Behind the Scenes of Battletoads

Game creators Rare Limited and Dlala Studios share insight behind this year’s return

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

The Navarro County Gazette previously featured a look at 2020’s new Battletoads title, a video game series born under the partnership of British-based Rare Limited and Tradewest, Corsicana’s own video game publisher in the 1980s and 1990s.

The collaboration brought forth a series of gaming entries for Nintendo and Sega platforms of the time, featuring a selection of titles including Battletoads, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, and Battletoads/Double Dragon.

While Tradewest is no longer one of the industry’s current players, having been sold to WMS Industries in 1994, the Battletoads have resurfaced for a new generation of gamers on Xbox One and PC.

The Battletoads: Pimple, Rash, and Zitz – Courtesy Photo

Wanting to learn more about Battletoads‘ return to the the gaming scene, while preserving a unique part of local history, the Gazette has reached out to the creators and designers of this new title for an interview.

Sharing their behind the scenes thoughts on the creation, creative challenges, and franchise legacy of the title are: Paul Collins – Lead Designer (Rare), Adam Park – Head of Brand & Licensing (Rare), and Aj Grand-Scrutton – CEO/Designer (Dlala).

Outside of a few cameos (and the GameStop reference), Battletoads hasn’t had a new entry in the last 26 years. What were some of the reasons for bringing it back to audiences now?

Collins: It really felt like the perfect opportunity to bring back the Battletoads by coupling the passion and ideas of Dlala with the ability to bring it to a wide audience with Xbox Game Pass! The opportunity to make something that could be shared with friends and family via couch co-op, conjuring up those old-school nostalgic feels of getting together with everyone to play or watch something – which doesn’t really happen as often these days – was something we really wanted to capture with this game from the start.

Grand-Scrutton: As clichéd as it sounds, this is literally a bucket list item for me. Since I started a studio I’ve wanted to make a Battletoads sequel. I’ve actually had friends texting me over the last couple of days going “Dude, you literally spoke to me about wanting to do a Cartoon Network-styled Battletoads sequel when we met.” In terms of timing, I really think it was a two-pronged attack. Right now, the type of self-aware, subversive humour that we love and wanted for Battletoads is much more mainstream than it’s ever been. Secondly, Game Pass. Game Pass is the reason this game has been able to happen and it’s a game that was developed with that platform in mind from day one.

What were some of the challenges in bringing the franchise back to today’s gaming audience?

Collins: I think the biggest challenge for me was ensuring we made something that existing fans could enjoy while opening the game up to a brand new audience. Making sure there was something there to rekindle the flames of old fans (multi-genre gameplay, hard-hitting combat and tricky challenges) while making sure new players didn’t feel left behind (multiple difficulty levels, a storyline that didn’t require in-depth knowledge of the backstory) was really important for us. I think the cartoon aesthetic really helped to wrap up our promise for this game in a way that everyone could appreciate.

Grand-Scrutton: In regards to bringing the game back for today’s audience, it was really about finding that balance between the aspects of the Battletoads universe we wanted to keep, aspects we wanted to play with a bit, and new aspects we wanted to inject into the Battletoads canon.

Why do you think the legacy of Battletoads has endured this long in popular culture?

Grand-Scrutton: From the perspective of a Battletoads fan, I think it’s because the games stood out from oversaturated genres in the ’90s. The difficulty of the Turbo Tunnel level making it onto numerous lists of most difficult levels added to it. Also, the inclusion of Battletoads in areas of modern culture such as Ready Player One, the GameStop meme and so on meant that there was a whole new audience of people that had probably heard the word “Battletoads” but never played the games.

Park:  It’s a really interesting question as there are so many aspects to Battletoads place in popular culture – from those who remember playing the original incarnations, through to those who were only aware of them as a meme – there is clearly something within the DNA of the game which resonates with gamers.  Personally I think a lot of it comes down to the gleefully absurd premise of anthropomorphic toads battling their way through the galaxy.  It really is gaming distilled to the most pure, escapist form.

The Battletoads take on their next challenge – Courtesy photo

Battletoads for the Nintendo Entertainment System is a game that has a reputation for having a very high difficulty. Is that still present in the new game, or has the challenge been modified to suit players of all skill levels?

Collins: We very much still wanted to capture that feeling, and I know Grant Allen on the design team at Dlala is very much a fan of that kind of gameplay! However, we also wanted to make sure this game was approachable for new players, so it was important to us to offer varying difficulty levels. We love the idea that the game can be shared with older generations who were fond of the previous games, but now have a younger family with whom they want to experience it. We hope we’ve tuned the three difficulty levels in a way that allows you to try your hand at the easier modes, then take the skills you’ve learned and go for the harder challenge on the highest difficulty!

