Technology

Battletoads review – messy, madcap fun

There as much to enjoy as there is to frustrate in this short, sparky revival of the cult classic.

Battletoads is short. Really short. Too short.

I know it’s not expensive – not comparatively, anyway. I know many of us will be able to play for “free” courtesy of Xbox Game Pass. I’ll shortly launch into all the reasons why Battletoads amuses and frustrates me in equal measure, but it all comes with that giant, glowing, angry caveat. Yes, it’s pretty great, but this sequel – which some have been waiting for for 26 years, don’t forget – barely clocks in at five hours long on normal difficulty. Free or not, that’s not much of a run-time, is it?

Well, I say five hours, but I wasted exactly 1 hour and 9 minutes of that playtime, wandering around a peculiarly vexing environmental puzzle in the middle of a Metroidvania segment partway through. Oh, yeah, did I not say? There are Ori-esque sequences in Battletoads. And some twin-stick space invaders sections. A little Turbo Tunnel-ling. Hacking minigames. Quicktime events. Rock-paper-scissors. Occasionally, there’s even beat-’em-up action, too.

There are plenty of people who are going to hate that, by the way. The four acts take in a smorgasbord of mini-games and genres beyond the beat-’em-up mould. For me, however, I was grateful for the interruptions – if only to get a break from the physically exhausting combat, particularly after a prolonged boss battle, and break up the monotony of the by-rote brawls.

I had no idea what was going on at first, though. The control scheme is simple to play but tricky to master, and the numerous combos are just similar enough to confuse – is it LT + L stick + Y to chomp a fly and replenish your health, or LT + L + B? – but in fairness, it keeps you on your toads (sorry!). Each button doubles up with another action if you pull the left trigger, too, which means there’s no end of combos you can mete out. If you’re playing solo – which you probably will be, as there’s no online co-op – it’s useful to cycle through your roster as each toad has his own particular strengths and weakness, as well as handy bubblegum bombs to disarm even the sturdiest of competitors.

Zitz works best for me – his speed and dexterity make it that much easier to evade numerous incoming projectiles (of which there are loads, incidentally) – but I’ll admit it was more luck than judgement in the frenzy of combat. I wasn’t skillfully pulling off chained combos as much as I was frantically button-mashing and hoping for the best. The fight sequences are chaotic, and you’ll often find yourself overwhelmed not just by the strength of your enemies but by the number of them, too, particularly when you’re fighting on a platform set back from the camera.

The furious fighting is set against one of the best rock-band-esque scores I’ve heard for some time, and the game’s 90s Nickelodeon cartoon aesthetic is a triumph. It took me a little while to get accustomed to moving around the screen – though ostensibly a sidescroller, you’ll need to move freely around the screen to clear it, which includes whipping your tongue out to jump across gaps and evading as often as you attack – but eventually muscle-memory should prevail. While not as hard as its infamous predecessor, Battletoads still offers several tricky moments, including a finger-twisting rollercoaster/sledging trial from hell that my fat little fingers struggled to keep pace with.

Oh, and can we talk about the ship reboot puzzle? Because I need to talk to someone about that effing reboot puzzle. Faced with a busy neon-green dashboard, your job is to manage the various buttons and dials via a plethora of mini-minigames which might have been great fun if they’d been clearly identifiable (but they weren’t, so it wasn’t). Because you’re covering the work of three players, the only way of knowing which puzzle you’re supposed to solve is to mess it up and prompt the fail icon, but even then it won’t be a given. I ended up spending far too long on this segment; not because I couldn’t do it, but because I was utterly unaware of what I was supposed to do. It’s the closest I’ve come to throwing my Xbox One through a window for some time.

As for the story? It’s entirely perfunctory, but it’s unlikely to grip you in any meaningful way. I don’t expect that’ll come as a surprise to you. Like every other part of this brawler, I suspect the jokes and humour will be polarising, but I can’t say I minded it myself, even though I’m old now and figured myself immune to this kind of puerility. Battletoads is self-aware, self-deprecating, and outrageously outlandish, yet it somehow always manages to fall on the just the right side of cringe thanks to its keen writing and excellent voice work. I was particularly fond of the Topians’ exchange about punishments, from threatening to afflict someone with combination skin to a particularly memorable exchange in which a security guard is punished by making him three inches shorter (“It doesn’t seem like much, but it will change his life”).

There’ll be some who will like to see the Battletoads banished for another 26 years, but I’m not one of them. With engaging visuals, a fantastic soundtrack, and gameplay that rarely overstays its welcome thanks to its frequent recycling of genres, I found it an amusing, if brief, adventure that invoked fond memories of throwing myself in front of the TV to watch cartoons after school.

Though it’s cheap(ish) at £17 – and even cheaper at the grand price of zero for Game Pass users – the truncated run-time and divisive humour are likely to irritate as many people as it entertains. But at least we should be able to finish this one, eh?