Battletoads is a bit of a meme, really. The original NES game is largely remembered simply for being difficult – which it is, but arguably not to a truly egregious extent, given the multitude of warp zones and extra lives. Game Boy and arcade titles followed, each of pretty decent quality, but oddly it’s the rather brief SNES title Battlemaniacs from which the modern Xbox One/PC Battletoads takes much of its inspiration.
This is apparent from the first stage, which features a banging re-arrangement of the first stage theme from Battlemaniacs. Moving through the game, you’ll find it shares the ‘Maniacs philosophy of contantly changing genre, hopping from beat-’em-up to platformer to into-the-screen vehicle to auto-scrolling death chase, etc. Even within single stages, you’ll need to do all sorts of things – puzzle solving and hacking intersperse the amphibian pugilism.
And here’s the thing, said pugilism is great fun. It’s not as technically sound as the flawless Streets of Rage 4, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s breezy, knockabout fun that lets you rack up the absurdly high combos near-effortlessly. A tap of the right trigger allows your chosen Toad to get out of dodge at a moment’s notice, via… erm, getting into a dodge. You can also use the D-pad to change Toads mid-combo in order to boost your score and get higher ranks, which ultimately unlock collectables (the purpose of which I’m yet to determine, mysterious!).
Between stages there’s a narrative concerning the Battletoads’ return to prominence; it’s very meta and silly, but in a way I found genuinely laugh-out-loud funny at times. The mid-stage banter didn’t do a whole lot for me but I enormously enjoyed the cutscenes, which are laced with strong gags and comic timing. I believe it shares some writing talent with Rick & Morty, which I can believe given its general quality.
It’s probably the strongest Battletoads in terms of consistent quality, despite being as all-over-the-place as the other titles in the series. Thankfully, this displays an understanding of what Battletoads actually was, rather than some notion of what it should be. I found that refreshing in a world full of continuations and reimaginings that fail completely to represent the reality of their host series – Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, I’m calling you out, buddy!
Some issues have been raised with the artstyle, but I found in motion it looks great. Considering how knockabout and slapdash the game is, the frenzied cartoon artwork does it a lot of favours; the artstyle determines the gamestyle, as Metallica memorably almost sang. It’s expressive, often funny, and superbly drawn. It can be a little crude (as can the humour), but it all fits together nicely. Battletoads has always been something of a joke, but a well-made one – a skilful patchwork of disparate genres that sticks long in the memory. The highest compliment I have to pay Battletoads 2020 is that it feels like Battletoads. Very good work indeed.
Now, can we get Battletoads vs Double Dragon Neon from WayForward, please?