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.