Out of all of the obscure, old-school franchises, there is one that seems to be the most demanded when it comes to talk of a revival. Battletoads inevitably comes up whenever any discussion regarding the most difficult games of all time. I mean, this game was one of the most upsetting, unfair, sadistic titles ever to exist. But people loved it. It remains a cult sensation to this day and at one time was even made into a pilot for a proposed cartoon series. But when, oh when, will the toads of battle be again brought forth and presented to the gaming population?
The original game was developed by Rare Ltd. for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991 as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip-off. And while the original TMNT game was known for its difficulty –as many titles of the era were- Battletoads was on a whole different level than anything I’ve ever played. I remember renting it after reviews praised it incessantly. It was the beginning of the strangest love/hate relationship I’ve ever had with a media franchise.
At this point, you’re laughing and cheering and oohing and awing and high-fiving your co-op buddy. Best. Game. Evah.
The first level of a Battletoads game is a slice of beat ‘em up heaven. It was cool, it was fun, the soundtrack was rockin’, and it had a unique, cartoonish style where your enemies are KOed with crazy attacks where your toad of choice’s appendages become exaggerated.
Like, a kick would make your foot crazy big and send a bad little piggy flying offscreen and when a giant boss steps onscreen, your toads’ jaws drop to the floor and their eyes bug out. At this point, you’re laughing and cheering and oohing and awing and high-fiving your co-op buddy. Best. Game. Evah.
I spent the rest of my rental days trying to progress, certain that more asskickery awaited me on the other side. It was unusual for a game to be anything other than the same style of gameplay all the way through as it was, was this was a game about toads that battle stuff. Surely its bread and butter was going to be the awesome combat. Surely.
Nope. The second level had you rappelling down canyon walls while birds, robots and venus fly traps attacked you. It was still pretty fun because you could fight back by kicking enemies or turning into a wrecking ball, and even earn 1-ups by keeping the same dead enemy airborne with repeated attacks. The variety was cool, but I couldn’t wait for more beat-em-up action.
Next came one of the most legendary levels in video game history. The one that most players never beat and stopped them from experiencing the other ten levels of Battletoads: the dreaded Turbo Tunnel. Stay away. Stay very away. This is the level that ruined friendships (more on that later), destroyed controllers, and would have invented the concept of rage-quitting if you didn’t run out of lives before you could reach the power switch. The average single-player experience goes a little something like this:
or perhaps this if you practiced:
For me, that was a wrap on the original Battletoads. It was towards the end of the NES’ life cycle and I had lots of other games to get to. But that bizarre mix of frustration and adrenaline-pumping elation stuck with me. When the sequel came out, I was waiting. This time, THIS time I was going to wreck this game. I beat Mega Man 2 for crying out loud. And surely Rare would have learned from feedback that the combat was really awesome and the other stuff made people want to commit amphibian genocide so this one was going to be a truly amazing and fulfilling gaming experience.
When the sequel came out, I was waiting. This time, THIS time I was going to wreck this game.
Nah. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs actually had less battle than its maniacally sadistic predecessor. In fact, the first half was practically level-for-level identical in terms of gameplay, but the new graphics were swwweeeeet. But I own this baby now, so I’ve got all the time in the world to practice. Come at me, Battletoads. Come at me.
First level, another awesome beatdown-fest. Second level, instead of rappelling, you were descending on hover platforms, but pretty much the same. Afterwards, bonus level where you use your platforms to hit bowling pins because why not. Third level…guess.
Yup. Turbo Tunnel. But now it was actually worse as the devs had come up with deliberately trolltastic ways to wreck your day. You had no choice but to memorize the entire course and then hope your reflexes held up. They usually did not.
But hey, at least Battletoads lets you play with a friend! Misery loves company, right? No. No it does not. Battletoads even destroyed the fun of co-op play. Sure, the first two levels were good fun, but once you hit the Turbo Tunnel it was over. Most games make it so that as long as one of you survives, they can keep going. Not this game. If one died, you both died.
