There’s a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show currently airing on Nickleodeon and it is SO good that it fully revived my fandom for the series. But while looking into its history, I feel I should also check out some TMNT Rip-offs. Things like the COWboys of Moo-messa, Biker Mice from Mars, the Street Sharks, etc… Not to say they all were malicious rip offs (Usagi Yojimbo wasn’t, and still fits the genre), but even if some are, it’s possible to make something that might be remembered by its own right. Let’s look at something clearly… “inspired” by TMNT with Battletoads for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Unlike the Ninja Turtles, which started with a comic, the Battletoads started with this video game developed by Rare. It has since become known for being one of the hardest games on the NES and a really creative Beat ‘em up, which is why I’m reviewing it for Adamant Ditto’s annual BEAT EM UP MOOONTH! (*Adamant Ditto clip*) However, to exclusively label this a Beat ‘em up is kind of dishonest. The first level is mostly a Beat ‘em up, but in the next level you’re repelling down a tunnel. While you can still punch things, the style is clearly different. The third level starts with a small beat em up section, but then you hop on speeder bikes. I could spend the whole review explaining each level and their gimmick, as there are 12 levels and each is different. I will mention my personal favorite is Karanth’s lair, a level in which giant snakes move about and you have to jump and climb on them. This level’s timing and movements plays out so beautifully that it watches like a choreography. It’s actually what I point to when someone says video games aren’t art to prove them wrong.
The changing gameplay might have contributed to the infamous difficulty. Now, some people argue about whether it’s fair or not. To put my 2 cents in, it’s the difficulty isn’t unfair because it isn’t caused by bad controls… but holy CRAP do you need to have perfect timing sometimes. It took me a MONTH of trying to beat this game DAILY before I managed to it, and the shifting challenges did contribute to it.
But at its core, the game play is still beat em up and platforming. The fighting is actually pretty fun. When you’re pounding a baddie, it can seem like everything stops in that moment. This often ends with a rewarding transformation (a signature of the Battletoads), knocking enemies off screen with a giant boot or spiked fist. But although hitting things feels solid, moving isn’t stiff. You actually gain momentum while walking and since you’re a toad, jumping feels very free. The physics are great and keep things feeling linked, so I never felt like a death was the game’s fault (despite any rage at the moment).
I’d put the graphics for the game on par with most NES Capcom games. Considering we have giant TOADS, the sprites are well designed, even if some of the frames aren’t quite perfect. The enemies tend to be monochrome and have limited frames, but for how rarely they repeat, it’s no problem. It’s also worth mentioning that this game is available on other systems, and I find the Sega Genesis versions looks “right” to me, but I tend to think that 16 to 32 bit is ideal for Beat Em Ups.
However, I really like the music. The theme song in particular perfectly captures that level of teen-surfer-cool vibe that anyone who was ripping of the TMNT was trying to recreate. The levels and in-game music are a little held back, but I suppose that’s actually good due to the high difficulty. If the music was high paced or over bearing, I could see it stressing people out and lowering their tolerance for the whole game. In that way, the music doesn’t just fit the gameplay; it compliments it.In the world of TMNT-like products, the Battletoads stand out both as one of the more obvious cash-ins and as one of the best. I don’t know if Rare thought of the settings first then made the levels, or if they were just trying to push the envelope on game play as much as possible, but either way it really works. The difficulty and constant variation of levels may not be for everyone, but I still attest that it’s not a jagged change and the difficulty is fair. There are some nit-picks, but they are easy to overlook. The only “problem” with the game (with big air quotes on problem) is that for a beat em up, there’s not a whole lot of beating up. Shame since it does it so well, so I would have liked more of a focus on it. Regardless, anyone who enjoys a challenge should try to get their hands on this game and really work at beating it. I give Battletoads for the NES 9.5 levels out of 10.