Battletoad manages to (mostly) stick the landing.
It might be a little surprising to many that Battletoads turned out well, since everything we have seen or heard of it up to this point indicated that it very much wouldn’t. The next entry in Rare’s cult classic brawler series Battletoads was announced last year, and when we saw it initially, it looked pretty bad (especially once put next to other classic brawler revivals also announced around the same time, such as Streets of Rage 4). And then Battletoads just… sort of disappeared, and wasn’t seen or heard from for a while, causing most people to forget about it, or worse, associate it with its rather poor initial showing.
Those who have kept up with the game, however, would know that the pieces were coming together for this game to actually turn out well, since recent showings of the game have been far more encouraging. To those people, at least, it won’t come as a shock to learn that the new Battletoads is very good. Almost surprisingly so, in fact. While it has some critical shortcomings that I think do hold it back from realizing its full potential, the game is a thoroughly entertaining brawler that seems to deftly walk the line between accessibility and depth, manages to have a lot of incentives to encourage replays, and even comes together on other fronts, such as its surprisingly pleasing art style, and its sharp and witty writing.
That meta humor actually makes an incredibly strong first impression, and helps buoy the game a whole lot. Without getting into the specifics, all I will say is that the game is acutely aware of the passage of time between the last Battletoads game and this one, and the relevance (or total lack thereof) that the eponymous battletoads have in today’s day and age, and that it uses those things to drive a lot of its humor. Not all its jokes land, and some feel a bit juvenile and crude, or just fall flat, but on the whole, the humor and wit is definitely a point in the game’s favor.
"The game is acutely aware of the passage of time between the last Battletoads game and this one, and the relevance (or total lack thereof) that the eponymous battletoads have in today’s day and age."
Where the game is impressive without caveats is on the combat front. It’s deceptively easy, but it racks on layer upon layer of complexity subtly, slowly introducing the player to all sorts of mechanics and moves without overwhelming them. Between the combos you can execute with one character, the ability to tag team in and out of whatever character you want to play as at any time you want (this actually helps extend your combos further), and the extremely well differentiated enemy types, each of whom require totally different strategies to take down (seriously, there is more enemy variety in the first act of Battletoads than there is for many games, period), you are basically guaranteed extremely deep and varied, engaging brawler combat throughout the game.
There are other aspects of the gameplay that don’t necessarily always hold up as well, though. The hacking minigames, which involve you either routing electricity to gates blocking your progress to open them up, or disabling security, are extremely easy and uninteresting for example, but require just enough time and engagement on the player’s part to veer into being actively annoying – especially since they get in the way of the actual fun parts of the game. Other distractions from the combat, such as high octane biking, are much more fun. While they remain reasonably simplistic all said and done, they add enough wrinkles one on top of another to keep things unpredictable and exciting, at the bare minimum (at their best, they can be really thrilling on their own).
Battletoads is also a champion of local co-op, and up to three players can play together, brawling their way through the waves of enemies and bosses the game throws their way. The game excels in local co-op, and is incredibly fun with friends, especially with the chaos of three battletoads and a whole lot of enemies all unleashing their attacks at once. Co-op also helps keep some encounters in the game more manageable, though there is nothing in this game that you can’t get through as a solo player.
"There is more enemy variety in the first act of Battletoads than there is for many games, period."
That, by the way, is a good thing, because in a shocking omission for a brawler, and perhaps more still, a Microsoft game, Battletoads does not have online co-op. It has co-op, and it has online functionality, but it somehow does not have online co-op – which is a pretty major shortcoming for a brawler at the best of times, but can be a critical one in the present context. Like I said, the game remains really fun and engaging solo as well, but you are absolutely not getting the co-op experience short of having people sitting by your side in the same room as you.
I don’t understand how this decision was made, because it feels like such a basic and yet significant thing to overlook under any context – how is a brawler in today’s day and age released without online co-op? There is always the possibility that this problem is addressed post-launch, of course, but given the game was already delayed, it feels a bit perplexing that it didn’t launch with this functionality to begin with.
While the lack of the online functionality is definitely a significant mark against the game, however, like I said, it does not take away from how fun and surprisingly engaging Battletoads is in any other context. Local co-op is, of course, ideal, but even if you are playing it by yourself, this is definitely a game that holds your attention, while also being ideally suited to simply picking it up and dropping out of it whenever you want without necessarily needing long play sessions you need to invest into it.
"Battletoads may not be as convincing as it could have been, but the new game definitely demonstrates the IP still has a place in today’s market, and delivers a really fun experience that stands on its own merits as well."
The missing online co-op is especially a shame in that context, because other than that, whatever caveats and shortcomings I mention are pretty minor, and easy enough to overlook. The game’s sharp art style, clever dialog, and incredibly deep and exhilarating gameplay make for a potent package – it’s just one that a lot of people can’t enjoy to the fullest.
Be that as it may, however, Battletoads grand return is definitely a triumph. It may not be as convincing as it could have been, but the new game definitely demonstrates the IP still has a place in today’s market, and delivers a really fun experience that stands on its own merits as well. The battletoads are back – I hope this time, they are here to stay, and we can see further games starring them that build on the successes of this one.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
Sharp, funny writing that uses meta-humor to buoy the game; extremely strong combat, with incredible enemy variety; local co-op support; accessible without being impenetrable
The non-brawling gameplay can be a slog; a lot of its humor doesn't land; shockingly enough, the game does not have any online co-op support
Battletoads' grand return largely sticks the landing. While some shortcomings make it a recommendation with caveats, it's still a fun, engaging, and clever game that fans of the genre should look into.