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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5

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Battletoads (2020)   PC (Steam) 

Butthole Turds    1.5/5 stars

Way back in 1991, Rare, before it became a Nintendo second-party studio, tried to get in on the flavor-of-the-day with a new IP. The flavor of the day was, of course, the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ a cartoon, toy line, and Licensed videogame series built around the concept of anthropomorphic reptiles doing martial arts and battling against a wide array of other anthropomorphic mutants, aliens, and the totalitarian Foot Clan of ninjas. Where ‘TMNT’ embraced Orientalism, Rare’s new IP would embrace Western street culture, and thus “Battletoads” was born, replacing the reptiles with amphibians, the martial arts with street brawling, and the evil ninja villain with a dominatrix.

I didn’t ‘love’ ‘TMNT’ back in the day like so many others did, but as a kid I had always loved catching toads, keeping them in empty buckets, and feeding them bugs. So when an alternative to the oversaturated ‘TMNT’ appeared on the scene while I was at just the right age to appreciate an edgier knock-off, it quickly found its way into my game collection. I loved the introductory cinematic, I loved the music, and I even loved the first two levels… but it all went downhill after that, with the original “Battletoads” ending up as one of my most-hated NES games.

My positive inclination toward the IP itself, in spite of one horrible game, remained, and I continued to buy and try ‘Battletoads’ titles, including “Battletoads & Double Dragon” and “Battletoads in Battlemaniacs,” the latter of which I desperately hoped would bring the same level of SNES-style refinement to the IP that so many other 16-bit games brought to dusty, old 8-bit franchises. Alas, it was not to be, and as I bid a furious farewell to all of my ‘Battletoads’ cartridges at the Friendly Local Game Store, I was confident that I would never see or hear anything about this horrendously unenjoyable series, with its pathetic 3-year lifespan, ever again.

When Microsoft bought Rare from Nintendo in 2002, ‘Battletoads’ was a long-dead IP, with its final game release in 1994. Nobody even thought about it or talked about it, with all of the media attention around the Rare acquisition focused on newer, more-well-liked IPs like ‘Banjo’ and ‘Perfect Dark.’ Yet, with everything from the ‘80s and ‘90s suddenly finding itself within the Nostalgia Window, every old IP is getting a second chance at life – often with unfortunate levels of Wokewashing applied.

When I first learned that there would be a new ‘Battletoads’ game – simply called “Battletoads,” in spite of the fact that it is neither a remake of the original game nor a reboot of the IP, but a direct sequel – I held onto hope that maybe, just maybe, the Xbox Division’s version of Rare would put some of the lessons learned about game design over the course of the last 20+ years to good use. Alas, they did not.

Presentation
It’s quite easy to describe the visuals in the new “Battletoads” in a mere two syllables: Cal-Arts.

Yes, instead of striving for a visual identity of its own, the new “Battletoads” employs the low-effort, overused ‘style’ popularized in Western animation during the 2010s, ranging from “Spongebob Squarepants” to “Steven Universe” to “Adventure Time.” While even the original “Battletoads” was cartoony and steeped in the ideals of “squash and stretch” from the early days of animation, the look of the new “Battletoads” is, quite frankly, jarring. This Cal-Arts animation is put to good use, for what it is, at least, with the same style flowing seamlessly from gameplay to cutscenes, of which there are many.

Even worse than the questionable art style is the loss of almost any character who is recognizable as… well, anything. The titular ‘Toads, the returning Dark Queen, and the pig boss at the end of the first stage are the only characters in the game that are based on any kind of actual animal, with the rest of the cast of NPCs and villains taking the form of completely bizarre and nonsensical ‘aliens,’ with the new villains apparently taking on the form of… the abstract notion of homosexuality? I guess? And, of course, because it’s the Snoring ‘20s, not even the recurring characters are left alone, with the Dark Queen transformed from a fierce dominatrix cast from the mold of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark to a bland woman with cankles and a terrible pant-suit cast from the mold of Hilary Clinton.

Audio is, in general, much better than the visuals. The game is fully voiced by veteran cartoon voice actors, who give generally good performances. The soundtrack isn’t quite as jazzy and impressive as the original game’s, but it does feature a number of remixes from 1991, alongside new tracks.

Technically, “Battletoads” is… adequate. It supports 3-player local coop out of the box, and actively encourages the use of an Xinput controller. I never experienced any crashes or glitches, while the QoL features developed over the last 20+ years are actually in there, it’s just that having unlimited lives, autosaving, and generous checkpoints doesn’t do anything to make the gameplay more “fun,” but, instead seems to have encouraged the gameplay design to be as annoying as possible.

Story
Our story opens 26 years after the last ‘Battletoads’ adventure, with the titular ‘Toads enjoying the life of universe-saving celebrities. This glorious lifestyle, however, turns out to be an illusion, as the ‘Toads are forcibly ‘rescued’ from an underground bunker by an alien construction crew, where the ‘Toads have been trapped in a virtual reality simulation for a quarter of a century. Thinking that the world remembers them and will welcome them back with open arms, the ‘Toads are dismayed to learn that – in a shocking reflection of real-life – they have been forgotten. Thus, they set out to make their mark on the world… by taking menial temp jobs (ouch!).

