E3 Hands-On: Battletoads

More than skin deep

Just one year ago, Microsoft briefly teased the existence of a brand-new Battletoads game. And now, a whole year later, Microsoft are finally ready to take the wraps off the latest entry in the classic franchise. The new game — under joint development from Rare and Dlala Studios — was revealed with a bombastic trailer at the Xbox E3 Press Briefing on Sunday. Initial reactions were certainly mixed; the hand-drawn art style perhaps being the area of greatest concern. I must admit, I harbored some reservations myself as I watched the trailer. The characters seemed to have too few frames in their animations, and their proportions were more short and squat than I was used to. Thankfully, my initial impressions melted away as the day progressed.

After the press briefing, Super Jump Magazine was invited to a showcase event to go hands-on with Microsoft’s E3 offerings ahead of the official show opening. Many titles were playable, including Ninja Theory’s Bleeding Edge, the new Lego expansion for Forza Horizon 4, and even Borderlands 3. I made a beeline for the Battletoads booth; I wanted to really see what the game looked like outside of its outlandish trailer.

I can confidently say that my initial impressions of the art style disappeared upon closer inspection. Actually moving Pimple (the slower, more burly toad) around the screen revealed something important: the characters’ designs are more informed by function than I had originally assumed. Their limited-frame animation served to clearly identify when the toads were in the warm-up, hit-box, and cool-down of each of their attacks. Their boxy proportions are handy in terms of clearly outlining the limits of their hurt-boxes.

The demo itself was divided into two levels: a beat ’em up stage, and a reimagined Turbo Tunnel from the original NES Battletoads. The beat ’em up section appears to be the bread-and-butter of the experience. Rash, Pimple, and Zitz patrol their city, looking for a mob boss known as Porkshanks. Fighting through waves of underlings on the way to the head-honcho provided ample opportunity to get a sense of exactly how heavy and solid the toads actually feel when you are in control of them. Every punch felt suitably weighty, and every dodgy felt like a satisfying slip out of assured punishment.

Turbo Tunnel was a lot more manic. Said tunnel is turned toward the camera, unlike the side-scrolling version in the NES title. This new over-the-shoulder perspective allows you to see obstacles coming your way ahead of time. I was playing with two other players in three-person co-op and all of us seemed to be doing a reasonable job. Still — much like cracking an egg and receiving not one, but two of those goopy little golden bags — we got more than we bargained for.

I say this because it’s often the case that show floor demos tend to go a little easy on players, so that the journalists and influencers are more likely to have a good time — but Battletoads didn’t pull any punches. Despite all of our attempted coordination, we died many times on the path to victory.

Battletoads may look cute — and whether or not that’s a good thing will always be in the eye of the beholder — but make no mistake, this game is just as crunchy as its predecessors. And it will, no doubt, carve a niche with hardcore players. You can dismiss Battletoads based solely on the art style if you like, but you’re likely missing out on a well-crafted beat ’em up that confidently carries its predecessors DNA forward.