In 1991, Rare developers Tim and Chris Stamper created Battletoads, a game that became infamous for its difficulty and praised for its gameplay, its personality and its sense of humour. It was a landmark beat-em-up and one of the most graphically advanced video games ever released for the NES. It featured two space mutant anthropomorphic toads known as Rash and Zitz, who embark on a mission to defeat the evil Dark Queen on her planet in hopes of rescuing their kidnapped friends, Pimple and Princess Angelica. The game won six awards from the 1991 Nintendo Power Awards and led to Rare developing various sequels — although none as unforgiving as the original. Battletoads is a rare game indeed and by that I mean it is a game that although regarded as one of the most difficult video games ever created, is also ridiculously fun to play, especially if you have a friend tagging along.
The game was created in response to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze of the early 1990s and created with the intention of marketing the characters in every which way possible. Rare was basically looking for the best ways to cash in, and it paid off in spades. Apart from the aforementioned sequels, Rare released merchandise such as action figures and t-shirts and even signed a deal for a half-hour animated television special. According to Rare artist Kev Bayliss, the characters of Battletoads were conceived in order to produce merchandise on a mass scale, in similar vein Tim Burton’s Batman film series. But that didn’t stop Rare from adding their own twists and turns to help distinguish it from other platformers on the market at the time. Battletoads isn’t just a beat-em-up; it’s a platformer, a racer and a strategy game all rolled into one. It features some fast auto-scrolling racing levels that require strict memorization and a lot of puzzle environments as well. In fact, each level is quite different. Players will find themselves riding a surfboard, descending down a deep cave, or even jumping from snake to snake to reach the top of the area.
In many ways, Battletoads was ahead of its time and paved the way for future Super NES classics such as Super Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time. As it stands, Battletoads is a reminder of an era, in which developers could design a game that’s nearly impossible to beat but still gets by with its charismatic leads and witty sense of humour. Seriously, I can’t think of another game so difficult and yet easy to enjoy. The gameplay is where Battletoads excels, be it transforming your character’s limbs into exaggerated proportions for devastating and comical attacks or head-butting your foes after rope-swining your way through areas and surfing over troubled water. From the 8-bit music composed by David Wise, which ranges from all genres of rock (including the awesome song that plays when you pause the game), to the bright colors to the short but sweet cut-scenes, Battletoads is every bit as good today as it was in 1991. Much like every game Rare developed, Battletoads has personality — and personality goes a long way. Just be prepared to seek out assistance in the form of cheat codes.
This article is part of our month-long spotlight on Rare Studios.