I’m old, you guys. I remember blowing into my Battletoads NES cartridge so it would actually turn on in the early 90s, then barely making it down the hole to almost certainly stack it on a bike. Though I’ve only come close to beating it via a re-release and infinite lives, I’ve spent hours playing it alone and with friends. When Phil Spencer took to the Microsoft E3 2018 stage in and announced a new game, I was over the moon.
That excitement lessened considerably as in the months to come, Microsoft went silent about it. At X019 in London, I marvelled at banks of consoles offering up the likes of Grounded, Forza Horizon 4, Halo Reach, Resident Evil Resistance and even KartRacer Drift. Battletoads was on display too… but on a single, solitary Xbox One. I mean, the actual display beside it took up more room than the station itself. Hell, this review’s embargo is set after Xbox Game Pass members gain access to it. Perhaps it’s needless to say by this point, but I’ve shifted my expectations accordingly in the last two years.
With that newfound mindset, Battletoads didn’t actually disappoint, but it didn’t impress me either. It’s a short, (semi-)challenging mish-mash of mini-games and nostalgia that you certainly shouldn’t buy but should play if you’ve already got an Xbox Game Pass subscription. How’s that for a recommendation?
Battletoads starts off as franchise fans would expect, with 2.5D side-scrolling battles and on-bike segments that are now head- rather than side-on. This doesn’t last — an admittedly cute mini-game showing the Toads adjusting to their lives 20+ years on is a sign of things to come, with puzzles then appearing in combat missions before taking over as entire missions themselves shortly afterward.
Battletoads switches from traditional combat to puzzle to top-down shoot ’em up to timed mini-game (each complete with a necessary page that first details controls) at a blistering pace, never allowing the player to adapt or get comfortable with one mode of play before being shunted to another. The Dark Queen is introduced as a playable character, but not really, and you’re left scratching your head wondering why.
The result is a WarioWare-style that feels more like a Nintendo Wii offering than Battletoads (though I respect some of the irony in that statement). The 2.5D and even shoot ’em up combat sections are extremely enjoyable, though really few and far between. The one big criticism I have is a ridiculous, uncancellable taunt move that I ended up accidentally using instead of an evade, opening myself up to so (so!) many counterattacks. The mini-games around the good stuff really serve as filler (one… maybe two? are fun), with one in particular made me want to stop playing entirely.
It required a player to match an alien symbol to its companion on a random section — and subsequent mini-mini-game — of the screen. Timed sadistically, it repeated itself far too many times, adding more mini-mini-games each time. It’s strange — when looking at the game’s E3 2019 gameplay video, you’re not shown any of the non-traditional segments, and I’d be hard-pressed to identify half the combat levels shown. Is this a sign of a troubled development?
I played Battletoads in solo and two-player co-op, and ultimately found more enjoyment on my own. If it gets one thing right, it’s challenging — almost to the point of frustrating — gameplay (those mini-games aside), with pixel-perfect jumps and the need for expert prioritisation when squaring off against a flurry of enemies. The benefits of a second (or third) partner are balanced out by the ability to essentially have two additional lives when playing a stage. Most have so much happening on the screen at once at you’re better off keeping some lives in the bank rather than trying to coordinate attacks with pals.
In two-player co-op, the on-bike levels are virtually unplayable. There’s too much transpiring at once, making it extremely difficult to keep tabs on your playable character and their movements. You and your partner will ultimately end up fighting for possession of the third, unused character and that really becomes the mode’s downfall. When you revert back to a checkpoint — and trust me, you will, and quite often — you’ll randomly start as a different Toad than last, making it even more impossible to figure out who you are and where you’re to twitch-react to before you slam into a barricade.
Like Rare Replay wisely added infinite lives for those who, you know, actually wanted to see how the game ended after years and years (and years!) of wonder, this new release offers a section-based invincibility option that can be toggled on lower difficulties… after an embarrassing amount of deaths in that space. I’ll shamelessly admit I took advantage of it during combat and pixel-perfect side-scrolling sections, and I’d recommend players ditch any notion feelings of embarrassment when doing the same. It’s one thing to feel challenged by tricky gameplay; it’s another to know that you’ll eventually be able to best it even if you technically can’t. No judgement.
Continuing on the positive front, Battletoads‘ animation style is perfect and would easily lend itself to an Netflix series that I would absolutely watch. Moreover, the Battletoads themselves are a hoot, each extremely unique and all ridiculously funny. Seriously, I’d die happy if someone every described me as “the sunglasses one”. Despite these flashes of high quality, Battletoads‘ overarching narrative is as Frankensteined as its gameplay modes, with a whole lot happening — yet not — at the same time. What works in, say, an episode of Spongebob doesn’t necessarily translate to a video game.
Absolute die-hard Battletoads will likely enjoy this more than most (and I’ve discovered I’m not part of that particular group), while others will find replayability in collectibles that are earned through in-game combat challenges — beat a level in a specific time or complete all combat sections with A-rankings in each. In the end though, if you’re craving that Battletoads NES-style experience — something that’s frustrating but in all the best ways — you’re better off loading up Rare Replay. Or even Killer Instinct.
Ultimately, I completed Battletoads in 3 hours and 45 minutes and have no intention of ever going back. It’s available now on Windows PC and Xbox One, part of the Xbox Game Pass on Console, PC and Ultimate subscription programs.
Battletoads was reviewed using a promotional code on Windows PC via Windows 10 and Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.