|Developer||Dlala Studios, Rare Ltd|
|Publisher||Xbox Game Studios|
|Genre||Beat 'em up|
|Platforms||PC, Xbox One (reviewed via Backwards Compatibility on Xbox Series X)|
|Release Date||August 20, 2020|
Microsoft picked up a host of franchises when it purchased game developer Rare in 2002. Since then, we have seen plenty of these franchises get fresh entries—with varying degrees of success—including Banjo-Kazooie, Killer Instinct, and Perfect Dark (which itself is slated to receive another title in the coming years). But one notable cult classic failed to receive any new treatment for many years…until now. Battletoads, the wacky beat-em-up that first delighted gamers on the NES in 1991, got its first new game in over twenty years with its new 2020 entry. Can this new adventure live up to the nostalgic memories of the ‘90s?
Violence: As this is predominantly a beat ’em up game, much of the action involves punching and kicking enemies, who in turn assault the Battletoads with their own martial moves and other tactics, such laser beams and thunderbolts. The game depicts this violence in a distinctly cartoony manner, and very little blood ever appears on-screen. At one point, some of the heroes half-jokingly get enthused about murdering people who have ticked them off.
Language: At a few points in the game, characters will say d**n and take the Lord’s name in vain.
Other content: A few crude jokes revolving around potty humor make an appearance.
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10 and up)
Over twenty years after their defeat of the Dark Queen, the Battletoads believe they are still famous heroes loved around the world…but as they soon find out, the world has in fact completely forgotten them! After a brief attempt at making a living through normal jobs, these washed-up toads decide to give the hero life another shot, this time teaming up with their former nemesis in order to tackle a new villainous threat.
I love this campy, self-aware, Saturday morning cartoon-esque concept that the game uses for its story and characters, but unfortunately, the execution leaves much to be desired. Most of the jokes simply aren’t funny, some because they’re too juvenile (who thought seeing Rash in a bulging diaper would be entertaining?) and others simply because the punchlines lack…well, punch. For a game whose storytelling centers around its comedic beats, this failure disproportionately hampers the enjoyment of the overall experience.
Most of Battletoads is built as a beat ’em up in which you run through various stages smacking enemies with your fists and feet, and you can swap between which toad is on the field at a time (or you can play with up to two other players, each one controlling a separate toad). While all three toads share the same control scheme consisting of light, heavy, and special attacks—along with a long tongue that can pull enemies toward you or launch you into the foreground or background—they differ in the overall speed and power of their attacks, with Pimple as the heavy bruiser, Zitz as the quickest fighter, and Rash in between. They each also have unique special moves which helps further differentiate the gameplay styles each one brings to the table. Ultimately, though, they’re more similar than they are different, and no one offers any substantial benefits or drawbacks compared to the others. Worse still, the gameplay lacks sufficient depth to keep it interesting for more than a couple stages. The game could really benefit from other mechanics to spice up the core gameplay, such as super moves powered by an energy meter, or a combo move that could only be performed when all three of the toads are alive.
The game throws a decent mix of enemy types at you, including both melee and ranged foes, tanky enemies that must be stunned before they can be damaged, and foes that can electrify parts of the floor. Even so, the core combat still feels shallow and repetitive, and I become bored with it as I progressed through the game. If you fail enough times at any given segment, the game offers a temporary invincibility that lets you breeze through the current gameplay challenge; on the occasions that I triggered that option, I typically took it just to get through the level more quickly.
Like the NES original, this new Battletoads also boasts a smattering of other gameplay types sprinkled in amidst the beat ’em up stages. This includes platforming segments, top-down shoot-em-ups, and of course the iconic turbobike courses. The game sprinkles in a few small puzzles to break up the action as well. I applaud how the sheer variety keeps the overall experience from getting stale; however, like the beat ’em up gameplay, none of these extra gameplay sections feature the depth that would make them truly engaging. The platforming is stiff, the shooting sequences lack sufficient weapon types, and the turbobike challenges don’t carry the novelty that they did back in 1991.
If there’s one thing in this game that I can praise without reservations, it’s the visual presentation. Not only does the artwork nail the cartoon aesthetic it’s aiming for, the combat animations display tons of character. Where the old games simply exaggerated the toads’ feet and fists, this one features full transformations during special moves, with Pimple momentarily turning into a yeti and Zitz whipping out a jackhammer to pummel his foes.
Sadly, the creative art and animation cannot make a good game on their own, and they’re let down by the flat comedy and unremarkable gameplay. The end result is a mediocre game that squanders its potential to reinvigorate a classic property. Even as someone who never played the old Battletoads games, I’m saddened that this new title fails to recapture the fun offered by its predecessors.
The Bottom Line
A cartoony reimagining of the classic Battletoads franchise is let down by mediocre gameplay and flat comedy.