Pop a Pimple. Squeeze a zit. Scratch a rash. In any other instance, uttering those three lines would probably tip those around you off to the fact that you spend far too much time on r/popping, or it would be a dead giveaway that you grew up playing Battletoads back in the day. Battletoads! Legendary beat-em-up action from a bygone era, famed for its colourful cast and a single level that wrote its own chapter in the history books!
And that was it.
Barring a short-lived cartoon, Battletoads has endured over the years as a legend more than a viable franchise to expand on. The infamous contenders to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Thrones that saw challengers from all walks of life try to dethrone the half-shell heroes, are finally back in the saddle though, with a brand new game featuring the idiotic fly-gobblers.
It’s short, crass and insanely chaotic when the toad hits the blender. And that actually makes for a memorable and weird time on console or PC.
Spread across four acts, Battletoads is a surprisingly compact game with a ton of content condensed within its lithe frame. Beat ‘em up action is peppered with a variety of mini-games ranging from hacking your way to the next stage to the infamous turbo tunnel gauntlets and even a dash of Rock Paper Scissors that makes no sense, is thrown into the bubbling mix.
The bread ‘n batter of Battletoads is still its smash everything action, which is equal parts sublime and frustrating. There’s no shortage of solid gameplay within this core mode, as each of the three characters can utilise a range of attacks ranging from light and heavy to berserker smashing and combos which look they were influenced by a fistful of Tex Avery-endorsed LSD.
Each Battletoad has their own unique flavour of gameplay and a number of baffling combos that are too easy to lose track of, but the core idea is a nostalgic return to an older age of action. The trouble here, is that Battletoads forgets that classic beat ‘em up brawling was defined by its cadence. Nailing a particular groove and focusing your mind, body and soul into carrying out an instinctual chain of attacks that will keep you alive.
Battletoads has the potential to introduce some ribbeting (sorry) cadence to its formula, but the game has a bad habit of getting too chaotic for its own good. It’s one thing to earn a combo and use your acquired skills to clear the screen, but Battletoads regularly throws a number of enemies at you who all require unique strategies to take down and barely any time to do so in.
Instead of skill, you’re relying on luck and button-mashing, especially if you’re playing solo. Overwhelming odds sucks all the fun out of the game, and you can’t even call in an assist in a game that is designed to be played by three players, as online co-op isn’t even an option. It’s a pity because in the earlier engagements, when the combat was just heavy enough, it absolutely slapped. Going from quick combos to space-clearing blasts and somehow transforming into an explosive sarcophagus that earned me an S-rank score, was downright delightful.
I’ve got a feeling that the many many mini-games will make for some polarising discussion, due to the near lack of instructions and a tendency to focus on providing a more cerebral challenge to a trio of players, which again, is a massive bloody chore if you’re on your on your own. And don’t even get me started on the one ship puzzle that made me angry enough to consider wanting to void my TV warranty with a boot-shaped accident.
That mixed bag of gameplay aside, Battletoads looks and sounds toadally awesome. The screen may explode with pure unfiltered chaos across its short runtime, but hot damn does it look magnficent to watch unfurl. Every animation is a work of art, madcap brilliance that mashes the smoothest of frames together with a Looney Tunes aesthetic that pops beautifully on the screen. It would have been easy to pop the Battletoads into a 2.5D polygon aesthetic that’s all the rage these days, but developer Dlala Studios stuck to their traditional guns and the game looks all the better for it.
There’s even a story that’s worth a few giggles, riffing directly on the history of the Battletoads while being absolutely juvenile in its setup. The treat here is that Battletoads is at least prescient of its more crass nature, and refrains from being too self-aware at the same time. Whereas most games shoot for nostalgia points by hitting you with a Muay Thai elbow in the ribs and a “Remember this HUH?!” approach, Battletoads lets its talented voice-cast do the talking instead.
Last Updated: August 31, 2020