I said I’d skip E3 this year and write nothing about it, but when something goes so wrong like Battletoads is being made into a modern Nickeledeon cartoon inspired style, something is really, really gone to the extreme wrong end. You know at what moment I got worried? Right from the start. Let’s just link the damn trailer and let’s continue from there.
Chromatic aberration is an error introduced by film in older animation and movies. In recent years it has made a resurgence in modern digital media as an effect, despite decades of work being done to eliminate it completely. Not only it looks distracting when overused, but its become a trope on its own already. It can be found almost everywhere and it almost never looks the part it was intended to. On top of that, it doesn’t help people with poorer eyesight or sight that gets crossed. It fucks ’em up even worse. Credit where credit is due, you can barely see it in the logo, but goddamn this leads into some hot neon pink shit I can already tell.
And this was the point where my first thought was They missed the cultural starting point for Battletoads and many of the fans will outright hate it. At this moment on the official Xbox Youtube video, it has 8,4k dislikes vs. 4,7k likes. However, what do I mean that the developers missed the cultural starting point with Battletoads? While everyone always touts and mentions how Battletoads is mostly a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knock-off with green skinned fighting frogs, the fact is that’s nothing unique. Late 1980’s and early-to-mid 1990’s saw numerous anthropomorphic animal mascots and franchises across the board, from Sonic the Hedgehog to The Mighty Ducks! and Bucky O’Hare. Biker Mice from Mars was pretty goddamn rad, and its Finnish dub made mediocre show into a masterpiece. It would be error to simply coincide Battletoads with its contemporaries just for convenience. TMNT might be seen as the starting point for the humanimal trend, but for Battletoads’ style, the roots are not across the pond, but in late 70’s and 80’s British pop- and punk-culture and tripzines.
Much like many other NES game, Battletoads‘ art is amateurish, but at the same time so damn fine. It’s free, original and rough. Rough is the key here, as that serves as the main link to the tripzines. It might be rough looking, but that’s part of the charm. It’s not overly cute, is full of that early 90’s attitude and everyone’s pretty much colour coded how they’d appear in the game. The NES colour palette was limited, so designing character that in mind always helps. You can also tell the ‘toads apart from each other easily with little things like shades on Rash, dark eyeshade, belt and gloves on Zitz and Pimple just being bigass dude. Note how the names are part of the whole boys’ shock culture with their grossout names. All part of the charm.
The roughness of course comes from British cartoons like Danger Mouse and Count Duckula. This roughness is not exactly intended in itself, but unlike their American competitors, British animation houses had to work with tighter budgets and the end result often ended up being rougher than intended. This includes such shows as SuperTed as well, though at this point the Rare wasn’t bunch of kids anymore. Where the edge for Battletoads comes from are the numerous hard hitting tripzines, self-published comic strips analogous to Japanese doujinshi scene. UK Underground Comix! has numerous scanned copies, sometimes originals even. Some of them are rough, some of them are even great, and all of them are rowdy. Of course, I would be dismissive if I didn’t mention 2000 AD, the British science fiction comic from the British. Robo Magnus there in the middle, with its looming posture and metallic mask he wears.
I would also do a small crime against British comic publication if I didn’t mention The Beano, a Scottish children’s comic magazine that’s been running from 1938 to this very day. The Beano in many ways defined the British comic style for the century alongside with the aforementioned SF comic.
But of course, where would be in if we didn’t start with the royalty? The original Dark Queen was based on Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and it shows.
This being the UK, I bet having a small potshot at the royalty was there in the back of the head somewhere. The whole point of a design like this isn’t to objectify women, but rather give the dominant role over the ruled ones. The whole Dark Queen motif invites the ideas of things forbidden and evil pleasures. It’s a pretty generic but solid design, unlike her modern version.
And this one? This one looks like shit and here’s why; that it a dull outfit with a dull facial expression with dull colours. Sure, black suit isn’t exactly colourful in itself, yet it pops up better in a game that isn’t filled with pink and purple like the 2019 Battletoads’ trailer is. There’s nothing royal about her, she has no aura to rule with under that design. She looks more like some kind of communist general or a mad scientist than a Queen. To put it simply, this design has no power.
At least they kept her gloves.
Then again, the combat amphibians themselves don’t fare much better.
Hoo boy. Sure, the original Battletoads cast didn’t have the most dynamic idle stance, but Rash just standing there like some lanky bitch simply irritates. You’ll also notice that the ‘toads are of different colour than in the keyart above, and that’s because they went through colour changes until they set with these colours. Though why the hell they messed otherwise perfectly good designs to make them worse is anyone’s guess.
However, the visual history is of American comics and cartoons, which does not fit the already established visual style of the franchise. It goes to the opposite direction, choosing to be family safe and effectively disregards what the previous games wanted to convey. Killer Instinct may have brought Rash into 3D, but holy shit it shows respect towards the series and its spirit in every single way this new game doesn’t.
You know what makes this incarnation of a Battletoad so damn great? It’s fun and cartoony, its mischeavous, it showcases childish humour and yet its rough, raw and has edge to it. There are no flip flopping with a goddamn fish, what you get is massive fisting and spiky booting. There are actual spikes, not whatever shit green shit Pimple’s redesign has on its wrists and belt.
They also use flipped sprites in an era where memory should not be a goddamn problem. This is best seen with Zitz’s, the middle one’s, arm thingies
That’s all good Aalt, but Battletoads was always kiddy stuff. That’s what many may want to think, but the arcade Battletoads showcases what Rare would do if they had pretty much no limitations regarding censorship.
This game shows perhaps the best what sort of core Battletoads have in terms of visual themes. Visceral violence and hard hitting head bashing with nothing held back. You smash your enemies heads in, you cut them off with an Axe kick, you split them with a spiky slam or kick them off the screen as they scurry off. It’s everything your mother would hate in games that look like they’re for kids. All that is lacking from the new Battletoads game and that is why there is a large portion disliking it. Rather than looking and feeling like a Battletoads game, it looks like a cheap knock-off.
It’s also so goddamn purple. It’s more or less clear that the game is being made for the new retro audience rather than to the people who played the originals and have been rooting for a new game for few decades. And what we get? A game that looks, and I echo so many others, like a bad FLASH game.
Credit given where deserved, the graphics look slick in their intended way, animation is pretty good and all that, but it doesn’t look the part. The gameplay looks like an incoherent mess with plastic, cartoony deformation everywhere. Of course, can’t say much about the game play without playing it first, but this being Xbox One exclusive means that chances are I’ll never play it.
It’s really pathetic a game this awaited, especially by its fans, ends up looking nothing like it should have. That is not say that a more cartoony version of a classic belt scrolling action game could work, it just needs to be made in the same spirit with some damn respect for the source material. Like Streets of Rage 4.