Outside of Banjo-Kazooie, Killer Instinct, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Battletoads may be one of the most famous classic original Rare IPs because of how crushingly difficult the NES original was. That being said, the series actually hasn’t received a new game since 1994’s Battletoads Arcade. It was a series primed for a major revival, and Microsoft is finally delivering that with some help from Overruled’s Dlala Studios.
Following its first gameplay trailer during Microsoft’s E3 2019 Press Conference, I was able to try out the game for myself. Any concerns I had from Battletoads‘ in-your-face trailer were quickly washed away as a varied, fun, and beautifully animated beat ’em up emerged. And hey, the bike sections were actually fun too, especially in co-op.
I had the benefit of playing Battletoads with two other people and could tell that this was absolutely the best way to play the game. Zitz, Pimple, and Rash are all quite different from each other despite having the same core controls, and that led to a menagerie of colorful combat on screen. Zitz is the most balanced of the Battletoads while Pimple is the slow but strong brute. Rash, who I played as over the course of my demo, is a faster and more nimble character that was great at keeping enemies at bay with a quick succession of attacks before Pimple could come in for the knockout. The key to great co-op beat ’em ups is that each character should feel quite different, and in Battletoads, Zitz, Pimple, and Rash seem to have that in spades.
All three characters have the typical punches and kicks that you’d come to expect, but Battletoads‘ new transformative abilities really spice things up. For one attack, part of Pimple turned into a train while Rash’ legs could become a jackhammer while attacking in the air, and his head could become a giant laser-shooting robot when used normally. In addition to being extremely well-animated, these transformative abilities help give Dlala Studios’ title its own identity.
That being said, Battletoads still has the brash sense of humor that the series in known for; if the crazy animations didn’t tip you off, their lighthearted quest to beat Porkshank will. I always appreciate an E3 demo that calls itself out for being what is, and my Battletoads demo did just that in addition to highlighting some other funny jokes. The demo started with the three Battletoads confronting some of Porkshank’s minions, but before they can get much information out of them, Pimple throws them out the window. The Battletoads follow, so the first beat ’em up level ensues.
When fighting, the Battletoads can use a variety of punches, kicks, and the aforementioned transformation attacks to take down their enemies through long combos. As far as co-op beat ’em ups go, it was a lot of fun to play and only bolstered when working with others. If you do well enough, you’ll even gain access to a special ability: for example, Zitz’s summons an arcade machine that deals a ton of damage to enemies, and it oozes the same style as the rest of the game.
While Rash sometimes got lost in the vibrantly animated action, the developers promised that character indicators would be in the final game. Movement also seemed a bit too slow at first, but once I learned to dash and grab enemies with my tongue, the pacing improved. Specifically, Dlala Studios seems to have honed in on many problems modern beat ’em ups have faced in the past and addressed them in productive ways, and that definitely has increased my anticipation for the final product.
As I reached the end of the beat ’em up level, the Battletoads fought Porkshank in traditional beat ’em up style boss battle. The fight was fairly hard and all three of us playing had taken a decent amount of damage from this, but overall this new Battletoads feels much more fair than previous games in the series. In fact, Dlala Studios CEO AJ Grand-Scrutton confirmed to DualShockers that the game will only have lives on the hardest difficulty, opting for a more simple respawn checkpoint system otherwise. While this helped in the beat ’em up section, it was pivotal for beating this game’s interpretation of the classic speed bike levels.
These levels are what destroyed players’ live counts in the original game, cementing those sections in infamy. While they’re not that hard in the new Battletoads, it was still the most challenging portion of my demo. In these sections, the camera switches to a perspective behind the player so they can see the obstacles ahead of them; the only things that the player can do are move left and right, dash left and right, and jump. The course is littered with checkpoints, so players have to do their best to survive until they at least hit the next one, which is much easier in multiplayer.
As long as one player stays alive, the run doesn’t end. These sections are where Battletoads‘ true strengths as a co-op game surface. I had a lot of fun playing Battletoads with two other people, and I can tell it will be the best way by far to play the game. That being said, the mechanics all do seem competent enough to where they will still be enjoyable if you are playing by yourself. The only major complaint I had from my time with Battletoads was that the dash in these bike sections could be tweaked to bring the player a bit further, as it always seemed like it just wasn’t enough when I played that level, though that could have been a conscious decision to make sure the game remained challenging.
Battletoads had a steeper hill to climb than most Xbox Games Studios titles. It is a game that is unlike much else in Microsoft’s current repertoire and it is part of a series that remembered more for its flaws than its strengths. Fortunately, Dlala has clearly created a game that has its own identity while paying homage to the original, which I personally find a much more enticing pitch than a simple remake. This is a full-on series revival that I am definitely looking forward to now and I can only hope that more Rare IPs get this treatment in the future.
Battletoads is currently in development for PC and Xbox One and will come to Xbox Game Pass at launch. The developers are not discussing details about the game’s release right now, but are promising to share more around Gamescom.
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