It’s common knowledge that Nintendo was big on censorship in the ‘80s and ‘90s, requesting sexually suggestive content, excessive violence, profanity, drug/alcohol use and even religious imagery to be removed from officially licensed Nintendo software. Some titles were even excluded from release within certain regions entirely – Nintendo’s own maze game Devil World, created by Shigeru Miyamoto, never made it to the US.
Beat’em ups were a somewhat grey area. Being a hero by roughing up bad guys was acceptable; excessive force and gratuitous violence weren’t. It’s doubtful that the original Battletoads – released in 1991 – caused Nintendo any concern when being internally reviewed. Relying heavily on cartoon violence, including the toad’s limbs morphing into giant boots and colossal fists, it was no more violent than a Saturday morning cartoon.
The same can’t be said for the 1994 arcade iteration, however.
Arcades were untamed lands where anything went. Mortal Kombat was an arcade mainstay, and so spine snapping, decapitations, and impalement were common sights. Noting the lack of restrictions in this market, Rare was keen to “push Battletoads to the extreme” – to quote a Rare Replay video documentary – by cranking up the carnage.
It’s doubtful Rare originally envisioned Battletoads to feature blood and gore – the reasonably tame Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was its biggest influence, after all – but to stand up against the likes of Mortal Kombat and Primal Rage it needed be to edgier than its NES and SNES counterparts, delivering juvenile sights and sounds absent from the home versions.
No, Battletoads Arcade wasn’t a horrific affair on par with the games displeasing US senators at the time. Play it directly after the NES original, however, and the differences are night and day. Special moves were surprisingly vicious – Zitz used a drill to burrow into enemies pinned to the ground, creating a fountain of red pixels, while Rash could decapitate enemies and send their bonces bouncing across the screen.
Decapitating the giant snake boss resulted in blood erupting from their freshly severed neck, and during the final conflict, the boss’s brain eventually became partly exposed. Talk about an obvious weak point.
Although slightly less predominate, gross-out toilet humour also featured. The rat-like enemies randomly puked their guts up, while during the third mission catching an adversary straining on the toilet – complete with obligatory fart noise – provided comic relief. The end-of-level roll call reveals the enemy’s name – Gonnad [sic]. Rare, please see me after class.
A rather unexpected groin-grabbing animation raises the most questions…and the largest grin. When attacking larger enemies, the toads reach out and grab the enemy’s junk before delivering several swift hits. Because it isn’t entirely clear what’s going on, it’s easy to imagine players doing a double-take the first time around. Then the penny finally drops – the hapless foe is having their dangly bits pummelled like a punching bag. Thankfully Rare didn’t bring the ‘ghoulie grab’ back for their next arcade game – the legendary Killer Instinct.
The crassness definitely made Battletoads Arcade a more memorable experience than other entries in the series, and this is despite it being a coin guzzling button basher. There’s variety between the stages (and no Turbo Tunnel, hurrah!) while the over-the-top action is accompanied by Turtles in Time-style sprite scaling effects. It’s a reasonably entertaining – and sometimes amusing – way to spend an hour, although due to drawn-out boss battles it’s doubtful many players will soon return.
It wasn’t long until Rare showed their juvenile side once more. The notorious Conker’s Bad Fur Day launched just six years later, in all its swear-filled glory. It’s fair to say Rare managed to get all silliness and vulgarity out their system the second time around – it was a game so crude, not even Nintendo themselves would touch it.