Nostalgic gamers of the world rejoice! This year’s E3 continued the industry trend of cashing in on the corpses of games gone by with the announcement of two remakes, namely Battletoads and Final Fantasy VIII. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the first of the resurrected with Rare’s 1991 NES release Battletoads.
Originally created as a franchise to compete against the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it seems neither side won a decisive victory, although the Battletoads never had to suffer through a film produced by Michael Bay so I guess that’s a TKO? All I remember of this game is that it cost me (by me I mean my parents) a few controllers from the rage quitting that a certain Turbo level caused. This game is on the list entitled The Ones With The Stupid Stages. I know that the human race is a competitive animal but at no point is making your game annoying going to equal profit (ed - From Software says hi). That said, let’s meet Rash, Zitz and Pimple in the nostalgic beat ‘em up skin condition that is Battletoads.
The game opens simply enough: One day, Pimple and Princess Angelica were out cruisin’ - and you know its cool because there’s no G - when suddenly a massive ship which should’ve been really easy to spot in the rear-view mirrors of the flying car, eats them. Gasp! They’ve been taken prisoner by the Dark Queen (I’m calling her Zoey) and are taken to a nearby planet called Ragnarok… Please don’t be another crappy Thor movie. Meanwhile back on the toads mothership known as The Vulture, Zoey pops up on the widescreen TV, telling Professor T. Bird (Zoey’s ex) that their friends are on-board Zoey’s ship, The Gargantua… Zoey likes em big apparently. The remaining toads say they’ve “got a craving for action! Take us to the rumble, Coach!!” And so he does.
Now, I don’t know why but Zoey’s taunts sound suspiciously like instructions on how to win and what threats are coming up. Something else I’ve just noticed: Zoey is way hotter that Princess Angelica and the Battletoads keep annoying her so she’ll attack them… You guys aren't here to save the princess, are you? This is just a thinly-veiled excuse to be near the hot scary woman! And apparently she’s okay with it. Why else all the helpful instructions? Once you get planetside, you start brutalising the local wildlife - as is the way when you're the hero. And you do so with great conviction, all the while subjugating the flying fauna to act as your personal taxi service.
One of the first interesting battles happens right away as you battle a mech where you see down the enemy’s gunsight and have to dodge accordingly. Considering this game is 28 years old, it's still a hell of a cool concept. Stage two begins with you rappelling down a deep cavern filled with foes a plenty. Here you basically smack evil crows so hard that their beaks fall off and, in the name of recycling, you turn them into a handy scimitar for justice! I'm not even joking. And at the end of that stage, we cut back to Zoey hurling more abuse like: “Don't get too cocky, snotskins – there's plenty more where that came from!” Which leads me to my next point: Who the hell is the employment agency that sends these minions to die for their overlords? How much money could they possibly have to afford the employee turnover?
And so we come to Level 3 - the first of the Turbo Tunnel levels, also known as the: B*****d, Son-of-a-B******g, Piece-of-C**p, Why-Am-I-Crying levels. The first thing that struck me was the décor: the floors, walls and ceiling all look like some sort of organic matter, specifically brains, which means you’re playing inside someone's aneurysm. Then there’s the quaint bit of copyright infringement as the old space invader aliens come flying past. Clearly Rare had little faith in the game. Why else pull something like that unless you have a “Meh, who’s gonna notice” attitude? Then there’s the difficulty curve to this stage that charges in without warning and with all the suddenness of an angry parent trying to catch a fleeing toddler... hear me out: Why the hell was all of this stuff (the obstacles, the traps, the bikes) set up here? There are two turbo bikes waiting for you to race to the finish lines, barriers everywhere, this place seems to have been purpose-built for this crap. This means that Zoey specifically chose a planet for this little game, one with all this gear already on site. She is basically an attention-seeking, pain-in-the a**. And just when you thought it couldn't get weirder, there are squirrels sailing by, dropping obstacles from the sky. Thank you folks, the nurse will be by with your medication shortly.
The rest of the game runs the gamut of inventive level design and never has a toad worked so hard for the affections of a princess or dark queen. Somebody should tell them that that magical kiss only works on frogs. The obstacles are more varied than the excuse repertoire of an Olympic level procrastinator too: From sliding ice blacks and Mario-style spiked tortoise shells to fish that deliver uppercuts and Venus Flytrap-filled caves, ADD has never been a better survival skill than right here.
Comedian, Writer, Actor, Voice-artist. Host of the Urbane Myths podcast, Co-host of GeekXP's 'Release The Geek'. Opinionist Purveyor of Wanton Meanderings. And above all, Geek.
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