Battletoads Review — Jack of All Toads, Master of Some
The Battletoads make their comeback after a 26-year hiatus and, for the most part, offer a solid re-entry into the cult classic franchise.
It’s been 26 years since the Battletoads last graced our screens and at that time I was the grand old age of one. Although I don’t remember the launch of the game for obvious reasons, I still have fond memories of it growing up. I had it on my Game Boy and needless to say as a youngster, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t get very far.
Fast forward to 2020 and we have Dlala Studios and Rare’s reimagining of a cult classic. The game was announced back in 2018 and was met with some polarising responses. Many were happy to see the return of Zitz, Pimple, and Rash, while others bemoaned the new “Saturday morning cartoon” art style and different direction that the Toads had gone. Now, I understand that people may have concerns, but let me tell you, Battletoads is a very solid game.
Canonically, it picks up 26 years after the last game. The three Toads have been stuck in a simulation for that period and are oblivious as to what’s happened around them whilst they were away. One thing leads to another, they reunite with their former antagonist, the Dark Queen, and set off on an adventure around the universe to find and fight The Topians.
While the story is fun, if not a little unremarkable, the rest of the writing sadly brings the game down a little. Battletoads gives off some strong Rick and Morty vibes at times, but the jokes miss the mark far more than they manage to hit. And for a game that leans heavily into the comedy, it’s a shame. That’s not to say it’s all bad, as there are some genuine chuckle-worthy moments, but unfortunately, they’re few and far between.
As mentioned, the game is clearly inspired by cartoons seen on the likes of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. While Battletoads offers players some glimpses of this in the gameplay, specifically the brawling segments, it’s the cutscenes where this really shines through. Writing aside, each one of these cutscenes is clearly crafted with a love for the medium that it’s emulating.
Although the script doesn’t quite hit the Cartoon Network vibe, the art style and music certainly do. And they’re delightful. The Battletoads soundtrack can be described in one word: rocking. Heavy guitar riffs accompany you on your whole journey as you fight your way across the galaxy.
The whole game is hand-drawn and hand-animated and after getting my hands on it, I can definitely say that any worries people had surrounding the art direction should be forgotten. Now, it’s not going to please the Battletoads purists, that’s for sure, but anyone who appreciates a unique style will definitely enjoy this. Each of the Toads has a very distinct look and playstyle and the two complement each other incredibly well. Rash, Zitz, and Pimple are all wholly unique from one another, and their special animations help to differentiate them even further.
Rash, the cool, glasses-wearing all-rounder, has a good mixture of speed and strength and his move set compliments him nicely. Then there’s Zitz, zippier than the other Toads, but also far weaker. His moves hit a lot quicker, making combos easier to pull off with him, but his lack of strength means I wouldn’t recommend him when facing the bigger enemies. Lastly, there’s Pimple, who was surprisingly my favourite. He’s bigger and bulkier than the others and is therefore slower. What he lacks in speed though, he more than makes up for in strength, pummelling enemies like nobody’s business. His pièce de résistance is his power move in which he turns into a train and smashes those around him.
The combat as a whole in Battletoads is incredibly satisfying. Fighting is swift and fluid and you really feel each hit connect. Each of the Toad’s attacks are well thought out and feel like they’re designed with pulling off some outrageous combos in mind. You can whack an enemy up into the air with a rubber chicken, jump up, unleash a flurry of attacks, and then use your tongue to pull more enemies into the fray. Mix these with the ability to “tag in” the other Toads and you’ve got some super fun beat ‘em up segments. The problem is, there’s just not enough of them. For a game that falls into the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre, those segments only make up about 30% total of Battletoads’ gameplay despite them being my favourite parts.
The game describes itself as an “epic multi-genre adventure” and to its credit, it is certainly that. Unfortunately, that’s not always a good thing and Battletoads feels a little bit like a jack of all trades but only a master of some.
As mentioned, the beat ‘em up sections are top class and the turbo-bike missions are also great, but it’s some of the other stuff that feels a little forced. The early puzzle segments slow things down and fragment the game a little, as do the roshambo sections. There’s also a weird scene where the Toads have to get jobs, and while it’s predominantly there for story purposes, it has some unnecessary gameplay elements to it.
Not all of the new genres are negative though. The majority of the later sections offered interesting twists on the gameplay that I genuinely enjoyed. I would have just liked some more of the mindless fighting.
Battletoads and difficulty historically go hand-in-hand and it was always a contentious point heading into the game. How would Dlala balance bringing a notoriously difficult game to a modern, mass-market? The answer is: relatively well. For the diehard Battletoads fans, there’s the Battletoad difficulty, which I can only imagine is exactly what you’d expect it to be. I played on Toad difficulty, the middle of three, and it was hard but, for the most part, fair.
The vehicle missions felt good as they were punishing but not in a bad way. If I died, I never felt like it was unfair and was always down to me mistiming a dodge or jump. They’re not procedurally generated either, so you learn the patterns of the obstructions with every run you do – and there will be a few. Checkpoints are always a reasonable distance away too, so you never feel unfairly treated when you do die and don’t have to restart from too far back. Most of the other missions felt like this too. Yes they were hard, but not in an obnoxious way.
Occasionally, however, the combat’s difficulty could be a little frustrating. It felt at times, in lieu of actual challenge, Battletoads just stuck a lot of enemies on the screen for me to deal with giving a false sense of difficulty as I got bashed about and couldn’t land an attack. This was only on rare occasions, so it’s not the end of the world, but when it did happen, it was more than a little irking.
While overall the game definitely has some little niggles, the biggest problem is the lack of online multiplayer. It’s easy to see what Dlala was going for by wanting to get people together on a couch and play games like days of old. Sadly, we aren’t in those times at the moment. Now, don’t get me wrong, it would have been impossible to predict what’s currently going on in the world when production started, but online multiplayer is a standard feature in almost all games these days, and to leave it out, pandemic or no pandemic, is an oversight. It’s definitely a game that would be a blast to play with friends online but sadly, we don’t even have that option.
In a year when brawlers like this and Streets of Rage 4 are making a comeback, Battletoads tries a lot of different things. While it does many of them well, some fall short of the mark or just feel shoehorned in, to the point where it confused me. That shouldn’t put you off though as the game is still charming, stylish and a bundle of fun to play. It’s a great example of what an Xbox Game Pass game should be and a very strong first major outing from Dlala.