And you take a level that almost nobody can beat and make two people try to beat it concurrently with whoever dies first getting the blame and you have a recipe for screaming arguments and resentment that lasted long after the inevitable release of the “Game Over” screen. If only that loser hadn’t been playing with me! That was the time I was totally going to beat it!
Now, I did eventually beat that stupid, horrid hoverbike level, and several similarly horrific platformer levels after it, but I never conquered the game and the scars never healed. And you know what? I never got to play another awesome beat-em-up level. There weren’t any. There was a level where you had to ride snakes through a spikey obstacle course, and ride a buzzsaw thing, and race some rat bastard that was way faster than you to the bottom of a tower or something, but no more battling for me, I guess.
But wait, what is this? A crossover title between the Toads and my all-time favorite beat ‘em up franchise? Dare I hope?
And so it came to pass that a young Nick Verboon got his all beat ‘em up Battletoads game with some Double Dragon thrown in for good measure. One of the highlights of my gaming life was grabbing that whip-wielding skank Linda by the hair and kicking her in the ass repeatedly with my webbed foot before slamming her around by her hair. I had some issues from past games to work out with her.Twenty years later people remember the fun, they remember the charm, they remember the originality, and most of all they remember the challenge. I almost lost my shit when the game had you hop onto speeder bikes, but instead of doing everything in its power to slam you into stone slabs, it instead chose to have you fight enemies on bikes. All was right with the world.
So my experience with the franchise began with an immensely fun combat level that left me wanting more and came to fruition in one of the least-expected crossovers of all time. There was an arcade game that looked like it would be really fun, but sadly in all my travels I never actually encountered one.
It’s twenty years later and people still want more Zitz, Rash, and Pimple. They remember the fun, they remember the charm, they remember the originality, and most of all they remember the challenge. That drive that kept them practicing and practicing, imagining what the next level was going to be like, and what craziness the Dark Queen was going to taunt you with.
Fast-forward to present day and Battletoads has joined Mike Tyson’s Punch Out as that game that everybody claims to have beaten when they almost certainly have not. With the difficulty curve back on the rise in hardcore gaming and titles like Dark Souls garnering attention for ruthlessly kicking players’ asses, it seems like the time is right for a second coming.
Here on the internet, it has become a troll rite of passage to call up Gamestop and attempt to preorder Battletoads. But game store clerks are better than most store clerks and often play along with the joke so if you really want some rage, the answer to your prayers may lie in the world famous Gold and Silver pawn shop of Pawn Stars fame; the Mecca of Battletoads-based prank calls.
Disclaimer: there may be abusive language and objectification of your mother involved.
One could argue that Futurama got its second chance on television due in part to the popularity of internet memes spawned from its dedicated fandom. So why not Zoidb..errr Battletoads? People have gone far enough to harass reality television stars and perpetrate hoaxes; clearly there is a demand for this franchise to return.
Not impressed that somebody created a front and back fake video game case artwork for a video game that doesn’t exist? How about a fake television commercial?
Oh my god, I forgot how much love that music.
Come on, Rare. It’s not like you’ve got anything better to do. Sure, I endorse the return of Killer Instinct, but I think what the gaming world really needs at a time like this is combat of a more amphibian nature. If they remastered the elusive arcade game and released it as a downloadable game on XBL or PSN, I’d certainly be all over it, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have a hard time finding company for the online co-op.
This is a classic hardcore gaming franchise; one that far surpassed its inspiration in the medium. Battletoads may not have a massive multi-media franchise behind it, but it’s a name that carries a lot of weight among old-school gamers and I’m fairly surprised that Nintendo, at the very least, is not clamoring to host a revival. I’m convinced that sometime soon we will see Zitz, Rash, and Pimple kicking ass again. The only questions are how soon and are you ready.