The Battletoads series was initially created to rival the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade-style beat ’em-up games of the late ’80s and early ’90s. While the four brotherly turtles have evolved and remained in the mainstream consciousness through various TV shows, movies, and video games of varying quality, the Battletoads have all but vanished. However, after years of teases from Xbox, the Battletoads finally reemerged at E3 2019.
For better and for worse, Battletoads plays a lot like the games that began the franchise. The three toads, Rash, Zitz, and Pimple, can and will jump right into any confrontation without a second’s thought. Volleying enemies between the three brothers is the highlight of my experience with Battletoads, as the enemies bounce around the screen like delightful pinballs. You can attack in a few different ways, but I love holding down a button and unleashing a charged morphing attack – Rash’s foot grows enormous as he kicks, while Pimple’s hulking physique morphs to resemble a train as he plows through the enemies before him.
However, as I play through the various encounters, it becomes evident that the side-scrolling beat ‘em-up genre has yet to make the transition to the modern age. Sure, the graphics look better and the controls are a bit smoother, but the encounters all feature a tinge of “been there, done that,” which makes sense since you’re battling waves upon waves of the same three or four enemies with a limited moveset for the entire level. The encounters all blur together, with little to set them apart from one another aside from an occasional new enemy type.
Thankfully, a boss battle breaks up the stage’s slightly monotonous action. Porkshank is such a tank of an enemy that he’s invulnerable to attack until you let him wear himself out with his own flurry of punches. However, I learn the hard way that his size isn’t just for show when I dodge a bit too late and he takes out a considerable amount of my health with one combination. If this giant pig isn’t enough of a problem, he has the constant support of minion characters as well. However, with a little persistence and a lot of timing, we finally take down Porkshank and move on to a hoverbike stage.
Players of the original Battletoads games likely have the hoverbike etched into their memories due to the fast-paced and punishing nature. While hoverbike stages are no longer side-scrolling like they were in the 8-bit era, they aren’t exactly a walk in the park. The camera now swings behind your bikes, giving you an oncoming view of the obstacles and pitfalls. With plenty of experience with racing games, I figured this would be a breeze. However, thanks to a back-breaking sense of speed and an enormous collection of offset barriers, jumps, and pits, my poor toad’s bike erupts into flames more times than I’d like to admit.
Fans have been clamoring for the Battletoad brothers to return following their lengthy hiatus. While I walked away from my hands-on time not completely sold on this revitalization, I’m glad to have these icons back in action.