It’s been well over two decades, but we can finally say “yes, we have Battletoads“. After cameos and teases since Microsoft acquired Rare Ltd., we now have a new entry in the series courtesy of Dlala Studios. Some of my earliest gaming memories involve playing Battletoads & Double Dragon on the NES, so I was ecstatic to revisit the franchise again. Not only does Dlala Studios find ways to maintain the frustrating difficulty, but they also innovate the series in new ways. Most notably, they provide an absolutely hilarious campaign with fun animated cutscenes.
Battletoads picks up 26 years after the last entry in the series (released 26 years ago), continuing in a way that players might not have guessed. With the galaxy basically forgetting who they are, Zitz, Rash and Pimple must now adjust to a new lifestyle. Of course, that doesn’t work out so much for them, and it’s not long before they’re on another galactic adventure. They’ll come across many new enemies as well as their familiar foe, The Dark Queen. We don’t want to spoil too much, but this comedic journey is solid enough to warrant a new animated series. Props to Eric Bauza, Ryan Ridley and Echo Kellum for their lending their fun voices to these classic characters. Of course, the villain cast also deserve some credit as well.
While the story is full of amusing antics, we’re obviously here for the gameplay. Like previous entries in the series, this new Battletoads title is mostly focused on being a beat ’em up. Aside from that genre, you’ll do some Donkey Kong Country style platforming, twin-stick shooting, and a plethora of minigames. While the gameplay is definitely diverse, there are moments where the shift can be pretty jarring. Sometimes, the minigame sections can be a little overwhelming due to lack of instruction. Once you figure it out, it’s definitely manageable, but a few may lead to some frustration. The best minigames are the ones that focus on simplicity, especially when they feel more like interactive additions to the cutscenes.
Getting back to the beat ’em up gameplay, this is the main genre you’ll play with. With this in mind, the developers still found a way to differentiate it from the classic series. While fans will still be able to morph the toads into various objects and fight with crazy animations, there’s a lot of new elements here. First of all, if you’re playing by yourself, you’ll have access to all three toads that you can tag out at any time. In the event that one gets incapacitated, another toad tags in while the other one recuperates. This is a great way to give something to those playing on their own. Each toad also has a very different fighting style too. Of course, when you’re playing with co-op, each player will simultaneously control a toad themselves. With drop-in/drop-out couch co-op, it’s never been easier to smash foes with the toads.
When fighting enemies, each battle will have a combo meter and a ranking. As you keep the combo going, you’ll gain higher ranks, though like Devil May Cry, there’s bonus points for style. Single players will want to switch toads during combos to gain higher ranks while co-op players will want to chain their combos and share the fight. It adds a bit more skill to the mix and makes it so you’re not just punching randomly. Some enemy patterns can be pretty tough, but it’s all a balancing act on prioritization. As long as you take out the troublemakers, you can survive each encounter.
Not only will you fight tons of enemies, but you’ll also solve environmental puzzles to grab collectibles. This adds a bit more exploration to the game, and sometimes the stage can really test you in fun ways. One puzzle may have you go through a gift shop to check signage of specific items to match up while another might have you spit gum at haunted portraits. The addition of spitting gum in general lends itself well to these puzzles, but also to combat. If a certain enemy is giving you trouble, you can stick it to them with some chewing gum, temporarily stunning them.
Once you find these collectibles, you’ll often have to use your tongue to grab them. Players can also use their tongues to shift planes of the stage, or even grab enemies and bring them closer. It also gives the player the ability to eat flies to recover health. Unfortunately, that’s where the tongue is the weakest, as it makes it difficult to heal while in the middle of a tough fight. Not only do you have to hold a trigger, but you also have to aim your tongue toward the fly to grab it. It makes sense for the toads to use their tongues to grab the flies, but it feels a bit unnecessarily complex. Luckily, the game has several checkpoints to make things a bit easier for those having trouble. There’s also an invincibility option for those that die too often.
We brought it up earlier, but the gameplay has quite a bit of variety between stages. Of course, one of the types of gameplay had to be piloting the infamous Turbo Bikes. Taking a different perspective, the Battletoads now move in a new dimension for the gameplay. You’ll dodge walls and jump over obstacles while also remaining on solid ground. It’s a great modern update to a notorious classic and it offers just as much challenge. It also comes with some fun commentary from the toads too.
There’s also the twin-stick shooter levels that the game sprinkles here and there. If you’ve played games in this genre before, you’ll likely have an idea of what to expect, as the formula doesn’t change much here. You’ll fly around on a single screen as enemies perform their attack patterns while waiting for you to destroy them. Occasionally you’ll find power-ups that change your weapon, though it’s only a temporary boost. Like the other levels, there are plenty of checkpoints here that will heal you back to full health, so you’ll likely not have too much trouble.
The platforming stages are also fairly simple, mainly because there are no enemies. You’ll just have to avoid obstacles and spike pits as you make your way to the goal. It’s great to see the return of the roll jump mechanic that Rare made popular in the original Donkey Kong Country as well. Of all the different stages, these ones are the most manageable. That is until you play the final one, which is essentially a chase sequence using different mechanics. It seems Dlala Studios found the perfect level of stress because you’ll never feel fast enough.
The one stage type that will likely give you the most trouble however, is the sleigh level. During this stage, you’ll ride a sleigh on various rails while avoiding getting caught by an angry mob of aliens. While it looks simple enough, the problem lies in the controls. There are four rail types, three of which require holding a different button. You’ll also have to jump, so it creates a conflict of pressing multiple buttons with one thumb, especially when you have to switch between rail types. It’s not impossible, but it was easily the moment that provided me with the most frustration, especially when trying to gather collectables. Thankfully, there’s only one of these stages, but the rail switching mechanic could’ve been handled with a different control scheme.
Finally, when it comes to the presentation, the game offers some pretty solid animation work. Stages also work really well with this style using multi-layered scenery. Say what you will about the style, but Battletoads has tons of fun animation details in the combat, and even the cutscenes. Players will likely catch little Easter eggs of other Xbox franchises here and there. The game has a pretty meta approach, and it just works so well for these cult classic heroes. All the music in the game is fantastically fitting too, delivering tracks that feel right out of the 90’s arcade era. It gives a sense of nostalgia while still being entirely fresh.
Overall, the new Battletoads feels like a great way to continue the franchise. Rare put these cult classic characters in very capable hands, making for a very entertaining, yet still challenging, sequel. It’s definitely not going to be a long game, lasting only a handful of hours, but the replay value with friends will last much longer. I also really hope Microsoft considers a new animated series for the franchise, because the game’s direction toadally deserves it.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
A digital copy of Battletoads was provided to GotGame by Microsoft for this review.