STAFF REVIEW of Battletoads (Xbox One)

Saturday, August 29, 2020.
by Royce Dean

Battletoads Box art Spoilers! I was once younger than I am now. Shocker, I know. And being male, that would have made me a boy-child. The thing about boy-children is that they’re terrifying vortexes of sometimes aggressive energy. Oh don’t worry, I never punched anything... but I loved stuff that did. Power Rangers, Transformers and every bipedal animalian hero including the Ninja Turtles, Extreme Dinosaurs and Biker Mice from Mars. You’re welcome for the nostalgia.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to tear around the neighbourhood with lawn furniture cushions strapped to my back and plastic swords in hand proto-cosplaying my favorite heroes and slaying local villains. It was always a tough fight but ultimately I’d emerge victorious and celebrate with an ice cold Orbitz (look it up, that stuff was weird). So with my enthusiasm for beating stuff up so deeply entrenched in my person you’d think that I’d enjoy those video games too... which I did, but only kinda. My all time favorite arcade beat-em-up is Turtles in Time, naturally, but there is another name that echoes through the ages and makes retail employees from the mid 2000’s shudder. Hide your wives, hide your tadpoles... That game is Battletoads.

In its original form, Battletoads was a 2D side scrolling beat-em-up action game, and its brand new iteration follows in those footsteps with several twists. You follow the exploits of the three battletoads; Pimple the big brutish tough guy, Rash the too cool for school wacky one that loves nothing more than the reverence of fans, and Zits, the leader that constantly needs to prove how leader-y he is. Each toad plays differently, and depending on what you feel most comfortable with, can really swing the outcome of battle. But, what is also true to form of this new Battletoads is its punishing difficulty.

While playing on your own you’ll often need to swap from toad to toad, to both mix up your attacks and keep yourself alive. Toads that have been KOed will automatically be swapped out in exchange for a fresh amphibian and be put on a respawn timer. Only when all three of your toads have been KOed while still on spawn timers will you have to restart at a check point. That sounds forgiving, but have I mentioned that the game is really hard? Some baddies dish out a TON of damage. Up to three players can play local co-op as well. So don’t you all go croaking at once. Get it? Croak? Like a frog. IT’S A JOKE.

Doing battle in “ye olde Battletoads” was simple and restricted by the relatively few buttons on the NES controller, but now with what my father would argue is 'TOO many buttons', we can do the same thing but, like, way better. There isn’t just one fight button, but three if you know what I'm saying. There is a standard attack, a heavy attack which is used to break enemy goons that are blocking and a button for something called morph attacks where your toad will contort themselves into wacky forms for both awesome and sometimes hilarious effect. Stringing these attacks together in varying ways lead to different combos which will be more or less effective on different types of baddies and also help you get a better handle on what each of the toads excels at. The right trigger is your dash button and arguably the most important button in the game because if you aren’t dodging, you’re dying. The D-Pad swaps between your different heroes and the left trigger lets you lash out your tongue to grab target objects or juicy flies for health. Can you imagine the things these guys have tasted?

Remember those twists I mentioned? Well the beat em-up sequences are only one part of the game. Many missions take the form of other genres of game. There are on rail sections, quick-time events, top-down Galaga-Raiden style shooting, platforming, and even a portion of the game which I can only best describe as the closest I've ever been to defusing a bomb... in a video game. There’s something here for everybody! ...which is actually one of my concerns about the game. While it’s really cool that this one game packs so much fun stuff in such a wide breadth of ways, what if somebody dove in expecting the action-frogs game of yonder year just to be slapped with a game mode they’re no good at?

I’ll fall on my own sword and say that many of the quick-time sequences that require I push a chain of buttons quickly and in the right order gave me a load of grief. I play video games on just about every platform and controllers are cruel mistresses that put 'X' in a different spot every time. This is of course one small example, and I can hear the tiny violins playing already, but if the game was more focused and... what I expected it to be, I wouldn't have had these issues. Another example is that I have a friend that loves beat em-ups but hates arcade shooters. He’s going to have the same problem as I did. On the opposite side of the coin, if you love pretty much everything you’re probably going to be tickled pink by the variety.

The most standout element of 2020’s new Battletoads is not that it's something that’s actually good to have come out of the year, but that its writing is really, truly fantastic. Clever lines and plenty of dark or slapstick humor help you fall in love with the cast quickly. Each act is bound together with fully voiced, animated cut-scenes done in the same style as the game itself. If you can imagine the kind of humor you’d get from Deadpool, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. Each mission is also fully voiced where appropriate and the banter between characters helps to bring layers of life and immersion into the fold.

Battletoads takes on a very appropriate 90’s hand drawn cartoon appearance and I couldn't have asked for anything more perfect. It sells itself well to the very audience that grew up playing the originals. Its bright punch-you-in-the-face colors matched with its more adult themes and tone bring it into the same realm as many of the more modern and popular adult cartoons we’ve all spent so much of our lives watching. Futurama anyone? Unfortunately outside of the main theme, a lot of the music is largely forgettable and is more or less drowned out because of the focus that goes into playing the game successfully. Some kind of an audio library in the settings would have been a fun addition, but seems to be absent.

Battletoads is an exciting reminder of a simple time and an excellent game to have been brought back into people's hearts, minds and hands again. It's faithful to its own memory by being just as wacky and unhinged as its predecessors while managing to fold in all sorts of new gameplay that wasn't present in a time when you still pulled all nighters with your buddies. Battletoads fleshes out and builds upon something that was already cherished by so many but isn't just appealing to those that have history with the games. Battletoads in general is just a fun, silly and all around interesting game, even if you don’t know what's going on or are up for a challenge. If you ask me, anyone and everyone should jump at the opportunity to give this classic reborn a go. Get it? Jump? Like a frog? IT’S A JOKE!

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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