoads maintains the same difficulty the franchise was built on. Throughout my playthrough, there were countless white-knuckling moments. The iconic trio clearly didn’t have much rust to shake off as right from the get-go, Battletoads reminds you that you’re likely going to see the ‘Game Over’ screen quite often.
A one-two punch
At its core, Battletoads is a sidescrolling beat ‘em up. During these sections of the game, you’ll travel across the map and meet waves of enemies. The new iteration doesn’t stray too far away from the original games. You’ll punch your way through the variety of enemies, building up combos and using each toad’s morphing ability. The gameplay philosophy is very much akin to what you remember: a classic arcade fighter, just more refined.
Playing Battletoads solo, there’s a lot of multitasking to do. Like spinning many plates, the game encouraged me to swap between Rash, Zitz, and Pimple and take advantage of their unique strengths and weaknesses. Pimple is slower but his punches hit harder. Zitz and Rash, on the other hand, are faster and more agile – however, they are more susceptible to more damage when hit. Using the three of them to their best while evading enemy attacks and shooting bubblegum to stop enemies in their tracks are the keys to survival.
It may sound easy on paper, but when the screen is full of enemies and the health bar of each toad is getting knocked down relentlessly, it’s quite overwhelming. Thankfully, Battletoads does have multiple difficulty settings to make it a bit easier on the player. However, anyone daring enough to tackle the ‘Battletoads’ difficulty might want to bring a friend or two in for local co-op to take some of the weight off their shoulders. It’s an extraneous endeavor, which makes reaching the score screen of each level ever so satisfying.
Tunnel o’ pain
Yes, the Turbo Tunnel is back. Yes, it’s probably going to make you curse out loud and that’s OK. The Turbo Tunnel was what broke me as a kid all those years ago. This time around, the Turbo Tunnel sequences have changed the perspective to put the camera behind the toads as they barrel down the corridors.
Just as you’d expect, there’s a fury of gasps as you narrowly miss each wall and leap over gaps in the floor. Zigging when you should have zagged and a wall will quickly meet your face. There are elongated sequences between each checkpoint. You’re quickly whisked back to each checkpoint after all three toads are knocked out. It’s hard not to grit your teeth as the next checkpoint emerges from the horizon. Although, like the cynics that Dlala and Rare are, the intensity is turned up before you’re able to reach it temporary checkpoint salvation.
Like throwing coal into a steam engine, frustrations spike every time you’re brought back to the loading screen and are met with a cheeky “We believe in you!” message. Thankfully loading times are quite short so you’re right back in the action. The Turbo Tunnel requires a lot of patience as it continually tests your mettle.
Who’s the boss?
As this is Battletoads, there a handful of boss encounters throughout the game. The precedence is set right off the bat, when Porkshank appears in the first level. This is your archetypal boss fight. As you engage with Porkshank, a horde of mobs appear to make things just that much harder. The Porkshank fight, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Without divulging details on some of the later bosses, these tentpole fights only escalate as time goes on. They shift from straight beat ’em up style fighting, to more complex encounters with timing attacks and tricks to master. Still, many boss fights boil down to a battle of attrition.
Playing solo, once each toad is knocked out a timer begins before that character can be tapped in again. There were many moments I failed a section by only a second or two before being able to spawn the next toad. During times when I played co-op, there was a constant buzz in the room of each of us shouting”I’m down”, “I need a revive”, and “Welp, I’m down again. Help”. This game brings the pain, and it’s great.
Battletoads hits a lot of nostalgic notes. The series was built on punishing the player. And although the 2020 version could be looked at as a more accessible title, don’t for a second think that the game would be easy. Battletoads requires a certain (high) amount of patience and persistence.
This revival of the iconic series modernizes the design philosophy from gameplay and storytelling, keeping the iconic difficulty of the game intact. Battletoads expands on what it accomplished in the ’90s while providing a fresh take that’s undisputably hard as nails.
Battletoads is available on PC and Xbox One on Aug 20.
An Xbox One code was provided for coverage purposes.