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Ah yes, the Battletoads.  Initially written off as a lame Ninja Turtles rip off based on the first advertisements any gamer who took the time to sample its greatness found that not only was that misconception far from the truth it might actually be a better game period.  Now legendary for its insane difficulty the question has always been is it actually worth putting up with?

On a routine mission escorting Princess Angelica to her home planet the Dark Queen abducts her along with Toad member Pimple.  Now Zitz and Rash have to mount a rescue mission on Planet Ragnarok, the Dark Queen’s turf.   There’s a certain sense of juvenile fun at play in Battletoads which is in stark contrast to ridiculous difficulty.  At its best moments Battletoads can stand with the best in the NES library.  However those moments are fleeting because you’ll have to endure some of the most torturous levels in gaming history to get there.  Whether you’ll enjoy the game or not depends on your how long you can endure frustration.

Battletoads has many features working in its favor beginning with the characters.  Both Zitz and Rash are able to transform their bodies into various weapons of destruction.  These take shape in the form of the finishing moves.  Ram horns, giant fists, and spiked boots; there are many that make every encounter worth it just to see what part of your body will change.  Even some of the vehicle levels like the bungee tunnel of level 2.  Accompanying these changes are a wide set of animations; I’m actually astounded at the sheer volume, something I didn’t think possible on the NES.

With 12 levels this could very easily have become boring as you go through the motions however Rare has built a roller coaster of set pieces.  There are very few side scrolling levels, half at most.  But even within these stages the objectives are varied.  The snake pit is a spike laden maze of adjourning rooms that will challenge you to stay alive long enough to reach the exit.  The Rat Race is precisely that; a race against a giant rat down the Dark Queen’s Tower to see who will blow the other up.  Because the gameplay switches every level you’ll never settle into a routine and become bored of its mechanics.

The rest see you pilot a vehicle of some sort as you dodge obstacles on the way to the finish.  These levels have you pilot speeder bikes, a surfboard, a mini-plane, and a cycle.  Your reflexes are put to the ultimate test as all manner of obstacles and timed jumps are thrown in your path.  While some of these are similar in theory in execution they are different enough that they each present new challenges and are fun for the most part.

For the most part.  I can appreciate a good challenge but there is such a thing as too hard and artificial difficulty shouldn’t play a part in it.  You are given 3 continues with no passwords or battery backup to complete the game, and as someone who spent a significant chunk of one summer working through this game I can tell you that this is bullshit.  Battletoads is a long game that requires far more trial and error than you’ve probably experienced in the past.  Extra lives are not in plentiful supply so those 3 continues dry up fast.  There are 4 Warp portals that will allow you to skip a level but not the most difficult ones unfortunately.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that 90% of gamers tapped out in the Turbo Tunnel, which is only the third level.  Anytime a vehicle level begins it more or less boils down to whether you can react fast enough.  But you are only given a second or two at best to do so and the margin for error is slim to none.  All of these levels are pretty long and by the end become so gobsmackingly fast that it’ll leave you a gibbering mess the first time you get that far.  With the exception of the first two stages you’ll need to memorize the massive layout of every other stage one by one if you even hope to reach the Dark Queen.  And the game is glitch.  The most infamous glitch that someone should have been fired for leaves player two unable to move on Level 11, meaning they’ll have to waste all of their lives just to let Player 1 hopefully finish in order to progress.

While Battletoads is unfairly hard and has many just complaints for that reason no one can complain about the graphics.  Next to Kirby’s Adventure this is one of the most technically proficient NES games conceived.  Almost every level features parallax scrolling backgrounds, some 2-3 levels deep.  The animation is insane for an 8-bit title with a lot of variation in the special moves.  But most importantly the game has a wonderful sense of visual design tying it all together and some great music.

Whether the tall challenge lain before you is worth it is entirely subjective.  As someone who was eventually able to overcome it I’d say yes but I am fully aware everyone has a different breaking point.  What I can say is that if you stick with it Battletoads will reward you with awesome gameplay with a wide assortment of play mechanics at every turn.  And if you beat it it definitely counts as a badge of honor.

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Battletoads in Battlemaniacs

If you look around the internet you’ll read various horror stories of Battletoads, the game that ruined childhoods across the globe.   With its technically proficient graphics and engaging gameplay it stood poised to be a phenomenon like the Ninja Turtles except for one fatal flaw: it was too fucking hard.  I can guarantee 90% of gamers never made it past the Turbo Tunnel, and that’s only the 3rd stage.  For its second go around Rare toned down the difficulty and level count, creating a still hard but doable game in the process.

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs was released by Tradewest in the summer of 1993.  The Toads are in Tibet visiting the Psicone Corporation, who are in the process of testing their new virtual reality system.  No sooner do they start when minions of the Dark Queen, in league with villain Silas Volkmire, steal Zitz and the Psicone CEO’s daughter.   Rash and Pimple follow through the virtual reality portal to rescue their friends.  A much more compact adventure awaits, and while Battlemaniacs can and will bust your balls it never reaches the heights of frustration of the original.

As either Rash or Pimple 6 levels of action await.  The choice is purely cosmetic, with the only difference being the look of their moves.  The trademark exaggerated effects are back and larger than life, with giant anvils, boots, and fists bashing the opposition.  That has always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Battletoads games, seeing the ridiculous ways you can stomp enemies and Rare has made it visually pleasing to execute the attacks.   The other factor that works in the game’s favor is the variety.

With the exception of the 2 bonus levels no two stages are similar.  In fact the first level is the only pure side-scroller in the game.  The rest of the game is a roller coaster ride of play mechanics as you descend down the inside of a tree on hover pads, revisit the Turbo Tunnel, catch a ride on some snakes, avoid being sawed in half by a giant rat, and saving the best for last, race Scuzz to the bottom of the Dark Queen’s tower to avoid being blown up.  Some of these are remakes from the first game but they sure as hell didn’t look this good.  That is a bit disappointing but you’ll forget that as you work your way through the game.

While not as hard as the original Battlemaniacs will still kick your ass regularly.  For the most part the controls are tight but there are far too many instances of instant death, leaving most of the game down to trial and error.  That becomes repetitive and boring after awhile since the levels are long and continues are limited, meaning you’ll end up playing each stage way too many times.  It’s asking a lot for gamers to memorize these ridiculous maps:

Damn it Rare, we want to like these games but you make it so hard!

Rare did not slouch when it came to the production values of the series and Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is a powerhouse.  Huge sprites, outlandish effects, and a rocking soundtrack give the game an almost arcade “feel” to it.  The Toads and enemies exhibit a wide range of animations and its obvious the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.  This is definitely up there with the SNES’s finest in terms of visuals.

If only they could have spent less time on the visuals and more on the gameplay this could have been in the console’s top 20. All of the flaws make what would have been a nine out of ten more like an 8.  Don’t let that stop you however; if you can stomach some slight repetition than you’ll have the time of your life.

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