A Retrospective of Battletoads

By John Kaiser III – Navarro County Gazette

Let me take you back for a moment to my 8th grade year; 1990-something. Thirteen year-old me was sitting in class one day doing whatever it was kids do in class. Schoolwork I am guessing, but doodling most likely. A student steps through the door and tells me to come with them. As I was being escorted into another room across campus, I had one of the biggest misunderstandings of my life. I thought I had been personally requested to be in a commercial. Confusion, excitement, adrenaline all coursed through my brain and the walk into the room became a blur. 

I remember Terry King from Tradewest, a great man gone way too soon, being there in the room in front of a TV. I do not remember exactly who else was there. What I do remember with crystal clarity is the sinking feeling of finding out I was there to watch a commercial, not be in one. That feeling dispersed back to elation when I discovered it was for a focus group to rate a new commercial for their upcoming game Battletoads.

Being a gamer, and having a game company in my hometown’s backyard, I always obsessed over Tradewest games. Battletoads was no exception. Developed by Rare, Ltd. and published by Corsicana’s own Tradewest, Battletoads was one of many properties of the era that attempted to ride the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle hype-train. The same hype-train that also brought us Street Sharks, Samurai Pizza Cats, Biker Mice From Mars and a deluge of other wannabe contenders for that sweet anthropomorphic animal merchandising money.

Battletoads for the Nintendo Entertainment System was a hit spawning off sequels and ports for the Gameboy, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and the Arcade. The “toadally” awesome trio even made it onto a Tiger handheld, an honor generally held by only the biggest names in gaming. I use the term “honor” here loosely as the two frame, black and white LCD Tiger handhelds were barely games at all. For those locals that were here back in the day, you may even remember seeing a Battletoad in a Derrick Days parade.

The toads did make a blip on the merch landscape, but never saw the success in branding that their turtle inspirations had. I still even have my Battletoads calculator! There were Battletoads toys, but those rubbery Bend-ems kind. There was a Battletoads cartoon, but it only existed as a pilot you could buy on VHS. Tried as they did, the brand just could not breech past the gaming sphere and into the mainstream zeitgeist.

Eventually the hype for the series petered out and after the arcade game, the Battletoads faded away from the gaming landscape for 20 years. Sure, it’d pop up here and there in top ten lists of the hardest games and, thanks to a series of prank phone calls to game stores asking if they had Battletoads, it became a punchline to a tired joke. 

Fast-forward to 2015 and the indie mega-hit Shovel Knight. In one of its updates they included an encounter with the wart covered warriors on the Xbox One version (and subsequently in 2017 on other windows based platforms). Also in 2015, Rash the Battletoad became a playable character in the third season update of Killer Instinct. Microsoft, having bought the developer Rare, was starting to finally acknowledge their purchase brought with it the classic IP of Battletoads.

These two appearances got the rumor mills working and everyone just knew there had to be a new standalone game in the series coming. It turns out they were right, only it was going to be another five years until we got to play as everyone’s favorite skin condition named heroes Pimple, Zitz and Rash (I’ve always been a “Pimple” man myself).

If you want to take a trip back down memory lane and replay (or maybe for the first time) the series, you have a few options. The original NES Battletoads and the arcade game can be found in the Rare Replay collection on Xbox One. I highly recommend playing the original via this collection as it has a lifesaving rewind button.

Though be warned, even with that feature, you will find yourself at wits end attempting stages for the first time as the game is built around the try, die and try again method of level memorization. It is not a fluke that this game helped coin the term: “Nintendo Hard”.

A version of this game was remastered for the Sega Genesis and is a tad easier to beat than its NES counterpart if you can find it and still have a working Genesis or a Retron 5. The Super Nintendo version, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, was the one I probably played the most. I just loved its darker look and tone as well as the bigger more detailed sprites.

Tradewest had an “Ah-ha” moment when they took two of their biggest properties: Double Dragon and Battletoads, and teamed them up for an all new adventure on the NES, SNES, Genesis, and Gameboy. Taking characters and locals from both franchises this game came out to rave reviews.

Before the new reboot the last, and in my opinion best, of the original series of games was Battletoads Arcade. It was the first time that players could play as all three of the titular heroes at the same time. The graphics were amazing and still look good today. However, the game came out at a time when arcades were on the decline, not performing well enough to give the publisher enough faith to port it to home consoles – a true shame, especially since it was reported in a RareFanDabase interview with Rare developer Paul Machacek that the Gameboy version was finished and a Super Nintendo port was underway.

Replaying it again recently, it has been hard not to daydream about living in a timeline where the SNES port existed with expanded levels and extra bells and whistles that home ports would often get.

Oh, and I do have one note for the Battletoads TV commercial creators, No kid in real life acts that way. Watching it again all these years later and I must say, it is cringe-worthy (you can cringe too with a quick search on YouTube). Of course, I praised it at the time. Thankfully, the games still hold up and are worth hunting down for your first, tenth or hundredth playthrough.

Categories: Opinion