The ‘Toads can’t handle the boredom of mundane daily life, and come up with a scheme to find the Dark Queen and fight her again, whether she’s a threat to the galaxy or not. When they do find her, it turns out that the Queen, like the ‘Toads, has been held prisoner for the last 26 years, by a genuine galactic threat. This threat takes the form of the Utopians, a pair of incredibly campy, gay-coded pieces of abstract art (named Uto and Pia) who capriciously rule the universe with an iron grip.

The ‘Toads decide to team up with the Dark Queen to overthrow the Utopians, and many hijinks ensue, ranging from a civil war between lumberjacks and athletes (wat?) to full-blown genocide against littering (wat? again).

Much of the new “Battletoads” plot and narrative revolves around the meme of “that’s so random!” with the ‘Toads and the Queen getting into a wide variety of silly, stupid, and nonsensical scenarios. The remaining bits of the plot and narrative are devoted to 2020s Critical Woke Deconstruction, where the ‘Toads are presented as the very paradigm of Toxic Masculinity, the Dark Queen literally murders one of her male (alleged) friends for having the audacity to dislike her new outfit (as a proxy for the writers’ desire to murder the large portion of the audience that feels the same way), and, ultimately, the Queen is presented as the Strong Female Character who must save the day while also carrying the dead weight of her worthless male sidekicks. I’m not sure how gay-coded villains whose whims become universal law and who refuse to tolerate anyone questioning their ideology got in there, considering how close to reality that actually is right now.

While the old “Battletoads” was very long for NES standards, clocking in at about 2-and-a-half hours (for those whose incredible levels of Autism actually allowed them to power through to the end), the new “Battletoads” is shockingly short, clocking in at around 5 hours. Chris and I managed to coop through it in two sessions, but before we were even done with the first session, we found ourselves searching online to see how much “fun” we still had ahead of us. This is definitely a game that wears out its welcome long before it’s over… and it’s over pretty damn quickly!

Gameplay
Even in its original incarnation, “Battletoads” was an IP that liked to throw a whole bunch of different gameplay concepts into a blender, then present a Jackfruit, Dog Food, and Skunk Sphincter Smoothie to the audience as if it was the best thing ever. The new “Battletoads” doesn’t do anything to challenge this concept, but instead ups the ante with random gameplay sections utilizing concepts like QuickTime Events and Microgames that didn’t exist in 1991.

Ostensibly, “Battletoads” is supposed to be a Beat ‘em Up, modeled after the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ arcade games. However, only about 1/3 of the gameplay in the new “Battletoads” qualifies as a Beat ‘em Up, with numerous stages employing Bullet Hell SHMUP gameplay, QTEs, ‘WarioWare’-inspired Microgame nonsense, and even some simplistic puzzle-platforming. Out of all these different gameplay types, which are all smashed together in a meaningless order, leaving the player to wonder just what’s coming next, the Beat ‘em Up mechanics are the most developed and fleshed-out… but that also makes them the most convoluted. And, of course, the reviled speeder bike gameplay from the original game’s third level – the Turbo Tunnel – is back, only third-person instead of side-scrolling… but just as looooong and tedious and full of trial-and-error as it ever was.

Instead of the simple Beat ‘em Up gameplay of 1991, the new “Battletoads” employs the now-common Light Attack/Heavy Attack/Dodge paradigm, with an additional Guard Break and the ability to spit wads of gum at enemies to temporarily pin them in place, just to make things confusing and ensure that players won’t remember half of what the ‘Toads can do by the time the next Beat ‘em Up stage or boss battle rolls in.

The new “Battletoads” does go a long way toward accessibility compared to its predecessors, though, as it features three difficulty levels: Tadpole, Toad, and Battletoad. Chris and played on Toad difficulty, expecting it to be ‘Normal,’ but even on that setting, the game tends toward the aggravatingly difficult, with huge mobs of enemies that make it difficult to keep an eye on all of the directions an attack might come from, and bosses that can obliterate the ‘Toads’ health bars in about 3 hits. To make matters worse, just ‘getting through’ any given stage in the new “Battletoads” isn’t enough for the game’s designers, as each stage has 5 hidden do-dads (that don’t actually do anything), and a 6th do-dad that can be earned by making it through under the par time (nor non Beat ‘em Up stages) or with consistently high combo counts for each discrete fight (in Beat ‘em Up stages). Chris and I never managed to earn the 6th do-dad in any mission, and we missed a few of the standard collectable ones… but let me tell you, even with a stage select, we never had even the remotest desire to revisit a stage to ‘git gud’ at it. We were just happy to be done.

Overall
I guess I was expecting way too much of Rare under Microsoft. While the new “Battletoads” released in 2020 deviates from its origins from an artistic standpoint, mechanically, it’s the natural evolution of everything wrong with the IP. The new “Battletoads” is, like its predecessor, never particularly fun, only now it has the added flavor of Critical Wokeness slathered on top making it completely inedible. Of course, the story and cutscenes still manage to be the only redeeming feature in here, which is just pathetic.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 3.5/5
Gameplay: 0.5/5
Overall (not an average): 1.5/5

 

 


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