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If you mention Battletoads to anyone who owned a NES 15 years ago, they probably went on about how amazing it was.

But here’s the thing, they are delusional. As delusional as your standard Greenpeace member. The cosy blanket of nostalgia has enveloped them in a comforting glaze of love for this cartridge based torture. Because think about it, in fact, go back and play it, because when you look past the kickass battle system, all that’s left is cheap level design and a difficulty level so severe you’d be more likely successful winning a real life fight with M.Bison.

Let me break it down and tell you why I think this game was designed by sadomasochists at Rare.

For those unschooled in the ways of the ‘toad, the game had a loose plot surrounding the kidnapping of a couple of what can only be described as toads covered in that ooze from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. As a result of this kidnapping, you control one of the two other mutant frogs, “battling” through a ridiculous number of intricately designed levels from hell to save them. As the name suggests, the game is a two player beat-em-up, and for its sake, is actually a very good looking game, especially for the NES.

But once you look past the tasty mess of pixels, what you are left with is one of the most cheap and nasty games ever created. From the very first level, you are faced with an awkward control system, jumps to nowhere, and enemies that can hit almost metaphorically hard. Remember those games where you could jump “off” the screen? That’s what happens here too.

The first level is deceptively easy compared to the rest of the game. Aside from a few moments of getting used to the controls, you can generally mash through the enemies and fight quite an interestingly designed and generally entertaining boss. But even this simple level can be made slightly more irritating if you end up playing it with a second player. But why, I hear you say, wouldn’t it be easier to play with a buddy? Well yes, it would be, if Rare weren’t a pack of assholes.

This game, one of the first since Double Dragon, has friendly fire in it. Yes, friendly fire. So if you happen to start a punching combo and you happen to be anywhere NEAR your partner, you will beat the crap out of him. This happens a lot. Because the enemies tend to cluster around you, its difficult to be precise with your hits, so in some cases, you can actually be responsible for killing your team mate. And guess what, if one of you dies, you lose one of the three total continues.

I can’t tell you how infuriating and frankly, embarrassing, it is to get to the end of level one with only one continue left. As a self-confessed hardcore gamer, I consider myself reasonably competent at games, and I don’t like the fact I can be killed in one hit by a teammate. But in any case, the first level is a cakewalk compared to the rest of the game.

The second section has you abseiling down a cave filled with bats and other sorts of random supposedly cave dwelling enemies. But the issue isn’t the enemies, it’s again your goddamn teammate. Since you’re moving down a rope, most of your attacks consist of swing-kicking across the screen. And of course, most times, you hit your fellow toad constantly. Thus dying, eventually losing another continue and possibly starting all the way at the beginning of the game.

What the hell was in the mind of the developers when they made this? Did they never want anyone but the 1% of ridiculously narcissistic gamers to even get near the end? Why only 3 continues? Why no password or battery backup system? Why make the game twice as hard to complete with a friend?

But you kept trying, over and over and over. Even when you got to the third level, which has the be the most frustrating thing I’ve ever tried to complete in my life, and I’ve learnt how to snowboard. In this level, you jump on a motorbike-jetski hybrid and get flung on rails through another cave filled with jumps, vertical barriers, horizontal barriers and are made to dodge your way past all of it at superhuman speeds. This level is unadulterated torture. I flung my controller at the TV, screamed bloody murder and threw all sorts of tantrums all those years ago, and even as a 26yr old I actually did them again.

If you get hit, you die. If you miss a jump, you die. If you partner does either, you both die. If you continue, its back to the start of the level. If you run out of continues, you go back to the start of the whole game. Oh, and you will die. Constantly. I’d say 95% of people played up to this point then either burnt the cartridge or filled it away under “Fuck This”. It felt like a scientific experiment.

Once you get past this point, it just gets harder and harder. One level has you jumping on moving snakes where you need almost complete perfection to complete, you will need to die, again, constantly, to memorize the system and finish it.  Not only that, but the US version of the game was littered with bugs. Thankfully, I had a PAL cart, but I couldn’t imagine something that would make the game even more difficult and cheap then it already is. I daresay people probably thought the glitches were part of the Antichrist experience.

