The Battletoads were never the biggest, but in the age of the internet, they’ve grown rather notorious. From the difficulty of each entry, the GameStop prank calling, and even a cameo in Shovel Knight, the Battletoads have remained in the conscious of all those who dwell the internet. When Rare announced a Battletoads reboot was in the works, by an indie no-less, fans were rightfully skeptical. If you’re ignoring Shovel Knight, it’s been almost three decades since Zits and Pimple last saw action. I’m sure they were jealous of Rash duking it out with Fulgore and Sabrewulf. Dlala Studios handled this reboot, and I’ve been eyeing it for quite a while. It’s not the first, indie helmed, retro beat-em-up reboot this year. I was excited to see how it stacked up to Streets of Rage 4.
The Battletoads, and the Dark Queen, have been trapped in a simulation for the past twenty-six years. After being discovered by an alien population who has forgotten them, the once arch-enemies team up to destroy the divine Topians and take bake their freedom. The entire game uses hand-drawn animation and is voiced rather well. Dlala desperately tries to capture the snarky British humor Rare was known for in the 90s, but every last line falls flat. I felt like the game couldn’t decide if it was attempting children’s Saturday morning humor, or deliver shocks akin to a Deadpool comic. It was just off-putting.
Battletoads has never been the best beat-em-up on the market, but it was fulfilling to just beat on waves of enemies. It’s still extremely fun here. From the get-go, you have access to every one of your moves. Unfortunately, the game will still shower you in useless on-screen tutorials. In singleplayer, you can switch between any of the three toads with the push of the d-pad. It would’ve added a layer of strategy, but it felt like almost every situation was best handled by mashing X. If I wasn’t fighting hordes as Zits, I was using Pimple to deal damage to bosses or tough enemies. The Battletoads have a ton of unique combos with wonderful callbacks, but I never saw any of them on my journey. Annoyingly, the player swapping meant I couldn’t use the d-pad to move around. Battletoads falls victim to the typical depth-perception issues the genre is notorious for. It’s not too bad with regular encounters, but it can be awful when trying to dispatch bosses.
The Toads have always been known to hop between genres. The famous jet-bike returns, but you’ll also go through a Donkey Kong Country inspired platformer, complete with the roll-jumps, a shmup, and tons of small one-off challenges. Unfortunately, the jet-bike levels happened to be the only ones that felt fleshed out. Everything else was undercooked, and I just didn’t enjoy any of the other styles. The shmup levels are especially offensive. The random switch to a dual-stick shooter was jarring enough, but it just didn’t feel fun. The screen border could hide enemies and power-ups too! Especially awful when the levels devolve into downright bullet-hell. To top it all off, there are three of these levels in the game, and they’re all very close together.
Dlala Studios were very obviously inspired by the series’ previous conventions, but they never innovate. It’s no longer enough to capture the spirit of an original, you have to take that flame and rekindle it into something amazing for the modern era. So many remakes have failed this, and I’m unsure why. Fortunately, the game never got too annoying. There are checkpoints at almost every turn. If you throw yourself at the wall enough, you’ll break through. It might’ve been too easy. My play-through clocked in at just over three hours and forty-five minutes. By just over, I mean one second exactly. The game very clearly wants you to replay it, but it doesn’t give you any reason to.
Battletoads 2020 is a lovingly-crafted attempt to recapture the magic of a lost era. Unfortunately, it completely forgets that the era is lost for a reason. This game is no cheap cash-grab, but it’s nowhere near a masterpiece. If “fun co-op beat-em-up on Gamepass” is what you’re looking for, I recommend looking at Streets of Rage 4. Dlala, and the franchise, has a lot of potential, but they needed to take more risks. Even minutes after completion, most of the game blurs together in my head. I don’t think Battletoads is an awful game, but I think it needed just a bit longer in the oven.