Battletoads Review

Richard Walker

This year might have been universally awful thus far, but it's been a good one for fans of old-school scrolling beat 'em ups. Streets of Rage made a comeback, after being put out to pasture for 26 years, and now another pixelated classic returns (also after 26 years), ditching the pixels (no doubt to the chagrin of the pixel purists) for hand-drawn artwork that recalls the halcyon days of the Saturday morning cartoon show. Maybe 2020 isn’t a complete write-off, after all? Battletoads is back with a vengeance, and it's simultaneously ridiculous, gleefully silly, and genuinely quite funny. As a genre mash-up, however, it's a bit of a mixed bag.

While Rare's original 1991 Battletoads and 1994's Battletoads Arcade are notorious for their punishing difficulty, the 2020 version is a lot gentler, though no less filled with tricky, sometimes infuriating sequences. The difference now is that there are ample checkpoints, the option to activate temporary invincibility when the going gets really tough, and the ability to keep retrying a section until you finally get it right. And Battletoads happily freewheels from one delirious sequence to the next, flipping between handing out beat 'em up combos to a spot of light puzzling, to breakneck turbo bike riding.

Chopping and changing between genres on the fly keeps you on your toes, and when playing solo, you can mix things up by tagging in any of the three titular toads at any time, be it Rash, Pimple, or Zitz. Each has their own attributes, so Pimples is the strong but slow bruiser, Rash is the all-rounder, and Zitz is the zippy, weaker one. To begin with, it's all good, clean fun, as you pummel a variety of bizarre enemies, and it certainly helps that Battletoads has the unhinged energy of a Ren & Stimpy cartoon. But there are elements here that seem like they've been designed to irritate, rather than entertain.

It's almost as if developer Dlala Games has thrown as much as it can at the wall to see what sticks, so entire levels are dedicated to mini-games, like 'Toadshambo', a twist on rock-paper-scissors or a set of dizzying tasks to reboot your ship’s systems following a parade of breathlessly nutty shmup sequences. During its lean 4-5 hour runtime, you'll seldom do the same thing twice, although the majority of the game is still focused upon brawling, which proves fun whether you're playing alone or with two friends in local co-op. Part of the appeal is the exuberant animation and the pace at which Battletoads moves – by frequently mixing things up, there's simply no time to be distracted, for even a second.

One minute you'll be punching floating eyeballs, axe-wielding creatures, or bubble-headed baddies to mush, the next you'll be using the limp body of an unconscious diplomat to slide across a variety of surfaces in a high-speed 2D chase sequence. There's never a dull moment, even when the game changes tack during its latter stages, slowing things down with some Rayman-esque platforming, which unfortunately isn't nearly as good as Rayman's recent outings. But again, it's just another string to Battletoads' bow, another diversion in a game that has a very short attention span.

It's just as well Battletoads never lingers on one thing for too long, since each element can wear a little thin after a while. Before that has a chance to happen, you're thrust headlong into the next seat-of-the-pants sequence, no doubt grinning like an idiot for much of it (if you're anything like me). The side effect of all this is that Dlala's take on Rare's classic can feel rather uneven – if I were to draw a line graph to reflect the experience, it'd be the waviest wavy line imaginable, with peaks and troughs all over the place.

That the slow-paced platforming segments are interspersed with eye-burning bullet-hell shmup sequences tells you about all you need to know about Battletoads – it's complete tonal whiplash, never allowing you a moment to settle into any kind of a rhythm or comfortable state in which you know exactly where you are. And yet, there's something about that very aspect of the game that succeeds in keeping you hooked from beginning to end, your brain buzzing in response to the sheer, colourful freneticism on show and the rate at which it’s hurled at you.

Perhaps that's the beauty of Dlala’s Battletoads rebirth – it's an unapologetically brisk slice of arcade-style popcorn, making no bones about what it is and why it exists. It wholly acknowledges that it's been 26 years since Rash, Pimple, and Zitz last graced a console, and has fun with its story in an enjoyably irreverent, self-referential way. As such, it's almost impossible not to like Battletoads – it might not be the most accomplished beat 'em up, shmup, platformer, obstacle-dodging racer thing, or mini-game compendium, but it is an experience delivered with such an infectious tongue-in-cheek verve that it's difficult not to be hopelessly charmed.


While it's undeniably wonderful to have Battletoads back after such a lengthy hiatus, not everything in here hits the mark. When it does work, however, Battletoads will tickle your funny bone and maybe even conjure warm, fuzzy memories of the '90s originals. You should toadally play it.

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Rockin', wailing guitars make up the soundtrack for the most part, alongside some quality voice acting that ensures Battletoads sounds great.


While there's no faulting the brio of the colourful cartoon visuals, some parts of the game can look a mite undercooked. The animated cut-scenes are superb, though.


Battletoads' brawling centre is gratifying enough, while the platforming sections offer a welcome change of pace. Mini-games are a bit of a mixed bag, and despite being neatly presented, they can occasionally be annoying.


Scrolling beat 'em up action is the crux, but there are mini-games and diversions aplenty, some of which can be a little hit and miss. You'll still be smiling like a goon throughout its 4-5 hours, especially if you play with friends.


A solid, varied list brimming with optional tasks and challenges offer some replay value. You'll need to rope in two friends to help you with the co-op only achievements, though, which might be a pain.

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