There were a few ways to get an edge in this game. There were warp points, which allowed you to skip parts of the game, as well as a few tricks to getting extra lives. But in the end, playing Battletoads was an exercise in futility. If you could complete it, without cheating, I would consider you my nerd god. This was not a fun game for me, and for those who are preparing to flame me, I plead that you play it one more time then relying on memory.

Fun games are actually able to be played with some aspect of mercy. The player has absolutely no control over this game, and its almost impossible to complete without dying a couple of hundred times. Battletoads should have come with a bamboo torture kit, just so you could get the same experience when you were on the go.

  1. I always thought the TMNT games were a bit on the easy side, and this was just way too hard. I think I maybe beat it once, but I made it to the cycle-tunnel like 100 times.

  2. avatar Dr. Oliver

    i played the rom of this game a few months ago, and even with savestate, it ws the hardest game ive ever played. i died dozens and dozens of times. there is a lot of trial and error in order to beat levels, but in order to do this on the regular cartridge you had to go all the way back to those levels. this game requires perfection and more patience then most people have. like i said, even cheating on a rom this game was beyond rage inducing.

  3. avatar chilo2

    I owned that game for three years, and made it passed the third level once. I can remember the frustration as if it was yesterday.

  4. avatar Homo Sapien

    Really? Me and my bro could beat it with only using 1 cont. =)

  5. avatar Polygon

    Quit whining. Battletoads is one of the last of its kind, representing a time when games were CHALLENGING. Nowadays the majority of games are too easy and it has raised a generation of gamers that are, frankly, soft. Anyone who owned a NES back in the day knows what I’m talking about.

  6. avatar Named

    Saw the cyclone tube on that other tube, Youtube, and it looked fucking solid! No way could I be assed playing that game seeing that! I was also surprised to hear that this was by Rare. Perhaps they took the cash from Bandai (or whoever) and felt that rather than sell out completely and make the usual tie-in nonsense for children, they would prefer to make those children cry! Shame, sympathy and genuine fucking respect for anyone that completed this solid as shit game!

  7. avatar Me

    Frendly Fire is what makes games with friends fun. I’m about to beat up a guy, and my buddy picks me up, then he gets hit by that guy off the cliff. That was funny :)

  8. avatar Knarf Black

    Beating level 3 = Nerd rite of passage.

  9. @Polygon
    I actually loved it back in the day, too, but the author brings up a good point. The level design is a bit unbalanced. You’re cruising through this easy game, and all of a sudden level 3 is just thrown in your face. Then, after that, the rest of the game is a joke!

  10. avatar cell989

    I traded this game to my friend for Tiger Heli. He thought he was ripping me off, lol little did he know, Battle Toads was a 2 level game.

    After playing it hundreds of times and always getting stuck at level 3, anything else was better then this, so Tiger Heli it was, and my friend hated me after that.

  11. avatar Joe

    Come on who complains about NES graphics are u serious how can u ppl claim ur hardcore gamers when u cant even beat a NES game today. I beat it when I was like ten im pretty sure i can do it now.

  12. avatar PrototypeMike55

    This was an awsome game in its time!! I dont remember the hover bikes being that hard, But do remeber How hard some of the levels were with the “Repelling” down and allsorts of shit to avoid on the way down (Saws, Turrets, Flying birds, ect)… But then once you got to the bottom (with little life left) you were greeted to this big ass “Casy Jones” TMNT knock-off dude with a HUGE gun that would fuck you up with one shot….. Talk a bout a kick to the nutz….

  13. I have to agree with Polygon on this one. This game was absolutely fantastic. Indeed, the third level is thrown at you like a cheap whore, but thats what made me come back for more and more. Not to mention it’s sequel mash-up, Battletoads and Double Dragon. Now THAT is a game my friends.

