Welcome to another installment of Retro Weekend, the weekly feature where I play a classic game and get the chance to write whatever I want about it! This week, I’ll be talking about Battletoads on the NES and some of the exciting ways you can make this cake-walk of a game into a more challenging experience.
For as shameless a cash-in as Battletoads was, it still managed to create quite the legacy. While the name never reached the levels of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, almost anyone who played an NES or SNES will remember the Toads, for better or worse. From their adventures with the Double Dragons, Billy and Jimmy, to their joy-rides through the Turbo Tunnel, there’s an endless amount of memories these games gave players in the early 90s. Hey, they even tried their hands at a television show, but sadly it wasn’t psychotronic enough for society to catch on.
Battletoads on the NES was released in 1991, making it a fairly late game in the console’s life-cycle. Luckily, this allowed the developers at Rare to push the system to its limits, making Battletoads one of the most colorful and diverse action games of its time. At first glance, Battletoads seems like a run-of-the-mill beat ’em up. You alone, or with a co-op buddy, take on hoards of enemies by smashing them in the face and progressing through levels with some minor platforming. Yeah, sounds familiar. But even within the first level, you’ll face off against a boss that puts the player into the eyes of a giant enemy robot, where you get the Toads to throw projectiles at the camera itself. It’s pretty rad.
From there, you’ll repel down one of the deepest craters you’ll ever find in a game, race through a tunnel on some speeder bikes, throw some snowballs, outrun mechanic deathtraps, and more. That’s one of the most endearing things about this game, especially for when it came out. Most games, even today, basically stay the same throughout the entire experience. Sure, you might get a new attack, but you’re still just smacking fools in the face with a sword. It’s what I loved so much about Final Fantasy VII when I first played it. Sure, a majority of the game was spent reading text, or participating in turn-based battles, but every now and then something different happened. Riding that motorcycle, and snowboarding down the mountain will always live in my memory. Battletoads is like that. It constantly tries to give the player a slightly different experience in each level without just ramping up the difficulty in enemies. Sure it doesn’t always hit home, but I appreciate the effort.
I also want to give a quick mention to the colors in this game. Man, do they pop! Battletoads doesn’t just dish out a variety of gameplay but also a variety in its art. To this day, when I look at screenshots, I sometimes forget this is an NES game. Everything is just so bold and each color has a deepness to it that I don’t think many games had on the console.
Now onto the crux of this Retro Weekend. The real deal. The big tamale. The thing I need to get off my chest. Battletoads is looked at as one of the hardest games ever made. I hear people whining all the time about how they couldn’t get through the Turbo Tunnel, how some birds gave them a whooping down the crater, and how their diapers are oh so heavy, wah wah wah. As Rash would say, “disgustomatic”. They’re all a bunch of babies. I say, man up! Battletoads isn’t a hard game. In fact, here’s some ideas to make the experience a true challenge.
- Play Blindfolded – If you want a real challenge in the Turbo Tunnel, try getting rid of your eyesight! Without the visual clues of which roadblocks are coming up, you’ll feel the real rush of adrenaline as your speed bike whizzes through this not-so-menacing tunnel. Seriously, I have more trouble with potholes on my way to work.
- One-Handed – Tie it behind your back, chop it off, or lift some weights you puny man-baby, just keep both hands off of the controller at all times! This tactic is on the relatively low difficulty scale considering the NES controller only has two main buttons and a d-pad that you’ll have to deal with, but it’s still a nice start to turn this breeze of a game into a worthwhile challenge.
- Turn off the Color – While this idea gets rid of one of Battletoad’s best features, it’s gorgeous art, it does make for a much harder experience. See, plenty of Battletoads has contrasting visuals that really make enemies or obstacles stand out. When you take that away, BAM! Instant challenge. Try flying through the air avoiding missiles when they look exactly like everything else.
- Turn Toad – Find yourself either an evil witch, or a really friendly space chicken and have them turn you into a toad. If you can finish this game when you’re only the size of the controller, and lack any opposable thumbs, you’ve got my respect. Trust me, this is easily the most impressive way to play Battletoads and you’ll be the talk of the town. People will look up to you. You’ll never have trouble finding a date. Jobs will hire you on the spot. Basically, you beat Battletoads as a toad and the world will become your oyster.
To be clear, I’ve played Battletoads doing all these things at the same time. That’s right, look up “blindfolded, one-armed toad, destroys colorless Battletoads” on Google and my name will pop up. Why? Because I know what a true challenge is. Do yourself all a favor, the next time you find yourself playing this NES classic, don’t dwell of how “hard” it is. Instead, dwell on how awesome it is, and how much we’d love another game in the series. Just please make it cosmerific good.