Grand-Scrutton: This is really interesting to answer now as I think that our standard difficulty is maybe a little harder than I initially thought, but I still feel we have a great difficulty range across our three levels. ‘Toad’ is the difficulty the game was designed at, ‘Tadpole’ reduces the challenge and ‘Battletoad’ is for those wanting an even more challenging experience.

Are there any fun throwback references or Easter eggs in this new game for long-time fans?

Collins: There are definitely a few throwbacks and references to Rare games in there, to give existing fans the opportunity to showcase their lore knowledge! I think Dlala also did a fantastic job of building out the universe by showcasing new characters, both good and bad. That sense of a whole host of new characters out there just waiting to become part of a Battletoads story really helps to ensure you never know what to expect next.

Grand-Scrutton: Oh, I can’t give spoilers!

Pimple includes everything and the kitchen sink – Courtesy photo

This new entry has the look and animation style of a Saturday morning cartoon. What influenced the new game’s art style?

Grand-Scrutton: From the start, one of the main pillars of the game was to create a ‘playable cartoon’. Our influences come from classic Tex Avery and Looney Tunes, all the way through to the ’90s and early ’00s Cartoon Network style. You can also see some of the team’s heritage from the Genesis/SNES-era platformers.

Were any of the original creators or designers involved with the creation or overseeing of this new game?

Grand-Scrutton: Obviously Rare as a studio was involved but our main creative liaison is Paul (Collins, Lead Designer at Rare). Paul is an incredible gatekeeper of Rare’s legacy, and having worked on the Rare Replay collection too, has a fantastic knowledge of Rare’s classic IP.

The villainous Dark Queen returns with a new twist on her story. – Courtesy photo

For the designers, what were some of the more fun or unexpected discoveries found in creating this new title? Any unplanned “happy accidents” that came together?

Collins: I think the fun side of the design really came from creating a game with so many different gameplay genres. It was an interesting challenge from a pacing and enjoyment perspective. It was also a great opportunity for us to try our hand at genres we may have never attempted before. One of the things I love about this, along with it staying true to the nature of the original games, is that it allows players working together to let their different gameplay skills shine. One player might be great at the racing segments while the other pulls everyone through the space shooting sections. Teamwork making that dream work!

Grand-Scrutton: I’d like to think this whole project was one big collection of happy accidents, ha ha! In terms of unexpected discoveries there are a couple of game modes where we ended up going in a completely different direction to what we originally planned, like ‘Mis-treatied’ (a level in which you bobsled through the head of an unconscious diplomat) – that turned out to be one of my favourite levels, but the brief and early prototype felt very different.

As a game, Battletoads isn’t afraid to get weird. – Courtesy photo

For that matter, what have been some of the more “fun” aspects for everyone involved? (bringing it back, the development process, the fan response, building up to release day, looking forward to the future?)

Collins: It really has been a dream come true to work on a franchise that I played so much when I was a kid. It’s a really special time for working at Rare, where we can do things that celebrate our existing IP while looking to the future with new genre-defining experiences like Sea of Thieves and Everwild. Working with Dlala was a real highlight for me, too. They’re a special and really talented team. I can’t wait to see what they get up to next!

The response to Battletoads since launch has been awesome. I’ve loved watching streams of people playing the game, and Twitter mentions showing families playing it together and feeling like they’re watching a cartoon. It’s always wonderful to see the goals you set yourself for a project come to fruition when players get their hands on it!

Grand-Scrutton: I mean, we’re all beyond elated with the response, seeing how much players are loving the game and playing through it multiple times. Seeing the videos and pictures of families playing together has been an awesome surprise as well.

For younger gamers that are new to the Battletoads franchise and want to know more about it, what would you want them to know?

Collins: Get ready for some wild couch co-op mayhem with three larger-than-life anthropomorphic heroes, Zitz, Pimple and Rash! Join them on a journey to rediscover their heroism as they travel across the universe to take on the Topians. With the spiel out the way, I’d also suggest maybe starting on Tadpole difficulty and working your way up! We really hope you enjoy it, and you can also check out some of the earlier Battletoads games in Rare Replay, also available with Xbox Game Pass.

Grand-Scrutton: I’d say that it’s important to know that Battletoads is way more than one thing to one person. It has a special place in the hearts of lots of gamers, and always for different reasons. Whether you love the brawling aspect or the genre mash-up, I feel that there’s a Battletoads game out there for you to play. Also… if you’re going to play the original, play it on Rare Replay so you can keep using rewind on that Turbo Tunnel section!

The Turbo Tunnels make their (in)famous return. – Courtesy photo

Is there anything special planned for the franchise’s 30th anniversary next year?

Park: Toadally, maybe…

Special thanks to Anna Collins – Brand & Licensing Executive (Microsoft Studios/Rare) for her invaluable coordination of this article.