The runaway of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise in the late 1980s and early 1990s spawned numerous imitators all scraping for a piece of the large talking radical heroic manimal market, but the one to make the biggest splash in the world of video games has to be Rare's infamous Battletoads. Starring three tubular toad dudes named oh-so-gnarly names like Rash, Pimple, and Zitz, the 'toads appeared in a series of games for the Nintendo, Sega, arcade, and PC platforms of the day between 1991 and 1994 before vanishing just as quickly as they first appeared. Today the original Battletoads game is largely remembered for its infuriating Turbo Tunnel level and a modern day prank phone call meme, but there's more to this abandoned franchise than unfair challenges and childish jokes. Hardcore Gaming 101 explores all of the games in the series. I bet there are some here you didn't know about.
The TMNT parallels are numerous and obvious: the Battletoads have a wise old mentor in Professor T. Bird, a wise-cracking, perpetual nemesis in the Dark Queen, a formidable-looking but ultimately ineffective rogues gallery of the Dark Queen's right-hand men to serve as bosses, a massive army of regular mooks to bash in the Queen's rodent army, and the occasional damsel-in-distress to save. Key differences include the Toads special ability to transform their limbs into a variety of comical weapons (sledgehammers, wrecking balls, giant sneakers, etc.) and the fact that none of the Battletoads games really bother to set up any kind of backstory to the games' events. While the Turtles' origin story is intrinsically tied to their characterization (and was already well-known by the time the games were released), the player is thrown right into the Battletoads' mythos with knowledge only of the impending peril at hand, without any sort of explanation of where the Toads come from, why they've been given such repulsive names, why they're always battling with the Dark Queen, or how she managed to recruit a near-infinite army of rodents, axe-wielding pigs, and bio-technological weirdos.
The article even covers the one-shot Nintendo Power comic and the Saturday morning cartoon pilot episode. Speaking of Nintendo Power, the magazine made the original Nintendo Entertainment System title look fantastic back in the old days, and I eagerly counted out the coins in my spare change jar to come up with the fifty dollars needed to buy it. It was plenty of fun at first, but then the iconic third level taught me that I'd probably never see the end of the game, nor any other part of it after the Turbo Tunnel racing segment. Eventually I learned the timing necessary to finish the level and moved on to later stages, but I was never able to complete the Intruder Excluder level without using a Game Genie. I've dabbled in the other ports and sequels, but still felt burnt after that initial introduction and, in a way, have never quite forgiven it for taking my fifty dollars.
There have been rumblings of a Battletoads revival in recent years (Microsoft owns the franchise now), but somehow I bet if it did return, it would include a modernized Turbo Tunnel meant to drive a new generation of players to the brink of madness and lots of other nods to the outrageous difficulty level of the original game. There'd probably be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the prank phone call gag, too. An unreleased, unfinished Battletoads sequel/reboot for the Game Boy Advance leaked a few years ago and shows an attempt to seize on the radical aspects of the characters more than anything else; it's all generic style and no actual substance. I'm sure someone could do the Battletoads idea justice, but playing any new installment as a parody of itself seems so lazy to me now. Several years ago I even suggested that a new game in the series should run to the limit with self-references, but so many games have done that sort of thing in recent memory that following that trend now feels stale and played out. If the franchise were to return, I'd like to see it played totally straight. Not as a dark and gritty reboot, mind you, but as a fun beat 'em up that takes its absurdities seriously without an overabundance of winks and nods to the audience. Better yet, perhaps Microsoft should just bring the 1994 arcade game to Xbox Live and call it a day. It's the best possible example of what Battletoads strives to be, so why improve on perfection?