The ‘Toads Are Back In Town

Battletoads returns after 26-year hiatus

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Corsicana’s commercial history has been no stranger to famous animal mascots. While “Kaiser Bill,” the pet wolf which became the namesake for Lyman T. Davis’ Wolf Brand Chili, is more recognizable to local historians, Corsicana of the 1990s introduced a trio of toads with attitude that made their own indelible mark in electronic entertainment.  

Tradewest was a Corsicana-based video game company founded by Byron Cook, his father Leland Cook, and their business partner John Rowe of San Diego. The publisher opened its doors in 1986 at 2400 South Highway 75, and quickly experienced success in the video game market with the 1988 release of Double Dragon for the Nintendo Entertainment System. 

Tradewest continued to publish games for the NES and other consoles of the time, while building lasting relationships with several developers. One of its longest running and most successful partnerships was with the British-based Rare Ltd, where they released such titles as Solar Jetman, High Speed, R.C. Pro-Am II, and Taboo: The Sixth Sense.

Inspired by the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rare founders Chris and Tim Stamper, created Battletoads as their own response to the “fighting animals with attitude” craze of the time. The adventures of Rash, Zitz, and Pimple (the names of the toad trio) was published by Tradewest in June of 1991, with critics taking note of the game’s detailed music and graphics, diverse gameplay, and high level of difficulty.

Battletoads became a success at the time, launching a series of collectibles, an animated television special, ports for the Game Boy and Sega Genesis, and a live guest appearance from “Rash” during 1991’s Derrick Days parade.

Several other titles in the series were released by Tradewest over a variety of gaming machines, one entry even pairing the Battletoads with Tradewest’s other successful title, Double Dragon. After an arcade game release in 1994, published by Electronic Arts, the series went dormant for an entire generation of video gamers.

During the 2018 Electronic Entertainment Expo, developer Dlala Studios revealed a new installment for the series for Microsoft’s Xbox One. Working with Rare, who has since become a Microsoft exclusive developer, the new title was realized for Xbox and PC gamers in August of 2020.

The reboot, sporting an animated Saturday-morning cartoon style, pokes fun at the series’ long absence through a series of jokes and absurd situations, as the heroes no longer find themselves relevant in today’s world, and are forced to take low-level office jobs. Their eternal nemesis, the Dark Queen, also undergoes a makeover, no longer being the provocatively garbed character she once was, but still quite bent on taking over the galaxy, while possessing a wicked sense of humor. Of course it’s natural they team up for this new outing.

The new Battletoads retains the multi-genre approach of the earlier games, but reduces the advanced difficulty to more manageable levels. While the “speeder bike” stages from the original game return, the frustration does not. The new game is silly, a little subversive, and very meta in its presentation.

Experiencing this new title while living in Corsicana makes for a nostalgic visit, a reminder of simpler times of playing games after school. Many “Nintendo generation” gamers, now middle-aged, can revisit the challenge and colorful characters with their own kids in a fast-paced, three-player environment. The new title is far more forgiving than its predecessors, and fun to play together as a team.

Corsicana is a town that has built its name off of tigers, bulldogs, and a chili-hawking wolf. Perhaps there’s enough room left in town to also give a cultural nod for this trio of amphibious heroes.

Battletoads is available for Xbox One and Windows PC.

Battletoads returns for a new generation.