We’ll be the first to admit that the trailers for Dlala Studios’ reboot of Battletoads didn’t fill every member of the Pure Xbox team with confidence.
Battletoads is an iconic series for many generations: older gamers remember playing it back in the day and enjoying it because of (or despite) its extreme difficulty, while younger gamers have embraced that notoriety and made it part of meme culture. Bringing back what’s now a mythical series was always going to be a tricky task, and the trailers appeared to some like it may have been trying too hard to be funny.
Thankfully, we’re happy to report that what we were witnessing was very much the case of bad trailers rather than a bad game: the finished product is a genuinely hilarious adventure that takes time to regularly nod and wink at the series’ history but is also very much its own thing.
The rather meta plot catches up with Battletoads Zitz, Rash and Pimple as they discover that for the past 26 years they haven’t actually been god-like superheroes, but have instead been stuck in a fantasy simulator in a massive bunker. When they’re rescued and emerge from the bunker they realise that they aren’t famous anymore, and have to resort to less glamorous jobs like IT support and doing signings at retro gaming conventions.
The Toads discover that their former nemesis the Dark Queen lives just a turbo-bike ride away, and decide that if they can find and defeat her again that may just be enough to make them famous in the real world and appeal to a brand new 2020’s audience. Naturally, it turns out it isn’t quite as simple as that, but that would be telling.
As in its predecessors, the majority of Battletoads’ stages are beat ‘em up affairs, where players pummel seven shades of slime out of any enemies unfortunate enough to get in the Toads’ way. Up to three players can fight through the game with drop-in, drop-out co-op, or solo players can take on the adventure themselves.
The single-player mode lets you switch between the Toads at will using the D-Pad. If one dies they’ll automatically be swapped for another one, and their icon will get a countdown timer that determines when they can be swapped back into the action again. If your Battletoad dies while his other two partners are still recovering, they’re all dead and you’ll need to go back to a checkpoint (thankfully these are pretty generously distributed).
Combat is entertaining, if a bit limited. You’re armed with three attack buttons: a quick attack (perfect for combos), a launcher attack (which pops enemies into the air) and a more powerful attack. The latter can either be charged for a single, hefty attack that can stun enemies (even ones who are blocking), or can be added to the end of combos for a final, powerful exclamation point.
In typical Battletoads style, many of these attacks make your Toad morph into a different shape for comedic effect. Pimple can turn into a freight train, for example, while Zitz can leap into the air and turn into a pneumatic drill to attack enemies below him and Rash (the joker of the bunch) can transform his hand into a giant rubber chicken. Hey, whatever works. While these moves are entertaining, each Toad’s overall moveset isn’t massive, so you’re going to get the most out of the game by regularly swapping your Toads around and diversifying your moves that way instead (indeed, you get graded for each battle and part of grade is determined by how many Toads you use).
The game doesn’t solely consist of beat ‘em up stages, though. There are also a handful of vehicle-based stages, such as a turbo-bike ride – which is played from a behind-the-Toad perspective and isn’t quite as difficult as it was back in the day – and a side-scrolling one where your vehicle is… well, it’s unconventional (we won’t spoil it). These are a nice change of pace, and also provide regular checkpoints so as not to make them too frustrating.
On top of this, there are some more comedic mini stages thrown around too, which seem at times like they’re only there to make you laugh. The menial jobs one near the start of the game got a good chuckle out of us, as did the strange new take on rock-paper-scissors that occurs in the second of the game’s four Acts. None of these smaller ‘levels’ are particularly taxing, but they’re welcome anyway because they further enforce the game’s silliness.
It’s this sense of humour that drives Battletoads forwards when more serious games may start to feel a bit repetitive. With a trio of writers whose work has included the likes of Rick & Morty and Uncle Grandpa, this isn’t a try-hard game that’s so desperate to be funny it ends up being cringeworthy instead: it’s a legitimately funny one with dialogue that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Adult Swim or Cartoon Network show.
Take the first boss, for example: a giant pig called Porkshank who looks like a porcine version of Bebop and Rocksteady from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After evading you a couple of times throughout the first few stages you finally get to defeat him at the end of the first Act, at which point he disappears, saying: “And so I finally pass into the afterlife.” Then, after a pause, you hear his spirit’s voice shouting: “Wait… there’s nothing here. MAKE THE MOST OF THE TIME YOU HAAAAAAAAVE.”
In terms of presentation, then, there are zero complaints. It’s well-written, it looks gorgeous (as you can see by the screenshots) and the music is a suitably rocking collection of hair metal riffs. The only other thing that may have some people concerned based on what we’ve already said above is the level of difficulty. Don’t be worried: Battletoads has three distinct difficulty settings that make a legitimate difference to how hard you want the game to be.
Hardcore fans of the original will want to bump the difficulty up to the highest setting, though it’s worth bearing in mind that the beat ‘em up sections are significantly busier than they used to be and on higher difficulties it can be tricky keeping track of all the projectile attacks being chucked around: be sure you aren’t biting off more than you can chew, because the default difficulty will already provide a nice challenge for most players.
Meanwhile, if you’re new to the series but are intimidated by the stories of nail-biting toughness, there are plenty of ways to make the experience easier for you, from the lower difficulty level to the option to turn on invincibility for certain sections if you die too many times. Purists will turn their noses up so high at this they can practically sniff their lightbulbs, but don’t worry: those options aren’t for you, let the people who want them enjoy them.
There are other niggles that may annoy some players. Certain stages go on a little bit too long and can feel like a bit of a grind: while the combat is generally entertaining, one or two levels sometimes feel like you’re just battering loads of enemies, walking a couple of metres to the right then having to fight a whole load more, and so on until you reach the end.
There are also a regular series of puzzles which regularly need to be solved to open doors. These aren’t particularly fun and while they were seemingly designed to break up the action, the reality is that they instead frustrate because most players will have bought the game to fight people and don’t necessarily want the action to be broken up.
The good far outweighs the bad here, though, and the result is a game that has completely turned our expectations inside out, considering how worried the trailers had made some of us. Rest assured, the Battletoads are back, and now they’re here we hope this isn’t the last we’ll hear of them.
Battletoads is without a doubt one of the funniest games of this generation, and it's a pretty nifty beat 'em up to boot. It does have the occasional lull when things start to feel a little repetitive, but by and large it's a hugely entertaining experience and well worth your time.