It has taken a long time for them to make their triumphant return (and many calls to GameStop), but the Battletoads are finally back in an all-new adventure. Why settle for guest appearances in Shovel Knight and Killer Instinct when you can just star in a game of your own, right? I’m happy to report that it embraces the zaniness that made the original games of the 90s so fun too, though it is also guilty of being just as difficult as them in places…
Battletoads’ narrative carries on from the original game, with Rash, Pimple, and Zitz actually living fairly normal lives given that they haven’t been on a grand adventure in over twenty-years. Of course, these troublesome toads have been out of the limelight long enough and they soon decide to take the battle to their arch-rival, the Dark Queen, once again. However, things take an unexpected turn and they instead find themselves forming an alliance with her to take on an even worse threat… this can’t end well, can it?
The game’s story is all very ‘90s Saturday Morning Cartoon’ in style, with the zany tale put together with some cheesy jokes that can be both genuinely funny and complete duds. It certainly embraces the weird and wacky nature of its world perfectly though and there’s no denying that there’s something lovingly endearing about the heroes themselves… just don’t expect some blockbuster tale full of clever twists and turns.
At its core, Battletoads plays like an old-school beat ‘em up that sees you working through an assortment of vibrant levels, beating up some baddies with all sorts of different combos of attacks, and then dishing out some special moves and mastering attack patterns to take down the more challenging boss encounters. It really feels like it has come straight out of the 90s in that sense, but in that satisfying arcade-like way where mashing buttons to string together attacks to lay the smackdown upon your foes just feels fun.
Each of the three protagonists bring with them a varied move set and different strengths too, so they’re not all carbon copies of one another that feel the same to play – in fact, you can switch between them during gameplay, so you can actually utilise their capabilities in different ways when the situation calls for it.
Battletoads really nails the basics as far as its brawling is concerned, even if there’s nothing on offer that you wouldn’t have seen before already in the genre. If I did have one complaint with the beat ‘em up sections, it’s that they seem to try to overcompensate as far as the difficulty is concerned. Everyone knows that the original games were prolific for being tough as nails, so it’s natural that this new release would try to live up to that. However, it does it by throwing more enemies your way as opposed to offering cleverly designed challenges, with the high difficulty coming down to the player being overwhelmed by foes more than anything. It’s not a bad thing really, but it does leave Battletoads feeling like it’s just trying to be difficult for the sake of it on occasions.
Of course, you won’t just be beating up baddies in side-scrolling sections throughout the entirety of the game, with Battletoads bringing an array of mini-games into the mix to spice things up for the player. One of the most prominent of these are the jet-bike levels that’ll blast you through an assortment of obstacle-filled speedways. Unlike the original games, these take place from a front-on perspective, meaning it’s easier to see the obstacles that are ahead of you – they’re also nowhere near as tough as those found in the original and actually make for some fun endeavours that I found myself really looking forward to. Don’t get me wrong, they can be challenging, but never in a manner that demands pixel-perfect precision like the original games did.
There are also some twin-stick shooting, puzzle-solving, and bobsleigh-style chase sequences to dive into during the game, with all of them coming together nicely to make for a satisfyingly varied experience. Admittedly, there were some mini-games that didn’t hit the mark, but there’s certainly a lot more good and bad.
Like all beat ‘em ups, Battletoads is at its very best when played in multiplayer and two additional players can join in on the action here. It really caters itself for multiplayer gameplay thanks to each character’s varied strengths and weaknesses, whilst the aforementioned mini-games are designed to work with more than one player (just don’t be surprised to find yourself annoyed when one weak link keeps using up the lives during the jet-bike sections). Disappointingly, multiplayer can only be played locally, with no support included for online play. This is a massive shame, especially since Battletoads is so accessible given that it’s included in Xbox Game Pass.
I have to give praise to Battletoads’ presentation, with the visuals standing out thanks to the eye-popping hand-drawn environments that are full to the brim with personality and bizarre sights. I’ve mentioned already that Battletoads feels like a ‘90s Saturday Morning Cartoon’ with its story and characters, and that same vibe shines through with the game’s over-the-top art style. Add to that some stellar cutscenes that string the story together and you’ll quickly find that Battletoads is a really pretty game to look at.
Battletoads manages to stay true to the source material, all whilst offering an array of varied and fun gameplay mechanics that really spice up the experience. I had a good time battling through each level, whether that was when fighting in classic beat ‘em up action, racing through on a jet-bike, or sliding my way away from a big monstrous threat. Sure, a few mini-games can fall short of the mark at times and the difficulty could feel a bit forced, but it didn’t stop Battletoads from being a really enjoyable experience.
It’s just a shame that there isn’t any online multiplayer included, with Battletoads really lending itself perfectly to playthroughs with friends. Of course, local play is possible, but with the game included in Xbox Game Pass it would have been perfect for online romps with other players. Hopefully, it’s something the developers might patch in sometime in the future because it feels like a missed opportunity right now…
Developer: Dlala Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios, Rare
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PC