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BATTLETOADS / Rare / NES
Oh, Battletoads. Maybe the greatest object lesson ever in how just one or two bad level design decisions can completely wreck a game.
Battletoads gets off to a great start. It has impressive cinematics (by late 1980s NES standards anyway.) The in-game graphics are about as good as the NES gets for this period, lifeless backgrounds aside. The music isn't bad either. The first level introduces the game as a rather easy beat-em-up, but with some interesting mechanics. The gimmick about the 'Toads is that they can cartoonily morph themselves into all sorts of shapes for highly effective asskicking, i.e. they turn their fists into giant anvils or their foot into a giant spiked boot to send the enemy flying. You spend the first level getting to know the game, tuning up on little pot-bellied pig warriors and tiny robots on stilts that don't pose much of a threat. The level concludes with a gimmicky but neat idea that hadn't been done before - the boss is a giant version of the stilt-robots, and you see the battle through his perspective as he tries to gun the 'Toads down. To beat him you have to pick up boulders and toss them toward the screen until his visor cracks. Yeah it doesn't seem like much now, but everyone thought this was amazingly imaginative back in '89 or whatever.
The second level basically introduces the notion that this isn't going to be a straightforward beat-em-up, the gameplay mechanics are going to change significantly from level to level. Instead of side-scrolling, you're now rappelling down the world's longest pit, fending off everything from crows that try to snap your rope to flying electrified toasters. This level is also not difficult and fairly fun to play. The game at this point actually seems maybe a little too easy, but at least it's giving you a gentle introduction to the 'Toads unique gameplay conventions.
Then once you've been lulled into a false sense of security, the third level kicks you in the nuts and assrapes you while you're hunched over. After teasing you with some mildly more difficult beat-em-up partners, the level abruptly shifts to the infamous Speeder Bikes Sequence. The first half of this is challenging but manageable, but the second half suddenly ramps the speed to such an insane level it's basically impossible unless you're using save states or willing to re-try it 800 times.
Even if you do have the fortitude and patience to clear the Speeder Bikes, relatively little of the rest of the game employs the fun beat-em-up style of the first level. The fourth level is more of an annoying platformer that takes place entirely on slippery icy surfaces, level 5 is more speeder shit, level 6 is this godawful trial-and-error memorization-based shit with jumping around on moving snakes that go into and out of holes in the wall, level 7 is a jambalaya of platform jumping and speeder shit, level 11 is like a giant QTE, and level 12 is some Mega Man rotating/disappearing platforms bullshit.
If they had just toned down or excised these levels you'd have an upper-tier NES game on your hands, but what good is a game where you can't even get past level 3 without hours of headache? And then you hit similar hair-pulling walls all the way through the rest of it. The two-player co-op is also all jacked up with bad design decisions, but that's thoroughly documented already by
Angry Video Game Nerd
. Battletoads needed more beat-em-up action and less "look how clever our level concepts are lolololo" in the design philosophy.
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