Everybody loves a good revival story, right? Bringing new life into a once forgotten series can be a great thing, and some franchises have managed to pull it off quite well. But for every XCOM and Kid Icarus that gets a new and beloved resurrection, there’s a Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts or that one Jazz Jackrabbit on the Game Boy Advance. The Battletoads have never been truly gone, what with their appearances in the Xbox and PC versions of Shovel Knight, Rash being a playable fighter in Killer Instinct and even some of their games being on the Rare Replay for the Xbox One. But it’s been quite some time since they had a game of their own. Until now...
The story of the new Battletoads is that it’s been twenty-six years since the last adventures of Zitz, Rash, and Pimple. For all that time, the Battletoads have been trapped inside a computer where they live out a constant simulation that they’re amazing heroes and everybody loves them. Once some aliens discover them, they’re let out and discover they exist in a galaxy where nobody cares about them anymore. This could have been a fresh and interesting concept if other recent revivals like Leisure Suit Larry and even Rocko’s Modern Life hadn’t already done almost the exact same story, and arguably handled it better. So now the Battletoads try to reclaim their status as heroes by defeating the Dark Queen. Except they quickly discover she’s also been trapped for the past twenty six years so instead it becomes a story about the toads teaming up with their former archenemy to defeat the all powerful aliens who trapped them in the first place.
This style of meta humor is one of the most recurring jokes throughout the story, and there are multiple references to everything from why the Dark Queen wears a completely different costume these days, to what features we could see if this game winds up getting a sequel. The game itself definitely feels like a cartoon, and honestly probably could have just been released as an animated film rather than a game. Aside from the 2D animated visual style, the script was tackled by Rick and Morty writer Tom Kauffman (who wrote the episode of that show about characters trapped inside an alien simulation). The talented vocal cast consists of Ryan Ridley (Rick and Morty), Echo Kellum (Arrow), Eric Bauza (Unikitty!), and Siobhan Hewlett (Song of The Deep) as Zitz, Pimple, Rash, and The Dark Queen, respectively. Everyone in the cast definitely does a great job, with the voices all being memorable and feeling like I’m watching a comedic take on a Saturday morning cartoon. Hewlett as The Dark Queen especially gives a memorable performance with some absolutely fantastic moments. The only characters who fell flat to me were the main villains, Uto and Pia, who reminded me a lot of The Almighty Tallest from Invader Zim, only less funny and were given stereotypical lisps.
Battletoads advertises itself as a multi-genre adventure, and it definitely wasn’t lying about that. While the game starts out as a beat ‘em up, it also has levels that are 2D platformers, twin stick shooters, microgames, auto-runners, the infamous turbobike sections, rock paper scissors and more. And Battletoads often feels a little bit too eager to show off whatever shiny new toy it has lined up next. There’s one part where the game goes directly from a beat ‘em up boss fight into some microgames with no cutscene or set-up or even an explanation for why we’re doing it. It’s just something new to break up the formula.
And this is a shame because the main beat ‘em sections are definitely where Battletoads shines brightest. The combos are fun, and the way the toads all have unique body modification attacks is not only enjoyable to pull off, but visually appealing. The boss fights in particular are a lot of fun. There’s something immensely satisfying about dodging a projectile just at the right moment then using a charged attack to break through another enemy’s guard and then comboing them into oblivion before pulling the projectile firing foe towards you with your tongue and beating them up too. Sadly, I’d say only about a third of this beat ‘em up game is actually spent doing the super fun beat ‘em up style combat.
I don’t mind some of these changes in gameplay. The two turbobike levels are a blast and play quite nicely and there’s even a section towards the end where you control The Dark Queen and have to quickly navigate downwards through a vertical level. The main ones that bothered me are the twin stick shooter and 2D platformer parts that take up way too much of the middle of the game. You bounce back and forth between these styles, and every single time you do one of these stages it feels like it goes on slightly longer than it needs to. Unlike the beat ‘em up sections, they don’t do anything special that makes them a particularly fun game in their respective genre, and unlike the turbobike or Dark Queen segments, they aren’t just short enjoyable breaks in the main gameplay. They’re treated on par with the main gameplay and don’t hold a candle to where Battletoads actually succeeds.
One thing I do have to address is that Battletoads is a game with three player co-op, but unfortunately I played through the entire game by myself. While I can definitely say I had fun; the game certainly isn’t bad with only one person, I definitely had a voice in my head telling me “Man, this would probably be a lot better with two more people.”
Battletoads isn’t very long, and it has glimmers of brilliance in what it does. The animation is great, the voice acting is spot-on, the writing definitely has some fantastic moments, the beat ‘em up sections are a blast and the boss fights are incredible (except for the one boss in the twin stick shooter segments). It’s just slightly weighed down by trying to do too much at once instead of polishing the things it already does well. If Battletoads does manage to get a sequel, I hope they’ll focus on what they did right this time and build upon that. I’m sure the game is even better with friends, but for right now, it’s kind of hard for me to recommend a game where I’d say about half of its gameplay just wasn’t very fun. I went into Battletoads excited for very specific things, and it did those specific things well. I just wish it eased up a bit on the other stuff, or had done more to make it as fun as the rest of the experience.
John reviewed Battletoads on Steam with a personally purchased copy. The game is also available on Xbox One.