It can be challenging for a video game franchise to stand the test of time, even more so make a comeback after a nearly thirty-year long hiatus. Plenty have tried, and plenty have failed, but Rare's iconic '90s beat em' up, often regarded as one of the hardest titles of all time, is back and better than ever. This time, however, it's Dlala Studios' Battletoads.
Battletoads 2020 follows on after the events of the previous games. The story starts with the star-studded heroes saving the day before finding out they've been trapped in a simulation bunker for the past 26 years, living out their wildest dreams. Back in reality, the toads are less than famous and locked into dead-end jobs where all seems lost until they concoct a crazy plan to reinstall their fame by taking down a former nemesis. The journey, of course, goes horribly off the rails.
Similar to the '90s classics, Battletoads is also a beat em' up with additional elements including racing, platforming, and daft mini-games. There are levels where you will have to push through hordes of enemies in the fighting style, managing its 2D design and challenging combat. The foes can be anything from space-age security guards to failed creations of a certain evil Queen, but the combat isn't limited to just this, for Battletoads once again delivers fantastic and often quite difficult boss fights for players to face.
The first one you encounter back in the simulation bunker is the punk piggy, Porkshank, who is doing his best to ruin your day of celebration. He will use charge mechanics and basic attack chains, as well as a last-ditch move where he duplicates himself to be twice the threat. Porkshank however, isn't all that tough and serves more as a learning experience than anything else.
As for the other types of gameplay in Battletoads, there are hover-bike racing levels, this time played from behind the toads. There are platforming levels where there are no enemies, but the environment is equally lethal. There are spaceship levels, where you play from a twin-stick shooter style in an arcade designed world from a top-down perspective. Yet, best of all are the minigame levels where you're tasked with weird objectives, such as a round of Toad Sham Bo! (a wacky toad version of rock, paper, scissors) or competing in a completely random series of Olympic-style sporting events.
The reason why these are so brilliant is because of how different they are each time. They never manage to repeat themselves and are always wacky enough to make you laugh, or most usually question why it's happening. I found these minigames to be the highlight of the Battletoads story, simply due to how fun they are to play and how quickly they come and go; it's like an adrenaline shot of madness. However, it's also worth noting whilst every style of game is genuinely great, the real reason they excel is because of the exceptionally funny dialogue of which ties the whole title together.
I can't remember the last time I laughed so much playing a game. Not only does Battletoads bring an armada of quirky, witty jokes designed to catch you out, but it constantly pokes fun at itself and how unusual it is to see the series back after 26 years. A favourite moment of mine is witnessing celestial beings shrink a man three inches as a divine punishment, claiming; "it will impact his life more than anything he could've imagined." Battletoads is genuinely one of the funniest titles I personally have ever played, and matching that with the crazy gameplay, it's hard not to love it.
To keep Battletoads feeling fresh and to provide a little bit extra when completing the story, there's a bunch of collectables to acquire in a host of missions. These can be found anywhere, both in plain sight and behind cheeky puzzles that require a little bit of ingenuity to solve. Also, most levels come with a time trial challenge, which if completed will reward an extra collectable. The issue is with this design, you can blast through the storyline in a matter of a few hours assuming you don't go for 100% completion, and that's on the medium difficulty.
Unlike its predecessors, Battletoads 2020 is not crushingly hard. There are times where something is challenging to complete, and there are three levels of difficulty to try out, with the hardest making the toads much more vulnerable to damage. However, with only around half of the levels actually involving combat, it is hard to say a jump in difficulty will elongate the storyline all that much.
On the other hand, Battletoads offers a great many ways to play. You can jump in on either PC or console, although it is worth being aware that mouse and keyboard controls can be a little finicky at times. Alternatively, you can play in three-player couch co-op, utilising the full Battletoad team at once and really elevating the mayhem in one swift move. With the short storyline length and humorous narrative, Battletoads would make for a great evening of local co-op fun.
Stacking up against the '90s originals, this instalment of Battletoads has really ramped up its visual design as you would expect, albeit a little differently. Battletoads 2020 is not pixelated, and largely does not feature a retro look, instead, it has cartoon design, making it feel like a comic book brought to life on occasion. And this is the exact same with its soundtrack, as that develops from being retro-themed into more rock-focused music, which itself ties quite nicely to the super cool ways the toads themselves act.
Pulling everything together, Battletoads might just end up being one of the best titles to come out of an Xbox Game Studio this year. From the gut-busting humour and the crazy gameplay variety to the cartoon visuals, wild soundtrack, and local co-op, Battletoads has managed the almost impossible and made a great comeback after 26 years. The short but brilliant storyline keeps you constantly engaged with its consistent flow of absurdity, and it left me wanting more the second I'd finished. With the conclusion of this adventure, it's hard to know where the toads will go next, but one thing I do know, I am already dying for another round of Toad Sham Bo!