The Battletoads Series Ranked
It was the early ’90s, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all the rage. Therefore, you got Street Sharks, Extreme Dinosaurs, and yes, Battletoads. The franchise, created and developed by Rare, began, in some respects, as a means to an end: play off the success of TMNT. The first release in the game franchise came in 1991, and over the course of the next three years, Rare would end up making five Battletoads games. The series then laid dormant for 26 years, with Rash, Zitz, and Pimple remaining in the pop culture lore because of their connection to the Turtles, the prank call circuit of the early 2010s, and constant references and cameos from Microsoft (who now owns Rare) over the course of the past few years. And finally, a new game was released in August of this year, the third game to be simply named BATTLETOADS.
This reboot, which I shall get to shortly, does and does not discount the events of the earlier games. But those exact events themselves always seemed unclear. Across a failed TV pilot, NINTENDO POWER comics, and the back story of one of the games, Rare painted a picture of three humanoid toads who…used to be gamers who got sucked into…virtual reality, but also maybe not really, and the toads are in space, but they also go to Earth, and also they hung out with Bimmy (sorry, Billy) and Jimmy Lee from the DOUBLE DRAGON series, and who knows if the Toads are ultimately brothers…Don’t bother going down the well of Battletoads lore. You won’t be able to square anything away.
Anyways, the latest Battletoads game, primarily developed by Dlala Studios with Rare’s assistance, plays with the series’ strange history while also doing the best job in creating a coherent universe. It also calls back to the Battletoads series’ beat ’em up genre while, perhaps too much for some, hearkening back to the original games’ variation on the gameplay. But we’ll see how that gameplay fared across the Battletoads series’ six games.
#6 — BATTLETOADS [Game Boy] (1991)
I would love to distinguish the second game named simply “BATTLETOADS” just by the year it was released, but it was released the same year as the NES original. And yes, the Game Boy version is a different game in a number of respects from the NES one, and is not to be confused with a Game Boy port of the NES Battletoads titled BATTLETOADS IN RAGNAROK’S WORLD (1993, not considered for this list). Whew. Set shortly after the first game (I guess), BATTLETOADS GB (as I’ll be calling it from now on), features only Zitz (the leader) as the playable character as he sets out to rescue Rash (the funny one) and Pimple (the strong one) from the series’ flagship villain, the Dark Queen. Being on Game Boy doesn’t technically inhibit BATTLETOADS’ beat ’em up gameplay, especially as compared to the original game; the NES and Game Boy had the same number of buttons. The downside is just the graphics, sound, and game feel, which all feel chunkier and slower. This just feels like the most low-stakes incarnation of BATTLETOADS, which stands to reason for a Game Boy game. It’s very difficult like the bulk of the series (something the games are quite infamous for), but fighting some alien creatures and doing some vehicle levels in between those fights feels competent enough in BATTLETOADS GB.
#5 — BATTLETOADS/DOUBLE DRAGON (1993)
BATTLETOADS/DOUBLE DRAGON was a strange crossover of two beat ’em up franchises of the day. Although initially launched for the NES in June ‘93, SNES and Genesis versions came about six months later in December ’93, and the SNES version is the one with which I’m familiar. Strangely enough, this is the first game where all three Battletoads are playable, in addition to Bimmy (sorry, again, Billy) and Jimmy Lee. Developed by Rare without much input from DOUBLE DRAGON’s developer Technos, BATTLETOADS/DOUBLE DRAGON is essentially a Battletoads game with Billy and Jimmy (see, got it right this time!). Therefore, it looks and plays like fellow June ’93 release BATTLETOADS IN BATTLEMANIACS, the first 16-bit installment in the series. The upgrade in look and sound is welcome, and just serve to augment the same base feel of the first game, complete with shapeshifting combos; I don’t know if the Battletoads’ transformative abilities are ever really explained. Anyways, although BATTLETOADS/DOUBLE DRAGON is a bit easier than any of the other ’90s games, it doesn’t pay off for some reason. Strangely enough, the game feels a little cheaper than the rest of the series.
