The ’90s gave birth to many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles clones riding on the monumental success the property enjoyed following the 1987 animated series. Some of them managed to gain a significant cult following Street Sharks, and to some extent Bucky O’ Hare after the NES game started making “hidden gems” lists. While others simply faded into obscurity. Arguably the most successful of this bandwagon, however, was Rare’s trio of swine and rodent smashing amphibians known as the Battletoads. The first game in this short-lived series debuted in 1991 on the NES and has since been brought up time and time again for its stunning presentation, gameplay variety, and soul-crushing difficulty.
Normally, I’m the guy who will sit here and tell you that a game like TMNT 1 or Ninja Gaiden isn’t too difficult if you know some tricks. I won’t argue about the notoriety of Battletoads or any of its successors, though. I’ve always loved the characters and metal riffs found in these games…but they simply hit a point where they stop being fun about halfway through. The first entry serves as a firm reminder as to why the “NES hard” approach to challenge fizzled out by the fifth generation of consoles. [Even Rare must have realized they went overboard, as the Genesis and Game Boy ports were toned down a bit, although it’s still not saying much.]
Nevertheless, the game was popular enough to spawn numerous sequels, a crossover with Billy and Jimmy Lee in Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team, and a fairly obscure arcade cabinet. There was even a “toadally” cheesy pilot for an animated series that never took off. (I’m sorry, I had to go there) This leads us to the present day- reboots are all the rage and Rare has decided to try and introduce the property to a modern audience.
Before going onto the game-play mechanics and other features of this reboot, I want to address the elephant in the room- the art direction. From the moment this game was announced back in 2018, it was apparent that people were not happy with the updated character designs. They likened it to a modern Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network Show, dismissing it as well as the whole game as crap. I’ll be honest and say that, at first, the new look was a little off-putting as someone who grew up and fostered a love/hate relationship with the classic games. That being said, once I finally got to see the game and animated segments in action, I was genuinely surprised.
Rash, Zits, Pimple, and their arch-nemesis turned ally Dark Queen all feel far more characterized than they ever did in the past. The toads were more or less interchangeable in the 90’s- they lacked the individuality that the Ninja Turtles had by and far. Here, they all have a distinct personality along with some shallow but still appreciated character development throughout the course of the 4 to 5-hour adventure.
We’ve got the “cool” one, the “geeky” one and the “strong” one. I’m also going to play devil’s advocate here and say that the Dark Queen’s redesign is nowhere near as bad as the message boards make it out to be. Sure, she’s no longer a goth Jessica Rabbit, but she still has her moments during the cartoon segments sandwiched between the game’s stages. [I laughed out loud when she started giving the bird and telling some aliens to “chug” her “dump truck”. It was truly a moment of classic Rare humor.]
With perhaps the most polarizing aspect of Battletoads out of the way- let’s talk gameplay. Par for the course, this is a multi-genre adventure despite being classified as a beat ’em up by many. That being said, the handful of stages that focus on combos and dashing around hordes of enemies are fantastic. The biggest draw of the brawler stages from the classics was the Toads’ over-the-top finishing moves. Many of which saw their fists or feet transforming into boots or 10-ton weights to blow legions of rodents away in style. That charm has been carried over from the 8 and 16-bit days and cranked up to eleven. Zitz’ leg transforms into a drill after initiating an air attack, Rash uppercuts his adversaries with a goldfish and Pimple turns into a freaking sarcophagus that explodes. I don’t care what anyone says- this is how you take a great concept and expand upon it.
As this is a Battletoads game, fighting the bad guys isn’t the only thing you’ll be doing. It isn’t long until the game introduces you to the dreaded “Turbo Tunnel” from the past games- a high-speed bike race that many considered to be a stopping point back in the day. These sections were some of my favorite non-brawler stages in the game. The bike races in the classic Battletoads games saw you ducking and weaving through an onslaught of obstacles from a side perspective. Yet, the new ones here have shifted the perspective to a third-person view. It’s exactly the kind of thing I wished Battletoads in Battlemaniacs on the Super NES would have done to show the scaling and rotation effects possible on the platform via Mode 7. It’s better late than never, though. And before you ask- yes, this section is still quite the challenge. It won’t leave you cursing at the screen or wanting to give up on the standard difficulty, but it’ll still test your reflexes.
While the various stages are wonderful when they work, there are admittedly a few duds and some outright terrible sections in the mix. The worst of these revolves around rebooting the Toads’ spaceship. Essentially, you’ll be playing a ton of different mini-games within the ship’s interface and attempting to solve them all before a timer hits zero. On paper, this would be fine. Unfortunately, the whole thing is overly complex and it can be difficult to figure out what part of the screen you should even be focusing on. Thankfully, it’s just one part of the game and never gets recycled in the same way the brawler, bike, shmup(shoot’em up), and traditional platforming stages do.
Ultimately, I think the one major fault with Battletoads is the lack of online co-op. This is a game that *begs* to be played with other people, and while the single-player experience is solid enough for a once over, I can’t help but feel like this simple inclusion would add a ton of value to the package.
Overall, I walked away pleasantly surprised by this reimagining of Rare’s cult classic franchise. The beat ’em up sections are arguably the best the series has seen and the soundtrack is full of homages to the classics. I believe that the presentation is nowhere near as bad as it’s made out to be by the internet. A few weak gameplay segments and lack of online co-op shouldn’t stop you from checking this one out if you own an Xbox One or decent PC- especially since it was a day one launch through Xbox Game Pass.
*Excellent combat- perhaps the best the franchise has seen
*Many of the other gameplay types, while not always as deep, are serviceable
*Solid presentation (despite the backlash it’s received)
*A handful of gameplay types are duds
*No online multiplayer at the time of writing