Twenty-six years have passed since the Battletoads last caused a ruckus. No, this isn’t a lazy ‘history of the series’ style intro – it’s an integral part of the plot.
During that time the toads have become nobodies, fading from public memory. The antiquated amphibians hatch a plan to get back into the limelight, involving a truce with their archenemy The Dark Queen to take on a new threat. We haven’t seen an alliance this uneasy since the trio teamed up with Billy and Jimmy Lee.
In all fairness, a new Battletoads didn’t have to deliver all that much. Ten or so stages of beat’em up action punctuated with Turbo Tunnel levels – and maybe a surprise shooting stage (or similar) – would have sealed the deal. Indeed, the first trailer suggested we were in for as much. Instead, developers Dlala (while under the watchful eye of Rare) have gone beyond the call of duty to deliver something much more modern and contemporary.
Rash, Pimple and Zitz have been fleshed out to give them more rounded personalities, while the cartoon quality cut-scenes lay irrelevant humour on thick. Not every joke lands, but you’re almost guaranteed to chuckle. Mini-games are more frequent, with one simply being a set-up for a multi-part joke, and the beat’em up action is peppered with hacking mini-games. Each enemy encounter is now also ranked, giving elusive A ratings to aim for.
There’s a bigger focus on working together to build up combos too, with three-player co-op supported. When playing solo, the toads can be swapped between at any time, which gives a chance to see all of the tubular trio’s wildly outlandish attacks. From giant feet to rubber chickens, anything goes.
Brawling is far less mindless, although it comes at a cost – every button on the joypad is used, with some serving multiple purposes. This leads to some fumbling early on. The trio have their trademark finishers, airborne vertical strikes and block breaking power punches, along with the ability to dodge strikes from ‘tank’ enemies. Their super stretchy tongues cleverly play a bigger part too, used to draw enemies closer to keep combos going, swiftly grab health top-ups during the heat of battle, and to leap in and out of the background and foreground.
Additionally, it’s possible to spit gum at enemies to root them on the spot before they can deal significant damage – a tactic beneficial during the comical boss battles. The enemies themselves are far removed from the usual assortment, being curiously hard to detail – brightly coloured aliens with a penchant for Christmas decorations is our best description.
Making the Battletoads relevant again by making them even more irrelevant may seem a sure-fire thing. but unfortunately, there’s a catch. This long-time-coming sequel tries to do a little too much, making it badly suffer from pacing issues. It steps away from beat’em up action around halfway in – bearing in mind the fleeting 3-4 hour runtime – to introduce a trio of increasingly difficult platform puzzle stages in which our heroes take a backseat. These stages are heavily centred around box-shoving and switch flicking, with the last of the three being considerably laborious.
Between these, short space shooter sequences take place, which while flashy, are a little underwhelming. It isn’t for another hour or so before the next beat’em up section is introduced, which just so happens to be a boss battle. To put this into perspective, imagine if the recent Streets of Rage 4 turned into a platformer halfway through.
It’s really quite jarring, to the point where it’s hard to recommend Battletoads to anybody looking for a straight-up scrolling brawler. This is a game trying too hard to please, throwing all manner of ideas into one big neon green pot.
The more accessible difficulty level is welcome – the easiest setting is a cakewalk, suitable for younger gamers and those who just want to experience the story. In fact, there’s a lot to like here – when the Battletoads do get to battle the brawling is on the right side of chaotic, the new perspective for the Turbo Tunnel sequences is a change for the better, and the whole shebang is easy on the eye thanks to buttery smooth animation and bold presentation.
Get a friend (or two) along for the ride and you’re guaranteed a fun-filled afternoon, but once the credits roll, we dare say you’d need to be a huge Battletoads fan to want to stick around.