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The Games of Summer: Battletoads

Welcome to The Games of Summer.  Though you’re not likely to be running into a shortage of games that you can play over the next few months, there are a few “outside the box” favorites that we’ll be recommending each week, to kind of give you a breezy, enjoyable time, whether you’re playing them day or night.

For this week’s selection, we’ve opted to go with a classic that, in our minds, never gets old.  In fact, it’d fit right in as a downloadable game on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network – provided Rare can get off its Kinect Sports kick long enough to give it consideration.  Ladies and gentlemen, we present… Battletoads.

First introduced on the NES in 1991 (over 20 years ago!), Battletoads presented a formidable challenge for brawling fans that were looking for an alternative to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game.  In it, you play as the Battletoads, powerful warriors who are battling against the evil Dark Queen, who is raising havoc throughout the galaxy with the help of her renegade space troops.  Helping you out on each mission is Professor T. Bird, who resides aboard the Vulture spaceship.  You’ll need it too, as Pimple, the largest of the Battletoads, is kidnapped, along with Princess Angelica, who he’s escorting to her father.

The game takes place across twelve various stages, each providing different activities and ways for you to pound everyone from scissor-beaked birds to rat thugs to rival snowmen.  The cool aspect of Battletoads is how you change up activities in almost every stage.  One minute you’re using fisticuffs and enlarged finishing attacks on enemies; the next, you’re carefully surfing down chasms and dodging objects.  The game also includes thrilling fights amidst a snow-laden stage, a drop into a booby-trapped chasm, and, probably our favorite of stages, a captivating speeder bike stage, where you avoid blocks that pop up on the road while hitting ramps with perfect timing.

We’re not going to lie – Battletoads is one mother of a game.  It can get difficult rather quickly.  In fact, the end part of the speeder bike stage, where blocks appear in rapid succession one after the other, require crackerjack timing to avoid in order to beat the stage.  That’s not to mention the fights that await you in the eleventh and twelfth levels, complete with a final boss battle with the Dark Queen that’ll wipe out your lives if you aren’t careful.

But Battletoads’ challenge is part of where the fun lies.  Tradewest, the game’s publisher, and Rare Ltd., its developer, really knew how to get the best out of NES gamers with this product, seeing as how Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden games performed.  It’s still a formidable challenge today, and better still, you can team up with a friend, playing as Rash or Zitz, to battle the odds.  The co-op in the game is spectacular, probably some of the best we’ve seen in a game of this nature in some time.  You’ll really have to work together in certain spots, like during the snake maze, when they go running around in strange patterns, forcing you to either adapt to the changing environment or perish.

Also, for a 1991 game, Battletoads looks and sounds great.  The graphics are perhaps the best we’ve seen in an NES product for that time, with barely any flicker – unlike what was present in the home port of TMNT II: The Arcade Game.  The music is a memorable bunch too, with melodies that change with the tempo of each stage.  The snow battle and surfing stages in particular have standout tunes.

In following years, the game was released for various platforms, including the Amiga, the Sega Genesis (which was a pretty good port, if a bit dated) and the Game Gear (which lacked the two-player option, sadly).  A version also came out for the Game Boy in 1993, renamed Battletoads In Ragnarok’s World.  A version was, at one point, planned for IBM PC and Atari ST, but never surfaced.

But, honestly, the Battletoads feel right at home on the NES, and that’s where they deserve to be revisited.  It remains one of the brightest points in the system’s life span, even if it also stands as one of the most difficult.  It’s that kind of challenge that many gamers thrived for, and it’s one they’ll still enjoy today.  Even if that means dragging your old NES out of the closet, blowing the dust out and figuring out video connections.  This is one game that’s certainly worth it.  Do it for Zitz!

We’ll see you next week with another Game of Summer

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Robert Workman
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