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Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Rare (EU), Dlala Studios (US)
Release Date: Aug. 20, 2020


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PC Review - 'Battletoads'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 20, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Battletoads are back! Rash, Zitz and Pimple are returning to steal the spotlight as they smash, stomp and drill their way through an all-new action-packed adventure of choreographed chaos.

Buy Battletoads

A few decades ago, there were a group of reptile-based heroes who took the world by storm, creating a legacy that lasted for generations.

They were called the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

In their wake came countless attempts to strike the same vein. Battletoads for the NES was one of the more blatant endeavors; it dropped one member and gave them more design variety. Mostly remembered for its punishing difficulty and creative animations, Battletoads became a cult hit, and although there have been attempts to revitalize the franchise, it never quite escaped being a one-hit wonder — until now.

Battletoads starts with the three maybe-brother toads — Pimple, Rash and Zitz — being rescued from an underground bunker. It turned out that they had been trapped in there since the last game, living in a virtual reality world where they were great heroes. Now forced into a futuristic "real world," they are forced to get menial jobs and live boring lives. Since they are anthropomorphic toads with attitude, that doesn't last long and they decide to join up with their old foe, The Dark Queen, and take the fight to the Utopian rulers of the galaxy because it beats working an office gig.

Battletoads is effectively a self-aware Adult Swim-style cartoon in terms of character and tone. The characters are snarky, goofy and excessively violent, and most of the comedy comes from their extremely violent acts and the trouble they cause. The humor is pretty good, but it's at its best when the surprisingly chill Dark Queen joins the party and provides a much-needed straight woman, who also brings her own comedy to the forefront. If you enjoy crude, self-aware humor, then you should have fun with the story — but the same can't be said about the gameplay.

Battletoads starts off relatively strong. Either alone or with friends, you take control of the toads and hop into battle. Combat involves basic attacks (launchers) and "smash" attacks, which has the toads transforming their surprisingly malleable bodies into anything from spikes to a mummy-filled sarcophagus. Each toad can also grab enemies with their tongues and shoot temporarily disabling gum at their foes. Your goal is to beat up all your foes and move to the next screen, as any good beat-'em-up requires.

The game does a good job of varying the three toads. Zitz can perform the longest air combos and attack the quickest. Rash can knock enemies into the air and come down with splashes to wreck foes. Pimple is huge and can dish out damage but has to commit much harder to his attacks. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and I enjoyed swapping between them. In single-player mode, you can swap between them at will to extend your combos and earn higher rankings.

The enemy lineup in Battletoads is basic but a good mix. Each enemies have a specific gimmick that you'll need to work around. There are some enemies who can only be damaged after you've baited them into an attack. Some foes need to have their guard broken, some electrify their surroundings, and others throw deadly ice balls that need to be avoided. None of the enemies break the mold, but the game's challenge comes from the mixture of different enemy attacks, and you need to figure out how to deal with them. It's pretty much everything you'd need from a beat-'em-up.

Unfortunately, Battletoads is not a beat-'em-up. Of the game's 25 stages, only eight stages feature any brawling at all, and a good chunk of those are boss fights. The rest of the time, the game swaps genres into various minigames that include space shooters, side-scrolling runners, and simple puzzles. The second half of the game is solely comprised of these minigames, with the exception of one boss fight and one arena fight. The enemy variety from the first half of the game is almost absent, and even the arena fight is against generic enemies that are basically killed by the environment.

The original Battletoads liked to swap genres, and quite a few of the minigames are homages to those genre swaps. The major difference is that in the original game, each stage felt like it was designed around a single gameplay mechanic, while the new Battletoads feels like Battletoads skins were tossed on a series of free apps. The minigames feel basic, and that prevents the game from feeling like you're advancing. Instead of tougher fights or greater challenges, you're just given a new gameplay mechanic, leading the title to feel like a minigame collection.

None of the minigames are bad, but most of them are boring — and that doesn't help matters. The space shooter is probably the closest to a bullet hell style game played cooperatively, but it's an incredibly basic variation on it. Its counterpart, a basic 2D puzzle-platformer, is dull. Despite the constant barrage of new content, all of it feels less engaging and interesting than the simple beat-'em-up gameplay in the earlier levels.

A lot of the gameplay in Battletoads doesn't work well cooperatively. Some game modes require players to wait, and the game modes that don't require waiting tend to be weak. Usually, one character has the fun mechanic and the other characters are left with the dull gameplay. Again, the beat-'em-up segments are far better here, but they are so frontloaded that players will likely get bored or frustrated. I can't see people playing through this title on a regular basis when there are much better and more consistent beat-'em-ups on the PC and Xbox One.

The original Battletoads has a reputation for being difficult, but the reboot is more inconsistent. The majority of the game is very easy. Enemies do a lot of damage, but you have so many safety nets that you're unlikely to see a "game over" from combat. Even in single-player mode, you effectively have infinite lives because one toad dying causes you to spawn as the next one while the dead toad cools down. As long as you don't lose all three toads at once, you're fine.

Where the inconsistency lies is in the constant shifting of genres. While most of the minigames are easy as pie, someone can get frustrated in the Turbo Tunnel-style racing mission or the space shooter because it isn't their preferred game style. It's possible to brute force your way through most of them, but it's a case of wanting to do so. If you're playing with friends and get stuck, it's easy to give up because even if you push through, there's no promise that the next part is any better.

Battletoads tries really hard. I can see how a lot of the decisions were made in an attempt to be loyal to the original game and evoke the same spirit. Unfortunately, I can't say that it succeeds. It feels slapped together and halfhearted, and even the comedic story beats fade to the background as the game wears on. I can't help but compare it to something like the recent Streets of Rage 4, which is a great example of how to revive a dead beat-'em-up franchise.

One area where the game shines is in its visuals. It absolutely captures a 2020-style Saturday Morning Cartoon vibe. The toads are wonderfully animated, and their constantly shifting forms contain a lot of detail. This gets somewhat lost in the minigames, which tend to rely on less interesting visuals, but the beat-'em-up segments are exactly what a modernized Battletoads should look like. At times, the game feels like a relatively low-budget Adult Swim show with some gameplay slapped on. The voice acting is goofy and cheesy in the right ways, and it does a good job of evoking the characters. Honestly, I'd rather watch a Battletoads cartoon than play the game.

Battletoads isn't bad, but it is boring. It starts off relatively strong and quickly devolves into uninteresting minigames. When the title returns to beat-'em-up gameplay, it shows the potential to be something more, but then you're forced to play "rock paper scissors" or mash buttons for a few minutes, and it all fades away. The concept, characters and visuals are excellent updates of the original, so it's a shame that the gameplay isn't.

Score: 6.5/10

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