  14. avatar Polygon

    @Chris Carter
    Unbalanced is the wrong word, I think. The main reason Battletoads is such a legend in the gaming universe is because each level offers something completely different in the way of gameplay, while still keeping the game a basic 2D/TMNT sidescrolling brawler. Aside from the famous level 3 speeder bikes, there’s a surfing level, a giant snake-hopping puzzle level, a weird gravity-defying hand bike level, and who knows how many more…the point is it NEVER gets boring. For anyone who’s never gotten past level 3, check this out:

  15. avatar Mike Tours

    I could only rent this from my local video store when I was younger, managed to get past level three a few times but that was it … I think I broke my controller playing it … lol … it’s so true it wasn’t fun !!!

  16. @Polygon
    Haha I can see you enjoy the game quite a bit :-D . We all have our “favorites” from the NES era. A lot of people would say that Mega Man, especially 1, would fall under the same category as Battletoads: cheap level design, but I would disagree as well.

    I did enjoy the snake-hopping level more than any other stage, but I still feel the game is fairly easy after level 3.

  17. I actually did enjoy the game, the article was designed to be a bit over the top ;) , but a lot of it was so ridiculously frustrating I doubt many people didn’t get supremely upset while playing it.

  18. I went round to a house at uni where this group of hardcore old school gamers lived, and I had the privileage of watching them beat battletoads 2 player.

  19. avatar planterpeanut

    Yay! I’m a nerd god! :P

    I beat it (no cheats) on my NES many, many years ago. I’d say the last two levels were easily the hardest. With my bro I was capable of reaching the ‘Gargantua Tubes’ (I think that is what it was called). But yeah… it was much harder if you played 2 players.

    Funny thing is that I never met someone (in person) who had beaten the game, but I recently found out that a colleague beat it too.

    I’m a videogame developer anyways… so yeah… I’m pretty nerdy. :P

  20. avatar Leonces

    Ok but what about the arcade version? OMG that was a beast!!!

  21. avatar Its true I beat this game at the age of 13 or 14 and played this game for one year straight. People who say its probably one of the hardest games in the world to beat is correct! I memorized where all the npc'sextra men were and only warped twice throught


  22. avatar Whoops

    Its true I beat this game at the age of 13 or 14 and played this game for one year straight. People who say its probably one of the hardest games in the world to beat is correct! I memorized where all the npc’sextra men were and only warped twice throught the whole game. The two warp zones I used was on the bike lvl (lvl 3) and the snake pit because as a kid those were the only warp zones i knew about! This game is impossible to beat unless you have all your men saved up from start to end when you face the queen. If you use one continue throughout this game your pretty much finished and its lights out. I always got to the last lvl and lost all my men but I finaly reached the queen at one point and started panicing because i didnt realize how many men i had… mind you iv only reached the queen a couple of times. I was dieing left and right because i didnt know how to fight her and my lives kept vanishing but i knew i had to have had a lot of men because when i finaly killed the bytch I still had 5 white hearts showing and that is how I beat battle toads my friends ;)

    • avatar Uthari

      It seems counter-intuitive to have an agile delevopment and programming methodology without having an agile design methodology.While I agree that getting things down on paper can be very important, even necessary for large corporations, I think that the industry is showing the results of this factory production line approach.I think the most important element is simply to know when to call it quits. Even tried-and-true’ mechanics might not work in the context of any individual design, so its important to be constantly evolving the design elements to fit in your game, but not to a point where you’re just in a constant state of changing mechanics.

    • avatar Robinmon

      This site is always my first stop for Rangers news. Keep up the good work. And I agree with Fandangle 227, you don’t give yeorsulf enough credit for your humor. “f’n thundersticks” was a great one yesterday. But my personal favorite is from way earlier in the season when you had the “man crush” on Zherdev. That one still makes me laugh.

  23. avatar Shiu

    For the benefit of those who don’t alerday know, if you want to try Commander Keen out before you buy it, you can legally download episodes 1 & 4 because they’re shareware. You can also legally download Keen Dreams, which is not available on Steam.

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