Pop a Zitt

Battletoads (Game Boy)

When the original Battletoads came out it was an instant smash, selling a ton of copies and putting the trio on toads with 'tude on the map. The assumption was that the Toads would lead a media franchise to rival the Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies., a lofty goal but one that seems achievable in the "Fighting Mutant Animals" genre that was apparently a thing back in the early 1990s. Toads and Turtles duking it out for reptilian supremacy.

Battletoads

Rare, in 1991, certainly made all the right moves to make their lofty franchise goals a reality. With the successful NES game out an Game Boy successor was quickly rushed out to capitalize on the fame. No mere retread of the original NES game (a Game Boy port of the NES game would come later with Battletoads in Ragnarok's World), this Game Boy Battletoads was an all new adventure featuring new levels, new enemies, new traps, and new vehicle sections. It was clearly a Battletoads game, just with everything refreshed.

Whether or not you knew there was a Battletoads game on the Game Boy depends a lot on how deep into the Toad lore you were and how much you paid attention as a kid way back in 1991. Fact is that unlike the NES game the Game Boy edition wasn't as big a hit. It did respectable numbers, to be sure, but it didn't end up a "must have" in every kid's collection that year. It could have been the fact that it was released so close to the NES title (within months), meaning that one game was cannibalizing the other, or perhaps already the luster of the Battletoads franchise was starting to fade. Certainly if you'd played the NES game you had to decide just how much more punishment you deserved on the Game Boy title.

Funny thing is, though, that this Game Boy adventure for the Toads wasn't actually anywhere near as challenging as the NES edition. The game is oddly easy, in fact, feeling like a respite considering the name on the package and the difficulty expected of a Battletoads game. The NES title was "Nintendo Hard" but this Game Boy entry and vastly simpler, almost sedate. It could just be that fans of the NES game looking for more challenge were turned off by how simple and straightforward this game was.

In function and style this game is a Battletoads entry. The hero, Zitt, goes on a mission to save his missing brothers (they all have gross body issue names so we'll go with... Ulcer and Cyst) after they were captured by the forces of the evil queen. This puts Zitt on an adventure across a handful of stages where he'll fight, rides vehicles, and do all the things you'd expect of the Toads, just with a lot less worry and far easy zones to cross in the process. It's Battletoads in more than just name but not really in expectations.

It wouldn't be a problem to have a slightly easier Battletoads game. If the original title had a slightly easier challenge mod you could turn on, "Hard" instead of just "Nintendo Hard", a lot of kids might have taken more time to get through the title (looking at you Turbo Tunnel). This Game Boy edition, though, cranks the difficulty much farther down than that, going right past "Spicy" and "Medium" and right to "Mild". The challenge of the game comes not from worrying about all the devious traps (as there's barely any) but trying to see how few lives you lose in the process.

Take the jet section as an example. In it's spiritual precursor, the Turbo Tunnel, the Toads had to go through multiple sections of traps and obstacles, dodging dangers left right and center with twitch reflexes for a brutal number of minutes. The Game Boy's jet riding version, though, only has one section that's at all devious and it's both less extensive and also slower, making it much more likely you'll get through. Each of the vehicle sections are like this, taking on the look of one of the challenges from the NES game but with none of the actual difficulty that made those sections so defining.

Between those vehicles sections are a plethora of fighting levels that, also, don't really live up to expectations. Part of it is that the enemies are weak, and dumb, with A.I. that mostly just lets the Toad, Zitt, run up and punch without much worry of taking damage. For a game where half the stages are combat, these sections are more tedious than engaging. The Boss fights are even worse, though, as they all have very simple patterns and attacks that are easy to avoid. The combat, in general, is the least interesting section of this brawling game.

That's not to say the game completely lacks anything of interest. Out of all the levels two felt like they actually had the spirit of the original NES game in mind. One is a boulder chase stage that puts Zitt through a looping maze as he tries to avoid a brainy-rock that's chasing him. That one actually felt pulse-pounding where all the previous stages had failed. And then there's the penultimate stage that sees Zitt riding a vertical jet up a tower, dodging traps and shooting enemies in Space Invader-like formations. This tower level is great, just too short, and I really wish there'd been more to it.

Frankly I think that was an issue with every section of the game (aside from the boulder dash): there just isn't enough meat to any of it. Most of the stages are at max half the length of similar stages on the NES (if not shorter) and the whole game can be crushed in 20 minutes. There just isn't enough of this game to make it worth consideration, even with the few things that it actually does well. A longer game, which maybe would have been more difficult, would likely have been better just to give fans a package that actually felt like it was worth their time.

It's sad, too, because Rare was able to translate the basic feel of Battletoads over to the Game Boy perfectly. It has the right look to its sprites (even though it's in the Game Boy's lovely green monochrome) and the music is full of excellent tracks that easily could have come off the NES game. This is a game that, to a casual eye, evokes Battletoads through and through... it's just not that fun to actually play.

It's hard to say at this point if the shortness of the game was Rare's reaction to players proclaiming the NES game was too hard, or if this was a rushed job that just needed more time in the hopper. While Rare was known for the quality (and difficulty) of their NES games, their Game Boy titles didn't fare as well, in general. Off-shoots of their main franchises, like Wizards & Warriors X: The Fortress of Fear and Sneaky Snakes made it seem like the company didn't care as much about the little portable console as it's 8-bit brother. Maybe that was true, maybe not, but this game certainly doesn't change that opinion of early Rare Game Boy efforts.

Whatever the case, Battletoads on Game Boy feels like it misses the mark. What should have been an extension and continuation of the franchise instead makes it seem like all the good ideas were used up in the very creative NES installment. And the franchise would continue to struggle to define itself in the releases to come.