There are few things in the world that pain me as much as having something I loved as a child being destroyed and turned into a lame joke. I’m not entirely sure if this was intentional or if someone was just misadvised in a business meeting on what’s popular with the kids these days. Either way, it seems like a really bad joke more so than a serious attempt at reviving a series.
Battletoads has been a dormant franchise for many years - though mostly remembered fondly due to the obscene difficulty of their games, their fun but relatively hard to find arcade game, and their crossover with the Lee Brothers in Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team. Yet, despite having multiple games, a comic strip that appeared in Nintendo Power #25, and an animated series pilot, no one really ever remembers any of them but the original NES Battletoads. Nothing about Battletoads 2020 is memorable except for how much it differs from the original.
In my opinion, there’s a right way to pay homage to something - but unfortunately, Dlala Studios, even though they helped Rare create the original game, seemed to have missed the memo on this completely. Perhaps it’s my fault for getting too excited at the prospect of seeing one of my favorite games that I used to rush home to play after school being revived - but Inti Creates was able to revive Blaster Master and while it’s a bit more streamlined for a newer audience, it’s still excellent. But, maybe the problem is that this new Battletoads simply isn’t meant to be for adults like me. While I certainly would understand an argument for making a directional change to reboot the franchise for a new generation, I wish Microsoft had been a little more clear with their planned direction when answering questions from the older fans about what to expect.
The writing in this game honestly feels like a cheap attempt to turn Battletoads into Teen Titans Go. The humor is mostly self-deprecating, but quickly goes from being humorous to outright sad and mean. Rash is painted as being obsessed with celebrity, and every single chance the game gets to remind him that he isn’t famous, they slap him right in the face with it. To the point that you can almost see his heart break, and then in return, they shortly do a scene where he’s got maps with pins and strings drawn up like a conspiracy theorist and for some random reason he’s been up all night shitting in a diaper.
Battletoads 2020 feels more like a game that was originally going to be something else, and the Toads were simply used to grab a few nostalgia impulse buys. This game was made in Unity, and it feels like it was originally supposed to have been a mobile game. The levels are mostly divided into short battle arenas - which is a trick used in the original game - but given how few actual levels this game has, it feels out of place. Battletoads is no longer a game filled with tight brawling areas, quick reflex platforming, and a bitchin’ soundtrack. It’s now a few levels of corridors that stop abruptly for a brawling arena, seemingly unrelated mini games, and QTE’s that do a poor job of advancing the story or even attempt to be fun to play.
For example: After finishing the first level, you enter a cutscene where Pimple is working as a masseuse and you perform some quicktime button presses to perform his job, meanwhile Zitz gets a job in an office and is for some reason typing emails and the computer blue screens every few seconds which involves him pounding on the top of the monitor to fix the issue, and finally Rash is stamping autographs onto a stack of photos that no one seems to want at something that’s meant to be a comic-con type meet and greet. I get it - they need day jobs since they’re no longer “employed” as superheroes - but since the game makes fun of them for spending 26 years inside of a simulation bunker, how would they even be slightly acclimated to the current world in the first place? While pondering that, I found myself greeted with a victory screen to let me know I had completed the 1-2 level, and I sat there for a few moments trying to figure out how an interactive cutscene qualified as a level.
There’s a bunch of ideas here, and while they somewhat work, none of them are very well polished nor are they all that good or enjoyable. Being able to swap to an inactive toad while one is dead/respawning is a nice touch, and that’s about the only good point. The gumball/tongue mechanic is awkward to use and easy to forget about. On top of that, if you turn the difficulty down to the easiest level, the game only takes about three hours to complete since most of the levels aren’t really even levels. As a result, the end product ends up feeling like a demo instead of a fully-fledged release.
While combat works decently well, there aren’t any iframes when dodging which means it’s extremely easy to get caught in a loop of unblockable death. To put it nicely, the combat tries to be as easy to pick up and play as Castle Crashers, but in taking out the dash attacks, which was a key gameplay mechanic, they’ve killed the sense of flow that the combat had previously. Not only that, the enemy hitboxes and collision detection are terribly inconsistent which makes dodging feel mostly useless. and they’ve dulled the game down to where the difficulty options only double the health of enemies while lowering your damage done.
The Turbo Tunnel is probably the most iconic thing about Battletoads, and yet it not only manages to be painfully boring, but it has absolutely no sense of speed while playing. In the original, as the speed of the bikes increased, so did the animation of the backgrounds, the time upcoming objects blinked in the distance got shorter, and everything just felt so damn fast. In Battletoads 2020’s version of the Turbo Tunnel (and really cross the whole game), it feels like watching someone move characters around in an old reusable sticker book. It’s like watching things happen in front of a green screen, as opposed to feeling like those characters are part of the world they’re supposed to be in. Oh, and while I’m here: The music in this game is nothing special at all. In fact, the twin shooter levels have some terrible guitar riffs that sound like it’s been straight lifted out of Papa Roach’s Last Resort, which is appropriate, since I also felt like he did in that song while playing this game.
Sure, this new Battletoads exists - but did anyone stop to think that maybe it shouldn’t? As a Battletoads fan who wanted to return to a semblance of the original, I didn’t care for this game at all. However, to someone with no attachment to the source material, you’d probably have a decent time running through it as a few hour distraction with your kids. It’s passable at best, but honestly you’d be better off revisiting Castle Crashers Remastered.