Battletoads is an often discussed game when it comes to old, hardass games. There’s not much one can say nowadays about it without repeating the words that have been coined at it multiple times over. That kind of comes with the territory of NES games, after all. But news struck with some somewhat astonishing news; Microsoft did register Battletoads as a trademark and Phil Spencer tweeted something about uniquely Rare game. There may or may not be connections.
Let’s assume that we are getting a new Battletoads game for the sake of argument. After all, it’s something that was getting a GBA remake at one point, but thank God was soon dismissed after three weeks. That doesn’t fill me with too much confidence alone, as most new instalments, or remakes, have been less than satisfactory. Then again, there are the good ones that come once every ten blue moon, like Killer Instinct. Of course, everyone has their own mileage. Anyways, the Battletoads remake on GBA never went too far and only had few levels that looked anywhere near finished, which is good as the game even in its less than 10% finished state had so many things off. Disregarding the design of the ‘toad on screen, which look like they were ripped from the Punk Toads of the 1987 TMNTurtles cartoon, there’s some baffling stuff in there like the Lifebar being hidden behind the Battletoads logo on the upper left and the damn voice acting. Battletoads has an edge to it, a rough style that reflects the attitude most mascots of that era were to be known for, Sonic being the most famous example.
I’ve got a serious history with Battletoads having it somewhat soon after its release (relatively speaking in the early 90’s) and it being my go-to game to test any of my NES hardware. I’ve managed to finish the game once without a GameGenie, a feat I most likely won’t repeat anytime soon, because Intruder Excluder, Terra Tubes and Rat Race just kick my ass back to Wednesday. I have some rage filled memories of the game as well as some interesting ones. For example, my brother was the first one to see Arctic Cavern because he kicked the table where the NES was, causing the game to glitch. Can’t do that on modern consoles anymore.
Why is that Battletoads, glitch ridden as it is in certain ways, is remembered by so many? Much like other NES games, it’s a rough game that doesn’t hold back. The controls are spot on; the ‘toads do what you wish them to do and by abusing that the game design pits the player against odds that by all means would be deemed unfair. I’d argue that Battletoads is a hard game due to it relying the player to be good at it, to have rather high execution skills in order to oppose the whatever is thrown at them. Battletoads also has a change in the game, where in the beginning the player most likely will be using the punch-punch-punch combos quite often, before things changing later on. Of course, power players know how to initiate running instant kills wherever needed. As such, Battletoads is a gauntlet. It requires the player to be able to handle pin-point accuracy at times and leaves no room for mistakes. Learning some of the stages certainly helps, but in all fairness everything in this game is telegraphed enough to a person to react to, even in Turbo Tunnels.
That said, not everyone loved Battletoads. It’s very nature separates men from boys, so to speak. It doesn’t hold the players hand at all. Most negative reviews I remember reading emphasize the very same things as negatives I’ve described above. Super Mario Bros. isn’t Battletoads, but Super Mario Bros. is no Battletoads either. The other region releases did address some of the criticism given to the game, one of which was actually a level of game breaking glitch. In Clinger Winger, the Player 2 would freeze due to a bug. This was fixed in PAL and JPN release. JPN release also saw further changes, making the game easier and slower at certain segments. Some stages saw slight remodelling, like Karnath’s Lair’s patterns the snakes move in. The later Mega Drive release seems to use the JPN Battletoads as its basis, but the general rule of thumb is that all other versions of the NES original are absolutely garbage and it’s good idea to stay away from them. If you’ve ever felt that Battletoads is an unfair piece of shit, give the JPN version a try. Even Arino of GCCX agreed it’s a hard and fun game.
That’s perhaps the crux where modern Battletoads lies. Much like Earthworm Jim, Battletoads is remembered only the only people and younger gamers simply know it from the fables. They’ve only played it via emulation and have not faced the game first hand with friends on a Saturday afternoon. EWJ saw a modern remake that left something to be desired of, but perhaps that sort of game would be the best thing for Battletoads, at first at least. With that the staff at Rare could address all the given criticism while creating a more difficult gauntlet to those who deem Battletoads an easy game.
Much like EWJ, it would be a flash in the pan, a momentary revival just waiting to be ignored after a month.
Modern Battletoads feels like something that can’t exist in modern electronic game industry. Much of what Battletoads is can’t work nowadays. The industry and press would frown upon a game that’s about pure, undiluted gameplay. Story would be forced in there and it would be forced to drive somebody’s agenda. Then you would have to revise the outlook of the franchise. The GBA remake had ‘toads in casual clothes, which is weak as all hell when it comes to character designs in games like this. Battletoads had some level of British edginess in there, most evident in the selection of animals used. The designs these characters have would not fly nowadays. Dark Queen would no longer be a S&M mistress, Big Blag wouldn’t be just a huge, fat rat, General Slaughter would be something else than an ox in spiked biker gear, not to mention how the Scuzzes mirror some of the lower class punk culture. To reflect TMNT further, take a look how their designs have been updated through the years and how characters like the Rat King has seen some facelifts. Battletoads could go the same route; keep the player character designs at their core the same while giving them a more modern feel, while redesigning some of the enemies with a heavy hand. Robo Manus and Big Blag would definitely require complete change while still staying true to the core idea, whereas something like Dark Queen merely demands a slight facelift. Much like Shredder has seen in each iteration of TMNT.
As a oneshot game Battletoads works extremely well, but as a franchise it failed. The arcade game was too edgy for its own good with the upped violence and gore. While the more adult fans enjoyed it, the arcade game feels a bit too inconsistent to garner further playthroughs. Battlemaniacs shows how the franchise already needed a facelift in character design, having pigs in pink leotards as one of its enemies. They didn’t look good back then and they still don’t. The arcade game had oomph to it, every hit was satisfying and deliver just as satisfying effect, much like how the NES Battletoads had that CRACK when you beat up an enemy. There’s something off with Battlemaniacs, but I’ve never sat down with the game and give it a proper plythrough to give it a fair assessment.
Perhaps it’s that NES roughness that served Battletoads so well.
Battletoads would need similar level of handling as the TMNT has seen, but in different areas. Conker’s Bad Fur Day handled seemingly childish characters with an adult flavour to certain degree of success, and I could see a modern Battletoads be done in a similar fashion. However, that would also require more clips and plot shoved into the game, which would also show all the weak points of Battletoads, which is that is basically has none. Most of the characters are archetypes and they function only as the player avatars with an added attitude and that works. Then there’s the fact that RARE has not done anything of worth since 2007 or so, when they began to churn out Kinect games.
Battletoads done in modern fashion wouldn’t be good as its fame would bog it down. I’m not sure if a Battletoads game done in the vein of the original would see success, but at least then the production costs wouldn’t need to be in the millions. I’m fearfully hopeful to wait any news on Microsoft-Rare Battletoads. I hope it’ll just be be a port of the arcade game.