Battletoads (Game Boy) review
"I'll be frank. I hated the NES Battletoads. Playing alone was as boring as watching a documentary about driftwood, except around the third level or so the driftwood repeatedly slammed into your face with the force of a thousand rhinoceros horns and caused you to expend your three valuable continues and have to start over from the very beginning of the game. I won't even try to claim old-school status here; Battletoads is just freakin' hard with no justification whatsoever. Although there were se..."
I'll be frank. I hated the NES Battletoads. Playing alone was as boring as watching a documentary about driftwood, except around the third level or so the driftwood repeatedly slammed into your face with the force of a thousand rhinoceros horns and caused you to expend your three valuable continues and have to start over from the very beginning of the game. I won't even try to claim old-school status here; Battletoads is just freakin' hard with no justification whatsoever. Although there were select fun elements, such as fighting the first boss (a mechanoid) from its infrared first-person view, it was one pummeling after another as you vainly attempted to beat even 25% of the game. It stands to reason, then, that a transition to Game Boy would hopefully shrink the difficulty as well as the screen size. The aspect of utter impossibility waits much longer to exact itself upon you in this version of the game, and being able to explore more weird and exotic alien terrains than most of us got to on Nintendo puts this monochromatic port a notch above its bigger brother on the Fun-O-Meter.
The Game Boy release of Battletoads (Tradewest, 1991) doesn't appear to want to bother with hooking up link cables and such, and so it alters the story to fit the one-player mold. As such, you are cast as Zitz, the leader of the only amphibious trio in history to be christened after skin infections. With helpful briefs from your avian mentor (not to mention the taunts of the local boss) at the beginning of each level, you will settle into levels spanning a number of genres from beat-em-up to racing to vertical shooter. The Dark Queen and her mechanical lackey Robo-Magnus have captured Zitz's brothers Rash and Pimple, and it's up to Zitz the intrepid leader - always the most boring archetype - to traverse the game's nine levels, locate them, and bring them back to safety aboard their spaceship. In any other game, this would probably be a free ride and you'd be able to blow thirty easy minutes in order to put another beaten game under your belt. However, in this review we are considering the Battletoad universe, meaning that you are going to have to sweat blood and hack away until your thumbs are raw and sensitive if you ever want to have another toad family reunion again.
Battletoads gets the most momentum from its aforementioned genre-hopping. Though the first level is a bit of an action letdown with its slow platforming basics, things pick up when subsequent levels put you in a space cruising convertible, a jet ski, and mountain rappelling gear. The normal routine for most of the game is an introduction to the obstacles of a particular level in small doses followed by increased speed and amount of them as the level continues. Each level is also topped off by a boss who re-defines ''riffraff.'' Every new stage provides some new form of fun physical exertion, such as in the battle against the Wicked Wyrm upon your jet ski. One would figure that Our Heroô would wield a gun of some sort while attempting to stay above the water he so ironically cannot swim in, but that is not the case. Zitz has to take the jet ski and beat the Wyrm over the head with it. It's not the end when he defeats the Wyrm either, as the slimy villain eats Zitz in a last-ditch attempt to do him in.
After which the muscular protagonist must outrun the Wyrm's brain in a race of twists and turns ..... of life and death.
Unfortunately, the same mind-boggling difficulty that was omnipresent throughout the NES Battletoads finally shows up about an hour late - roundabout the eighth level out of this game's nine. However, you'll find that overall this is not nearly as blood-boiling as its predecessor was, and is ergo a lot more fun. The enemies don't seem to come at you with the same force, and special weapons and punches factor in more often, making giving your opponents a pummeling quite easier. Even if you broke a couple of controllers and televisions trying to beat the Turbo Tunnel, you'll still find that a more accessible adventure lies in wait for you here. Simply put, since it's not as hard, it's a thousand times more entertaining now, and the Game Boy port of the Ninja Turtle knock-off is therefore not to be missed.
