System: Nintendo Entertainment System
Completed: May 24, 2014
Growing up, I had heard of this game and its legendary difficulty. I never got an opportunity to play it until I was in college and bought it as a present for my older brother. We would attempt it, but rarely get by the third level. It got shelved until several years later when I attempted it solo. Since I had moved and did not have an NES at the time, I downloaded it on my Raspberry Pi, telling myself I could always use a save state to practice the later levels.
Except for the fact that I didn’t know how to use save states…
Not to mention that some of the levels require very precise controls that my USB controller did not afford. Once I got an NES from my loving girlfriend, Battletoads became my first challenge.
Battletoads is a strange game. It can be classified as a beat ‘em up akin to Double Dragon, but that doesn’t seem to do it justice. Battletoads has a lot more platforming elements in addition to racing and other challenges. Each stage feels like its own separate game! But it usually likes to remind you that it’s still Battletoads through its soul-crushing brutality.
The story starts with one spaceship eating another spaceship. The latter had one of the ‘toads, Pimple, along with Princess What’s Her Name (wait, that’s a different franchise). Rash and Zitz (or just one of them in the one-player game) must rescue them from the scantily-clad Dark Queen. She likes to spout insults between levels. What’s her deal? Why does she hate the Battletoads so much? I think she secretly loves them but doesn’t know how to express it. Did you know toads express love by punching them repeatedly? We’re about to give her a marriage proposal!!
The first stage opens with standard beatings. It’s a nice introductory level without too many surprises. The controls feel nice, and each hit feels like it has some weight to it. What’s really interesting is the boss fight against an unseen machine. Once the boss starts to enter the field of vision, the game switches to a first-person perspective from the viewpoint of the boss, while the player still controls the ‘toads. As it shoots, it will occasionally send out a rock, which Rash sends back in kind. Rule of three, and down it goes!
The second stage has the Battletoads going down a tunnel on cables, using more over the top attacks such as wrecking balls to defeat their adversaries. There is the threat of instant death if a crow uses its razor-sharp beak to cut the line. Pretty standard stage without a boss.
The third stage, Turbo Tunnel, is the one burned into everyone’s mind as the toughest level. I disagree. After a bit of fighting and platforming, the ‘toads get on their turbo bikes where they careen along the cave floor, avoiding obstacles which end in insta-death. Each of the stone pillars is telegraphed until the last section, where it is a simple matter of dodging up-down-up-down, etc. It took me a continue or two, but I can get by this stage almost flawlessly at this point. In fact, I find this section pretty fun!
Stage four is an ice stage with many, many spikes. From the third stage on, pretty much everything will kill the player in one shot, rendering the life bar meaningless. Funny thing, I ran into a glitch on this level. To pass by some of the walls, you need to throw an ice block against it a few times. At one point, the block never came. I went backwards to see if it would respawn, but it never did. I reset the game since I didn’t want to use a precious continue (that’s right, you have limited continues in this game!).
The fifth stage has the same vibe as the third, only this time it’s on a surfboard! There is a boss fight with Big Blag the rat. As the great Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘Smack dat rat wit a stick!!’ It’s easy to get him stuck in a pattern. Once the boss is beaten, there is more surfing with mines strewn about at random locations. Fortunately, there is a 1Up located partway through, making it more forgiving if you cannot react fast enough.
Stage six has a bunch of snakes. Usually that would be bad for toads, but they seem to want to help, all the while keeping that stupid expression on their face. The first part has no threats, just taking your time to climb up the snakes to the exit hole at the top. The next few sections introduce spikes to the equation. I almost guarantee that anyone who gets to the fourth and final section of stage six will not know what they are doing and inevitably die. A lot.
Stage seven sucks. The moving logs can acquaint themselves with a blowtorch and the airplane section can join them. You will either win this through an extraordinary amount of luck or a copious amount of trial and error.
Stage eight is a vertical scrolling stage. Nothing too amazing about this one, especially since there is an easy 1Up near the beginning of the stage; that way, even if you make a mistake, there is no real penalty! The poison gas and suction fans will be your insta-death for the level. The boss at the end has a gun that will spell death for your ‘toad, but playing cautiously will help win the day!
The ninth stage looks like a maze, but really isn’t. It does have chase sequences with gears! Again, it requires a bit of memorization since attempting a wrong turn can waste precious seconds. Even when you get to the barrier at the end of the section, you need to be in a particular area to avoid destruction: sometimes it is next to the gate, and sometimes the gear will feint away from it, going to the supposed safe zone. The problem is that since it is so late in the game, you realistically have only one shot at it before being thrust back to the beginning of the game! There are also some underwater sections. I don’t think I need to say anything else about it.
Stage ten is NOPE! Nope nope nope nope nope. Nope? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!! The stage is completely unfair, the music haunts me, AND there was a glitch that the end boss didn’t show up once! You need to race a rat to the end of the section where the rat runs faster than three cheetahs duct taped together, but they’re still really coordinated and have jetpacks! Like, one each. It isn’t enough to make it to the end of the section. No, you need to kick a bomb that should the rat touch it, it will detonate. To this day, I cannot consistently beat the last leg of this relay. The boss is easy enough: he runs back and forth, and you punch him in the back of the head. Release all that anger and frustration on his brain stem!
The penultimate stage is another race. Against a psycho hypno wheel. Pretty much, all you need to do is press the direction you need to go to speed up, and trust me, you need that speed. I have read that there is a trick where you could pause the game at the corner to reduce the slowdown caused by switching directions before changing the input, but I could never get it to work effectively. This stage is also the reason that I had to stop using the Raspberry Pi’s imprecise USB control (more the fault of the controller than the Pi. Definitely not my fault). I could finagle my way through the previous stages since it allowed at least some room for error. Not this one. After several failed attempts, this is where I initially gave up until I got my NES. With the new controller, I beat the stage on my first try. This is the only time I have found where anyone could legitimately blame the controller (just don’t do it)! The boss is another easy affair of playing ‘Punch the Thing, Win a Prize!’
The final stage has the Battletoads scaling a tower. The springs are only slightly easier to use than the ones in Super Mario Bros., and there are enemies that will blow you off the stage if you let them. Be quick and be precise, and you will be face-to-face with the Dark Queen before you know it!
Battletoads has a lot going for it. It has variety, tight controls, and a pretty good choice in music. But is it good?
I don’t think so…
I am not one to shy away from difficult games. I love Battle Kid, Ninja Gaiden, and other such games. Games can be difficult for different reasons, including poor controls (Double Dragon III), confusing layouts (Superman), or general cheapness (Milon’s Secret Castle). Battletoads plants itself firmly on the third choice. A game is tough-but-fair if you can see the danger in front of you, which means failure is your own doing. A perfect example is the Mega Man franchise. You can see the danger before it appears and take the time to analyze how to proceed. Danger in Battletoads is not telegraphed as well. For example, Volkmire’s Inferno (stage seven) expects you to know where the electric fields are located and get in position ahead of time. Clinger-Winger (stage eleven) gives no real indication on what you are supposed to do until you die a couple of times. The list goes on.
This isn’t a fair game. It requires a lot of memorization or advanced knowledge to be successful. This is the same reason why I don’t like Dragon’s Lair: the only way to really win is by giving it enough quarters that it will finally let you win. The only difference is instead of quarters, I’m investing time.
This game is fun for the first few levels. Once you hit level six, the fun factor wanes considerably and is replaced with frustration. The difficulty lies in catching the player by surprise rather than genuine challenge. Certainly give this game at least a try, just don’t expect it to stay fun…
My arbitrary rating based on absolutely nothing is 7 out of 20.