Friday, December 10, 2021

Battletoads (XB1, PC) Review

Much like this review, the Battletoads are a bit late to the party with their return to gaming prominence. Unlike SuperPhillip Central, however, the Battletoads are 26 years late! Regardless, does this latest franchise revival croon or croak? Let's find out with the SPC review!

The toads with 'tude return

One can argue that ever since purchasing Rare back in 2001, Microsoft hasn't really used the developer's huge history of franchises to the best of their abilities. Well, at least not until recently with the reboot of Killer Instinct and the wonderful collection of games from Rare's rich catalog of games with the remarkable Rare Replay. 

Last year, the latest Rare revamp and set of characters returning to the forefront was that of the Battletoads, indeed a relic of a different time in gaming when bipedal animals with attitude were all the rage. (Seriously, you can't even count all of the mascots and characters like that on one set of hands!) Developed by Dlala Studios under supervision by Rare, Battletoads (2020) takes the classic beat-em-up/platforming series and takes some liberties with the formula, making a fresh attempt to make the Battletoads relevant in a new century. 

Are the Battletoads back and better than ever? Not quite.

Battletoads begins with the trio of toads: Rash, Zitz, and Pimple as celebrities, marching triumphantly towards a ceremony in their honor. They're bona fide heroes in their realm. Unfortunately, though, the Toads have been in a chamber for the past 26 years that essentially lets them live out their fantasies. This chamber is unearthed by a construction crew, and soon, the Battletoads must transition from battling baddies to performing menial work in the real world where they are no longer heroes and just everyday, ordinary toads. Upon growing weary of this tedious and soul-sucking life, the Battletoads concoct a plan to battle the Dark Queen in order to reclaim their hero status, because of course they do. It's foolproof. Defeat the Dark Queen, and they'll be heroes, leaping out of a life of obscurity. From there, things get even wilder and wackier as the adventure begins. 

The script and dialogue of Battletoads idles on crude humor and utter insanity, and some of the jokes hit, and when they do, they're quite funny, but so often it's the opposite. Jokes tend to land flat, and the albeit lovingly drawn cutscenes tend to overstay their welcome. The fact that you can't skip these scenes, even in repeat playthroughs, tends to make me believe the developers either really thought they were funny or they were hiding how short of an experience this game is really. 

That's because Battletoads isn't a lengthy game at all. It can be handily beaten in a few short hours, if even that, and that's with the cutscenes interspersed between the levels. Of course, there is side content to engage with, such as nabbing collectables in levels, completing the game on different difficulties, and... well, that's pretty much it. Don't get me wrong, though--the game is an overall enjoyable one, teeming with a substantial amount of variety to make up for the brevity of the experience. 

One chapter pretty much focuses completely on platforming and puzzles.

Aside from the standard beat-em-up action that I wish was more routine and commonplace in this installment of the Battletoads series, there is some inspired platforming with a mix of puzzle-solving to complete, space shooter sections, hacking puzzles, and yes, the return of the Turbo Tunnel segments, though these use an over-the-shoulder camera view as opposed to a 2D isometric one used in the original NES game. 

The return of the hoverbike from Battletoads is here but in a new dimension!

By far my favorite parts of Battletoads on Xbox One and PC are indeed the beat-em-up parts. They're the deepest, despite being mostly all about bashing and beating baddies within an inch of their lives. You have a wide assortment of moves to tackle foes, such as defense-busting charge attacks, transformation attacks, a spit attack that can stun foes for a short while by sticking them in one place, and even some tongue-whipping action to lasso a foe and bring them towards your chosen Battletoad. Really, it's a shame that more of these levels weren't included within the game. Not only because they're the most enjoyable for me, but because they would have extended the length of the game as well. They're also quite frontloaded in the game, only appearing in the first half and then disappearing almost completely save for some late-game boss encounters.

Beat up baddies in these inspired beat-em-up-centered stages,
my preferred type of gameplay within Battletoads (2020).

My main issue with Battletoads is that while there is a vast amount of gameplay variety, the game really suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It can never decide what it wants to be. It starts as an inspired beat-em-up, but it continues to throw new gameplay mechanics and concepts that it becomes warped and discombobulated as a title. It seems like the developers wanted variety, but didn't know when to stop. Instead of putting so much effort into making so many different gameplay styles, they could have finely honed the beat-em-up aspect or better yet, focused on a couple or a few gameplay types rather than this handful and mishmash of types. As cliché as it is to use this phrase, Battletoads essentially becomes a "jack of all trades and a master of none" with this approach.

From a presentation aspect, Battletoads' art style is one that took some getting used to in order to appreciate it fully. However, once the initial shock from what I "wanted" the game to look like went away, I did find myself enjoying the art style. It's one that presents a lot of personality and character in its visual approach, ultimately delivering a delightful looking game for me. Your mileage will most definitely vary, though, but of course, art is indeed subjective. The voicework is wonderfully done with performances that fit in with the Adult Swim-like presentation of the story. Sure, a lot of it isn't that funny or at all humorous, but that isn't due to the delivery of the lines. That's purely on the writers and the script.

Up to three players locally can play together for some toad-ally radical fun.

Battletoads essentially makes the "too many cooks spoil the broth" colloquialism once again ring true, only the "cooks" in this context are all the different gameplay ideas. If one, two or even three ideas were more fleshed out, not only would the quality of the game most likely be better, but perhaps the length would be extended since so much development time seems to have been taken on making short but completely different types of gameplay segments. As is, Battletoads (2020) is a quick breeze of a game to play through that has moments of genius and good ideas, but ultimately fails to execute any of them with great results. Still, Battletoads remains a worthwhile game to play through, warts and all.

[SPC Says: C+]

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