The controls are easy to master and flow very well. Zitz is very fluid in his movements, enough so to make the player suspect he's been training in ballet on the side. Walking, running, and delivering caricaturish beatings are the easiest tasks to perform, but things get a bit muddier when you are asked to commandeer a vehicle or piece of equipment. For example, in the first level, you can deliver the kicks and punches very fast to where the axe-wielding porkers barely get a lick in on you. When you pick up one of the battle axes they leave behind upon their death, though, it takes a long time to get it up over your head and then bring it down on a piggy's head, which leaves you open to all sorts of attacks that chip away at your inadequate health. The vehicles often possess slow up-and-down movement that often causes you to skirt an obstacle and crash and burn in the abyss below. The game showcases a slew of diverse methods of transportation and offers many which are easily more exciting than traveling on foot, but they come at the expense of the smooth motion seen in levels where all you're doing is jumping from ledge to ledge. Memorization of hindrances from level to level will help you with the rougher aspects of the control, but overall you still feel as though the attention that was paid to Zitz on foot should have been paid to Zitz behind the wheel as well.
The graphics are actually a lot smoother on the small gray screen than on the NES, not showing as many sharp edges and adapted well to a lack of color. The Zitz sprite has many different animations, and all of them are hilarious wonders to behold, especially the enlargement of body parts that inflict such severe damage (leave your double entendres to yourself, if you will, please). His antagonists are the epitome of sheer ugliness, and the faces, stomachs, and body segments of none of them will leave your mind any time soon after putting the game down. The Dark Queen is a stark contrast from everyone else with her spandex dress and the trademark demeanor that makes her sound decidedly like the scariest dominatrix you've ever met or laid eyes upon. While the backgrounds and level-themed enemies are often both a hellish eyesore and beautiful at the same time, the bosses' presence remind you that big and bad is what this game is all about. If a boss doesn't take up half the screen's area, he's a pathetic weakling. Everything here is done right and sanded down to a fine arrangement of pixels that is easy on the old retinas. You may even find yourself replaying select levels many times just to get a load of the exotic dystopian background of your favorite stage or the strange boss that prevents your forward galactic progress. Few games can be as raunchy as Battletoads and still be branded with a well-deserved seal of comic and aesthetic approval.
There's no disappointment in the sound arena either, as many of the songs stick easily after the many playthroughs this game will doubtlessly subject you to. Slow levels that take place on stable platforms are accompanied by the appropriate driving piece, while many levels that require you to be constantly on the move contain very low-key but nonetheless adrenaline-pumping tunes with a remarkable hint of thumping bass. Subtle tempo increases often inject a veritable explosion of fresh life into the music when you approach a boss, while the sound effects convey accurately the feeling of sending your fist reeling into a 500-pound rat's face. Most memorable of all are the tunes of the fourth level, which seems to be almost devoid of melody and makes way for a low note line that will send chills through each individual vertebra, and the song in the Indiana Jones-style race against the brain in the level immediately thereafter. Be sure to clear some additional space in the jukebox of your subconscious for these compositions, because it will play them even if you don't insert the quarter, so to speak.
For all its enjoyable technical aspects, though, Battletoads for Game Boy still retains its stellar difficulty at varying levels for each player. Those who aren't familiar with the way things work in this series won't like the way their three continues swirl down the drain in an instant and more than likely won't return for a second helping of the masochism that fans of the toads get their kicks from. To those conditioned to perseverance in the face of video game adversity, and especially those looking for a quest that actually differs from the 8-bit one, this game will not prove to be so challenging as that previous chapter, but the lifted burden will make for an added layer of enjoyment that the whole saga all around benefits from. If you are loath to return to your Nintendo for fear that it will mock you yet again and call you names when you reach the point of frustration that makes you break valuable family heirlooms without a second thought, give this port a whirl. Playing the small cartridge immediately after playing the big cartridge will give anyone with a penchant for platforming a sense of accomplishment paralleled only by finishing the dissertation needed for your master's degree in psychology. And if you can actually beat this puppy, then heck, you deserve one of those too.
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)
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