August 20, 2020
Xbox Game Studios
2018 feels like forever ago but I covered the shock revelation at E3 that Battletoads would be returning for their first game in over 20 years. At the time it was claimed it would feature hand drawn graphics, three-player couch co-op game play and had a tentative release date sometime in 2019. Clearly the targeted 2019 release date did not happen in the end, but sometimes good things take time. Before I get into the game lets dig a bit into Battletoads as a series.
Battletoads was originally created in 1991 by Rare (one of my all time favourite developers). Most of us remember their affiliation with Nintendo and later Microsoft but in reality they were not an exclusive developer until 1994. This means the original Battletoads and its sequels made their way cross platform to Sega Megadrive and other consoles. Battletoads even had a crossover game with the Double Dragon boys. The last Battletoads title was released in 1994 in arcades published by Electronic Arts.
They were always tough games, but 26 years later finally we have a new Battletoads and in my view it has delivered.
I may as well be upfront now and tell you in my view this is an exceptionally well made game. The first thing to talk about is the art style and graphics. It reminds me of a Cartoon Network Adult Swim cartoon from days gone by. It has sort of a mix of Invader Zim with Earthworm Jim style presentation. It features massive bosses and colourful backgrounds complete with old school parallax scrolling. The characters have a sort of Picasso design and the cut scenes linking the levels and chapters are definitely a conversation piece.
In fact I would go as far as to say the game looks incredible. It features lots of bright colours, neon greens and pinks. This isn’t just a beat ’em up either, as it also features puzzle levels, racing levels and even a vertical shooter stage or two. I am not a big fan of the spaceship shooter type of genre generally but the colours and weapons in these sections make it one of the more unique aspects of this new version.
So, the visuals are great. How does it play? Well, if gameplay is king, this is king and Battletoads has it in spades. The gameplay is so tight it is something that other developers should probably take some notes on when they are making retro-influenced beat ’em ups.
You have your core buttons like jump, punch and you can chain together for combos. But it also uses the shoulder buttons and depending on what you press you can spit bubble gum, eat flies for health or draw an enemy close to you. It seems like a simple mechanic but the enemies you face during the levels have different weaknesses so you cant just rely on button mashing.
That said this isn’t just a side scrolling beat ’em up. There are also stages where you are racing bikes, typing emails, riding Jeff or doing battle in a spaceship, and all of the controls are super responsive and intuitive. Whenever a new gameplay mechanic is needed to make it through the level there will be some Battletoad guided tutorial to show you how to do the things you need to do. These also play really well with responsive controls – basically the game overall is a lot of fun.
The other side of the gameplay is the co-op. This is a great game to play solo but it is an amazing game to play with a friend or partner. There are a couple of reasons for this; firstly in the side scrolling beat ’em up sections I don’t think the enemies are limited by player count so they are definitely more tricky by yourself.
Some of the alternative stages such as riding Jeff could use some help as well because one of you can do the jumping and the other the grinding. The cut scenes and the humour are definitely best experienced together so you can have a laugh and talk about what has just happened. The way co-op is woven into the fabric of the game, enhancing the experience, is impressive.
One thing that stood out about the original Battltoads titles are that they were famously difficult. Luckily with this new Battletoads game does allow you to adjust the difficulty setting to match your desired gameplay experience. So whether you want a crushingly difficult time or want to take it a bit easier is up to you, which makes it a much more accessible title than some of the previous titles in the series.
I must admit for the first time in my life that I was a little disappointed that co-op is couch only because I would have loved to team up with Elliot and Luke from the Checkpoint team, but I actually think it was 100% the right call because you share the experience in person and I think that the lack of couch co-op/split screen in most modern games can really be to their detriment.
Overall, Battletoads is one of the best re-imaginings of a classic franchise I have played in a long time. The attention to detail and the quality of the artwork and animation is fantastic. Playing it I was thinking about what a game like Streets of Rage 4 could have been and I think about developers making retro throwbacks that just don’t quite get the mechanics or the presentation right. This one really delivers on all levels I think it sets a new standard for retro inspired games and I definitely recommend giving it a play, whether you’re a fan of the original or not.
- Vibrant hand-drawn visuals; it looks like a cartoon
- Varied and solid gameplay across multiple chapters
- It's great as a single player but AMAZING with a friend
- If you play solo some of the beat 'em up sections can be challenging
- No online multiplayer; not all of us have friends at home to play with
Battletoads is an excellent return for the series. It has stunning hand drawn graphics, a story that will make you laugh and backs it up with tight varied gameplay. It is a great game to play solo but really comes into its own with a friend playing and experiencing together. It is really quite unique in that way, you genuinely feel like you want to tell someone about what you have played and seen as a shared moment. If you want a truly unique experience that’s elevated further by its couch co-op, this is definitely one to check out.