Battletoads Xbox review: A brief budget brawler with party potential

Should this amped amphibian brawler have stayed in the past?

Battletoads Review
(Image: © Windows Central)

I quite honestly never thought this would happen. But here I am, in 2020, reviewing a new Battletoads game. All those calls to Gamestop clearly paid off.

Battletoads is a classic Rare franchise known for its unforgiving difficulty and outlandish beat 'em up world, and it defied genre conventions starting in 1991 by mashing up several together into a single package. It somewhat worked back in the day, but what about in 2020?

Battletoads is a special franchise that clearly has lasting appeal, but this budget brawler could've benefitted from a greater emphasis on the parts it does best.

What I loved about Battletoads

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Battletoads packs with it tons of nostalgia. Building on the expectations of original fans while trying to marry it with modern expectations is often a tough deal. The 2020 game succeeds in some areas, but a lot wrong with the game should've stayed in the past.

The best part of Battletoads 2020, for me, was how Dlala managed to bring strong characterization to Zitz, Pimple, and Rash. It managed to do this not only through the game's writing and surprisingly hilarious cutscenes but also by giving each character unique playstyles.

Rash plays like an all-rounder, with a desperation to be "cool," while often failing at it. Pimple is the designated heavy, with ironically peaceful sensibilities, and Zitz sees himself as their tactical leader, with more rapid combos.

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DeveloperDlala Studios
PublisherXbox Game Studios
GenreBeat 'em up, various
PlatformsXbox One, Xbox Series X, PC
Players3-player local co-op
Length3.5 hours on normal difficulty
Xbox Game PassYes

The game's levels are split up by surprisingly great story beats that are filled with fourth-wall smashing quips, 90s references, and self-referential deprecative humor. It genuinely felt like something I'd likely see on Cartoon Network or Netflix, and it's something Microsoft should look into commissioning more. Extra points from Windows Central for the Zune reference, Dlala.

Battletoads is on Xbox Game Pass and supports local co-op, making it an awesome party game experience. The sheer volume of mini-games and genre types inside this game is dizzying, and it gets even more rage-inducingly fun when you play on maximum difficulty. Many of the mini-games rely on all players to cooperate to solve timed puzzles, navigate rapid turbo bike segments, or brave dangerous platformer mazes. There's even a gauntlet segment where you ride on an alien diplomats corpse as a sled. You know, for reasons.

Battletoads Review (Image credit: Windows Central)

Battletoads Review (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

Where the original Battletoads performed best was in its beat 'em up segments, which elevated the original 90s formula with more complex mechanics and wild alien enemies. Each toad has its own move set, which lets you air juggle mobs, grab them across the map with your tongue, and smash them with powerful combos.

The responsiveness and overall feel of the combat is great, occasionally topped off with complex boss battles that, even on normal, gave me Cuphead vibes for their unforgiving complexity. Many regular fist-fodder required specific counters, and some degree of trial-and-error to learn your way through the sequences. As a result, it's a bit frustrating that these brawler segments were so few and far in between.

What I disliked about Battletoads

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Battletoads starts off strong, with wild beat 'em up combat, an upfront boss battle, and a few small co-op mini-games here and there that give you a breather. Towards the end, though, it almost feels like the game was like a motorbike with an empty tank — running on fumes.

I realize this is how the original was, but it feels like this is an aspect of the game that should've been left in the 90s, especially given how much more polished the game's brawler segments are. They simply seem to have far more investment behind them. In one of the final acts, you're hit with a barrage of genre segues that feel like they would've been more at home on Newgrounds' Flash web games section rather than on my Xbox or PC.

The shmup levels are pure tedium, filled with copy-pasted sprites that look like they took a few minutes to whip up. They intersect with long platforming segments completely devoid of enemies, which is at total odds to the excitement and frenetic action of the earlier levels.

It reminded me of the last two episodes of Evangelion where the studio ran out of money, and just put a bunch of rambling sketches on-screen and hoped nobody would notice. I'm not necessarily blaming Dlala for it either. I can't help but feel like Microsoft couldn't have invested a bit more to help the latter half of the game shed some of its warts.

Should you buy Battletoads?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I played through Battletoads with my brother, who is more of a fan of the original than myself. He was super happy with the game and felt that it remained true to the original NES classic with its wild genre variance and tough vehicular segments. If you're a fan of the original, maybe you'll feel that way too. For me, though, the peaks and troughs of the game's quality almost gave me whiplash.

Warts notwithstanding, Dlala proved that Battletoads deserve to return.

The high-quality writing and characterization, the complex brawler segments, and the fun mini-games like the exciting turbo bike segments had us laughing out loud, and writhing in that uniquely enjoyable gaming frustration in equal measure. The weaker elements, like the dull platforming segments and the snooze-worthy flat shmup segments, had me almost falling asleep, begging to be sent back to another beat 'em up segment.

Battletoads is a solid 3-4-hour Xbox Game Pass party game experience, especially if you play on its hardest, most painfully-rewarding difficulty with friends (even better if you include alcohol). That said, unless you're a die-hard Battletoads fan, I'm not sure solo players will get much out of it, even in Game Pass.

Perhaps the best thing about Battletoads is the life Dlala breathed into these characters, which began their existence as primordial pixels on an 8-bit system decades ago. With a bit more focus, and a bit more budget, I could easily see Dlala's Battletoads becoming a staple Game Pass franchise someday. Warts notwithstanding, Dlala proved that Battletoads deserve to return.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!