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Genre: Beat 'Em Up
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Classification: PG
Release Date:
August 2020
Battletoads Review
Review By @ 01:38pm 20/08/20
Look, this isn’t going to be a long review. Nor will I get wankishly philosophical about the state of games now, versus then. But what I will immediately tell you before you just skip to the score is that Battletoads is fricking awesome. But, there’s context that needs to come with that statement, and the ‘review’ portion of my review will reflect that, in explaining said context.

Hear me out.

Picture it: 90s, morning at Nan’s place. Vegemite toast cooked, Milo hot. PJs still on. She doesn’t watch TV this early unless it’s news and she’s been up for, I dunno, a trillion years -- I don’t know how Nan-sleep works. I don’t think anyone does. Anyway, this means the TV is all alone and unused. This means the SNES I brought with me for the weekend lays in wait. But, there’s morning cartoons to be had; Eek the Cat, Pinky and the Brain, Ren and Stimpy, Ninja Turtles, Batman, X-Men… then, after that, and an empty cup of hot milo and a plate with only the crusts left, we power on and our whole day is set. It’s time to play “those bloody videogames”.

Love ya, Nan.

My fondest memories of my younger years are always in some way affiliated with the above. Nan, despite her ‘authority’ would wind up reading through game manuals to help me overcome some game impediment. I’d be playing and all of a sudden a plate of perfectly cut fruit would be beside me, or a milkshake, or more Milo. She just looked after me and let me play games and, in many ways, it’s how I wound up in the position I am now. But, setup aside, know this -- what Battletoads unabashedly does is tap into that nostalgia; that time of videogame safety. It breaks fourth walls in ways only those of us who lived and played in that era will ever truly get. Nothing to do with streamers or YouTubers. All we had back then was the Nintendo Helpline, a dodgy SEGA one and monthly… MONTHLY magazines at the local newsagents. The Internet was barely a blip and then when it was, it was dial-up and Bulletin Boards.

You know nothing, Jon Snow.

Battletoads of the modern lean, as in, the one I’m reviewing today, makes fun of itself and that era with reverence-perfect timing. It also makes fun of videogames and of relevance. In, like, does the IP even deserve another crack at it? And what makes a game fun? And it challenges these questions in unique ways. The story, of course, is meaningless. They’re talking toads trapped in time (ref), fighting some sort of evil. Only now, they’re not. But they are. Largely what the game centres on is recapturing what it felt like in those days long gone. There’s even a gameplay section where you perform mundane tasks between all three of them as they face reality. It’s amazing, and handled with comedic aplomb. While not even remotely important, the writing here is utterly superb. And that is not oxymoronic, it’s contextual.

You have a side-scrolling beat ‘em up setup: Imagine Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Double Dragon, Ninja Turtles -- any arcade game from the 90s, really, and you know what you’re gonna get. Three player co-op is on offer from the couch, because there are three toads. Each has unique attacks, but on the overall, not one does one better than the other (meaning you won’t need to worry about who can do what), because all moves across all three toads get you through the game. There are collectibles, challenges and Easter Eggs riddled throughout. So, what this means is anyone not in this for the nostalgia trip, or a challenge (because it’s actually hard on the top setting) might not be into it, but that’s okay. Not every game is for everyone. So why bother if you’re outside that 90s clique?

"Now, the audio playing in the background is suspiciously wailey in the guitar sense... you’re playing Guitar Hero...

There’s this early section of the game that mimics classic Mode 7 sections of games of this nature (*heart* Super Star Wars) where you’re on hover bikes. Par for the course kind of stuff, except it isn’t. Close observers might recognise that the track laid before you and how the impediments in your way shape, looks largely familiar. Now, the audio playing in the background is suspiciously wailey in the guitar sense… you’re playing Guitar Hero. No jokes. It’s as simple as that. But fuck, it’s a fun and challenging section of the game. But more poignantly, it might have a two prong reason for being there in that, is GH even relevant anymore? Nah. So are the Toads? Nah. But, wait, is it fun? Hell yeah. Was GH fun? Well… yeah. So Toads can be fun? Sure.

And that’s where we land with this gem. Or maybe, opal. Either way, Battletoads is fun, challenging and self-indulgent, but in ways that are respectful and reverent. Plus, you can play on the couch with friends and family. My eight-year-old is already keen on dropping Roblox for a minute to give it a go because he’s seen me frustratingly in love with it. The art style is throwback John Kricfalusi/Bob Camp and the game runs as smooth as eggs on the Unity engine upon which it’s delivered. It feels entirely hand drawn in this sense, which amplifies those Saturday Morning cartoon vibes almost every other review is talking about, but honestly, it’s all very real.

"If you can stomach even half of popular culture and gaming as it stands, like, being a space knight fighting against alien races, a ‘Spartan’ fighting against alien races... hust, you know, go with the flow...

Toads might not be for everyone, but if you can stomach even half of popular culture and gaming as it stands, like, being a space knight fighting against alien races, a ‘Spartan’ fighting against alien races, an agent of an old house with a gun that transforms while suspended humans are ‘Hissed’, a paper plumber still saving a tripped-out world with red, green and purple mushies, a covert operative infiltrating an ex-Soviet base entirely on kayak, or a growing shark that subsists on a steady diet of humies… a couple of wise-cracking toads is the least of your woes. Just, you know, go with the flow… dude.
What we liked
  • Nostalgic up the wazoo
  • Fun beat 'em up combo and special system
  • three-player couch and online co-op
  • Irreverent
  • Totes relevant to those of us who gamed in the 90s
  • Really well written
  • Awesome beat 'em up distractions
  • Wonderful art style
  • A Game Pass immediate
What we didn't like
  • Might be *too* 90s for some
  • Can be challenging and will test your patience
  • Might be considered short for some
We gave it:
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