If you were to browse the expansive library of franchises that have influenced the video game industry, a couple of series spring instantly to mind. The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, and Halo are undoubtedly considered as some of the most influential. Yet, there's an arcade game that has likewise been attributed with "classic" status in this context, the side-scrolling Battletoads, originally developed by Sea of Thieves and GoldenEye studio Rare. With a rising interest in remakes, remasters and reimaginings, how is Battletoads holding up in an already crowded field of titles?
Before we dive into the actual content we got to see during our hands-on with Battletoads 2019, it is imperative that we note Rare isn't the main developer - that crucial task has instead been outsourced to Dlala Studios (Overruled!).
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Battletoads is a beat 'em up from the '90s featuring three-player co-op and some weird and quirky characters. Although it's rather simple both in nature and in terms of scope, the game proved to be a hit with its community and it still enjoys some popularity to this day. Despite this legacy, however, few suspected Microsoft would revive the IP as a part of its ever-growing line-up of exclusives.
At this year's Gamescom we were treated to thirty minutes of hands-on time with the game, trying two separate modes in the process. One was the newly introduced 'Eternity Run', which is reminiscent of Temple Run (and the plethora of other, similar titles). The second was the revamped mode based on the original.
The first we tried was Eternity Run and after only a couple of minutes, we were miles away from being impressed by what we had seen. Without wanting to sound overly negative or critical, this mode tries to walk the thin line between being familiar and fun - instead, it ended up being a bit boring. With the concept having been done to death on smartphones ever since the inception of the iPhone, Eternity Run was difficult to love. As a party game, we could see the appeal, but there are already plenty that offer more variation and innovation in this space.
The environments were pretty dull as well, with plain industrial backgrounds going on and on. The scenery finally changed a little after playing for about 10 minutes and happily it showcased a more vibrant and interesting area. The change did very little to really alter our initial perception but still demonstrated what could - potentially - become quite engaging. In short, Battletoads does nothing to really spice up the endless runner genre. Luckily, this aspect isn't the core of Battletoads and we couldn't wait to move on and get to try the real meat of the game.
Before we jumped into the revamped original, a small introduction was given. Supposedly, an essential element was having characterful writing in the campaign, and Dlala is aiming for a game that's filled to the brim with humour. During our short time with the mode, we weren't really treated to enough dialogue to justify whether they would be able to really deliver on this promise. What we got instead, was plenty of time messing around in the three-player co-op mode.
The first thing that caught our attention, unfortunately, was how confusing the gameplay was with three players working together at the same time. Each character doesn't look notably different from the others and so we kept on mistaking ourselves with the toads controlled by others. What's more, this proved to be even more of a problem when the screen filled up with waves of enemies.
Engaging with said enemies was made accessible due to a simple control scheme. Therefore, the controls during battle, while a bit confusing at times, weren't too challenging and we quickly wrapped our heads around how to perform special moves and basic attacks. Akin to many other games in the action genre, X and Y were mapped to our attacks. A few special moves could be performed, but the developers said the demo only scratched the surface of what was possible. In short, the intuitiveness of the gameplay partly made up for the sometimes confusing interface. Compared to the endless running and despite the occasional confusion, this part of the demo was a lot more fun, especially when played with others.
On the visual side of things, the cartoony graphics were decent and delivered on revitalising the Battletoads aesthetic. This new Battletoads is not a remarkably beautiful game and instead caters to fans of an old school style. The section of the game that we played was based in an urban environment, and as with the backgrounds in Eternity Run, it wasn't one of the more interesting and vivid areas that are so unique to the franchise. That said, almost every aspect of the game has the potential to be something special, and it's exciting to see how Battletoads will turn out when it finally releases on Xbox One.