#4 — BATTLETOADS IN BATTLEMANIACS (1993)
The aforementioned SNES upgrade to BATTLETOADS is, essentially, just an upgrade of the first game. Introducing the VR concept that pops up every once in a while in the Battletoads series, but not with the context of the Toads’ previously human forms, BATTLETOADS IN BATTLEMANIACS follows the basic template of the NES BATTLETOADS. It remixes some elements, and augments others, but if it wasn’t for the plot, BATTLEMANIACS may very well just feel like a ported version of BATTLETOADS. That’s not a bad thing; it’s still quite fun. For whatever reason, though, the “waxy” look of the graphics also contributes to the game feeling “off-brand” (somehow, even though there were only two previous games) or, as in the case of BATTLETOADS/DOUBLE DRAGON, cheap.
#3 — BATTLETOADS (1991)
My slight aversion to BATTLEMANIACS could maybe just be chalked up to how large the NES BATTLETOADS loomed in my mind. I played it after prank calling GameStop and asking “Do you have BATTLETOADS?”, and found it extremely hard. And I still find it extremely hard. But the game’s silly aesthetic and “radical” ’90s sensibility mixed well with Rare’s take on the beat ’em up genre, with combos that were visually spectacular and interlude levels that, again, were incredibly frustrating yet fun. The sprite work was impressive for the NES as well, probably because it was a late era game for the console, and the music was funky. The title theme is stuck in my head as I write these words.
#2 — BATTLETOADS ARCADE (1994)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
BATTLETOADS ARCADE was the last game in the series up until 2020’s BATTLETOADS, and therefore, was the best in the series for 26 years. Once again mixing up the style and lore guide, as every Battletoads game had done before it, ARCADE’s most immediate difference from its predecessors was its crazy gore. This was post-MORTAL KOMBAT (1992), so I guess the appeal of drawing in pubescent boys with violence was too strong not to make a humanoid toad named Zitz, like, decapitate a rat. It’s actually really funny. In a way, the Battletoads series had morphed so much (fittingly) over the course of just three years, but by the time of ARCADE, Rare had also refined the gameplay and graphics of the games to deliver the optimum experience in the same mold. If none of the first five Battletoads games technically felt very different, then BATTLETOADS ARCADE was the ultimate triumph, because it did everything the other games did, but better.
#1 — BATTLETOADS (2020)
Developers: Dlala Studios, Rare
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
But the 2020 BATTLETOADS reboot does a lot of stuff differently; to its detriment, some may believe. In fact, I will admit, as I approached the end of the game, I was shocked that I hadn’t actually beaten up some aliens for so long, and instead had been platforming, fighting in a vertically scrolling SHMUP segment, and trying to figure out infuriating puzzle minigames. Dlala and/or Rare took to heart the loose conceit behind the first BATTLETOADS, sandwiching different gameplay experiences between the beat ’em up sequences, like new jet bike moments in addition to the other kinds of levels mentioned above. And those beat ’em up sequences are really fun, with lots of great combos, animations, and enemy types to make things never feel too stale, as is beat ’em ups wont. And although they ultimately stretch BATTLETOADS’ thesis, making me question how “faithful” this reboot is, Dlala and Rare end up making a more enjoyable Battletoads game than can be found elsewhere in the series’ history. It goes beyond the gameplay too. While I was initially put off by the art style and voice acting, they quickly grew on me, and BATTLETOADS 2020 proved itself an immensely funny game. After emerging from a VR realm where they were supreme heroes, the Battletoads find they were out of action for 26 years and are forgotten by the galaxy at large. They have to get jobs, and decide to seek out the Dark Queen to figure out what went down. There are a ton of references to past Battletoads events, although notably absent is mentor/helper Professor T. Bird. But there is acknowledgement of the aforementioned 26 years/VR things, as well as a comment from the Dark Queen about her less…revealing character design. Ultimately, though, BATTLETOADS 2020 steamrolls most prior notions of a Battletoads story or gameplay experience, and it’s a better game for it.