The history of video games has been littered with infamous titles over the years, but few games have the notoriety of Battletoads. The beat-'em-up game has grown to have a cult following since it was first released in 1991, both for its irreverent similarities to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise and for its surprisingly difficult gameplay. Despite having five entries in the franchise (and appearing on the Xbox compilation Rare Replay), there hasn't actually been a new Battletoads game since 1994, and fans have spent years campaigning for it to properly arrive in the modern era. With the release of the Battletoads reboot this week, fans get their wish and then some -- a game that honors the weird, sometimes-frustrating energy the franchise has become known for while also celebrating how much video games have evolved since the '90s.
Battletoads centers around three anthropomorphic toads - Rash, Zitz, and Pimple - as they frequently go toe-to-toe with various villains. The reboot puts the three frogs squarely into the modern day as they try to battle the Dark Queen, other colorful foes, and the doldrums of everyday life. The narrative, which both alludes to the Battletoads' history and proves to be incredibly accessible for new fans, is more of connective tissue than a driving force, but it still has quite a lot of fun with it. If you've ever wanted to hear the Battletoads joke about social media or menial jobs, you're in luck, because there are some humorous one-liners peppered between each stage of the game.
The visual aesthetic of the Battletoads reboot has divided fans essentially from the get-go, with an array of both positive and negative responses to the exaggerated, cartoony character style. Sure, the visuals of the game make some changes from the original entries in the franchise, but it translates surprisingly well within the game itself. The 2D, boxy style succeeds as both a sort of send-up to the recent Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series and a showcase of eccentric animation. Each level of the game is an array of candy-colored characters and backgrounds, but never in a way that ventures into nauseating or overwhelming. If anything, each character and villain is almost more visually distinct than in prior installments -- even when your screen is cluttered with a dozen or so foes, you can easily tell them apart. The same goes from Rash, Zitz, and Pimple -- each has a distinct flair to themselves, as opposed to being repainted versions of the same character template. It's also worth highlighting the Dark Queen's design, which keeps an empowered femme fatale energy without relying on her being scantily-clad. As you play more and more of the game, the character designs genuinely sing, and each kick, punch, or supermove feels and looks truly unique and genuinely ridiculous. It culminates in an experience that feels like Cuphead drank too much Red Bull, but in the best possible way.
That Cuphead analogy carries over into the combat and gameplay of Battletoads as well, as you can safely expect to be frustrated or outsmarted by a lot of the game. Regardless of whichever difficulty level you choose, the game will throw a fair amount of challenges at you, but there's a lot of fun in finding a way to overcome them. Part of this comes from getting acclimated to the different gameplay possibilities of Rash, Pimple, and Zitz -- Pimple fills a traditional tank role, Zitz is more acrobatic, and Rash's moves have a bit more flair. As you play more of the game, you'll probably gravitate towards a certain character or certain moves, but you'll still find yourself relying on all three, whether you play in single-player or local multiplayer. Outside of the traditional side-scrolling fights, the game peppers in occasional mini-levels, which find some clever ways to break up and add variety to the gameplay. There's even a modern-day version of the infamous Turbo Tunnel level, which is just as exhilarating and baffling as it could and should be.
The Battletoads reboot has a little something for everyone. It's accessible, well-executed, and largely rewarding. It captures the energy and spirit of the franchise for diehard fans while also providing the best possible entry point for new fans. Sure, it might be a little simpler compared to some of the more expansive titles available today, but it does a stellar job of bringing Battletoads into the modern era while also harkening back to the days of playing the game on NES. It's the kind of game you'll want to spend hours in... even if you want to rage quit here and there.
Rating: 4 out of 5