Battletoads (video game)

Battletoads is a beat 'em up/platform video game developed by Rare and published by Tradewest. It is the first installment of the Battletoads series and was originally released on 1 June 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was subsequently ported to the Mega Drive and Game Gear in 1993, to the Amiga and Amiga CD32 in 1994 (despite the former having been developed in 1992), and released with some changes for the Game Boy in 1993 in the form of Battletoads in Ragnarok's World. In the game, three space humanoid toad warriors form a group known as the Battletoads. Two of the Battletoads, Rash and Zitz, embark on a mission to defeat the evil Dark Queen on her planet and rescue their kidnapped friends: Pimple, the third member of the Battletoads, and Princess Angelica.

Battletoads Coverart.png
European NES cover art
Arc System Works (MD/GG)
Mindscape (AMI/ACD32)
Designer(s)Tim and Chris Stamper
Gregg Mayles
Artist(s)Kev Bayliss
Composer(s)David Wise
Hikoshi Hashimoto (MD/GG)
Mark Knight (AMI/ACD32)
Platform(s)NES/Famicom, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear, Amiga, Amiga CD32, Xbox One
Genre(s)Beat 'em up, platformer
Mode(s)Single player, multiplayer

The game was developed in response to the interest in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. It received mostly positive reviews upon release, with critics praising the graphics and variations of gameplay; however, many critics were divided over the difficulty. It won six awards from the 1991 Nintendo Power Awards, and has since been renowned as one of the most difficult video games ever created. It was later included in Rare's 2015 Xbox One retrospective compilation, Rare Replay.


The "Turbo Tunnel" level in the NES version.

The game is a platform scrolling beat 'em up, with varying elements of racing, climbing and vehicle-based obstacle courses. Players start with three lives each time the game is started, which get replenished every time the player continues after getting defeated. The game contains no saving system or password features.[1] While the levels of Battletoads vary greatly in gameplay style, the game is generally presented as a "beat'em up", in which players progress by defeating enemies while avoiding the hazards in the environment. The players can finish off enemies in varied ways, such as punching or kicking with an enlarged fist or boot, head-butting with huge ram horns or, in certain levels, transforming into a wrecking ball.[2]

Side-scrolling stages are generally presented as having an isometric perspective, while platforming stages that feature vertical progression are presented non-isometrically, which allows the player characters to crouch. Several levels in the game feature sections in the form of an obstacle course, where the players must dodge a series of obstacles with speed increasing as the level progresses.[3] Other types of level include two "tower climb" levels, a descent to a chasm while hanging from a rope, a level with underwater sections, a maze chase riding a unicycle-style vehicle, a platforming "snake maze", and a race level in which the players have to fall as quickly as possible through countless platforms to reach the bottom of a tower before an enemy does. Hidden in four of the levels are "mega warp" points, which, when reached, allow the players to automatically advance by two levels.[3][4]


Professor T. Bird and the three Battletoads, Rash, Zitz, and Pimple, are escorting Princess Angelica to her home planet using their spacecraft, the Vulture. When Pimple and Angelica decide to take a leisurely trip on Pimple's flying car, they are ambushed and captured by the Dark Queen's ship, the Gargantua. Pimple then sends out a distress signal to the Vulture, alerting Professor T. Bird, Rash, and Zitz. Learning that the Gargantua is hidden beneath the surface of a nearby planet called Ragnarok's World, Professor T. Bird flies Rash and Zitz there in the Vulture to rescue them.

Between levels, the toads receive briefing comments from Professor T. Bird, along with teasing from the Dark Queen. During the game's 13 levels, the Battletoads are faced with the Dark Queen's minions Big Blag, Robo Manus and General Slaughter as bosses, ultimately facing the Dark Queen herself at the top of the Dark Tower. Once the Queen is defeated, she claims it will not be the last they would see from her, turns into a whirlwind and flies into space, "retreating into the shadowy margins of the galaxy to recoup her losses". With Pimple and Princess Angelica rescued, the four are brought back into the Vulture and the game ends.


It was a typical example of Rare's looking at what was popular and then putting our spin on it.

Gregg Mayles in a retrospective interview [2]

The game was developed by Rare and published by Tradewest. Rare founders Tim and Chris Stamper created the series in response to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze of the early 1990s.[5] To create a contrast to the popular media franchise and other "beat 'em ups" of the time, Rare added extra mechanics in the game to help separate it from these genres, such as racing stages and climbing courses.[1] According to Rare artist Kev Bayliss, the characters of Battletoads were conceived in order to "produce merchandise" on a mass scale, in a similar vein to Tim Burton's Batman.[2]

The game underwent changes through early stages of development, and at one point was originally titled Amphibianz. Bayliss originally designed Battletoads as a Disney-themed video game, however as the game gradually became more violent, Bayliss took extra liberties to tone it down and restrict all usage of weapons in the game, whilst creating a sense of uniqueness for the characters.[2]


Due to the extreme nature of the original NES Battletoads's difficulty, almost all subsequent ports of the game went to varying measures to tone it down, in an attempt to make the game more accessible to casual players. This caused some of the more demanding levels to be modified, and some of them even removed altogether in certain versions of the game.[3]

A screenshot from the final boss fight in the Mega Drive version

A few months after the initial North American release in June 1991 for the NES, Battletoads got a Japanese-localized release for the Famicom, getting distributed in Japan by NCS, as opposed to Tradewest.[6] This release featured several gameplay tweaks, which resulted in a marginally easier experience.[3]

Later, in 1992 it was ported to the Amiga home computers by Mindscape, though the Amiga version went on unreleased until 1994. A Mega Drive version developed by Arc System Works and a Game Gear version were released by Sega (in Europe in Japan) and Tradewest (in North America) during 1993.[7] Also in 1993, a Game Boy version of the game was released, titled Battletoads in Ragnarok's World. This version was missing several levels and featured single-player support only.[8] Tim Chaney, European CEO of Virgin Interactive, purchased the Master System rights for Battletoads from Tradewest after the game found popularity in the United States and had planned to release that version also in 1993, but it never materialised.[9][10] In 1994 Mindscape brought the game to the Amiga CD32 and released it together with the previously unreleased Amiga version. It had also planned ports for PC DOS and the Atari ST back for the originally intended 1992 release of the computer versions, but these two were never released.[11][12] A port for the Atari Lynx was also announced and planned to be published by Telegames, but it was never released.[13][14] The Mega Drive version of Battletoads features toned down difficulty, as well as providing higher definition and more colourful graphics as opposed to the NES version.[3][15] The Game Gear port features downscaled graphics, also removing three levels and the two-player mode.[12]

During E3 2015 it was announced that the NES version of Battletoads would be coming to the Xbox One as part of Rare Replay, a retrospective collection of 30 emulated classic games from Rare.[16] Rare Replay was released on August 4, 2015,[17] featuring a fix to a bug in the original game that made the eleventh level unplayable for player 2.[18]


Aggregate score
GameRankings73% (Mega Drive)[19]
Review scores
AllGame      (NES)[20]
CVG91% (NES)[4]
Famitsu30/40 (Famicom)[21]
24/40 (Game Gear)[22]
26/40 (Mega Drive)[23]
Mean Machines93% (NES)[24]
Quebec Gamer86% (NES)[25]
Amiga Power9% (Amiga)[26]
Power Play83% (Mega Drive)[27]

The game received mostly positive reviews from critics upon release. The Mega Drive version received an aggregate score of 73% from GameRankings.[19] Reviewers of Mean Machines praised the graphics, with one reviewer stating that the cartoon-style cutscenes add to the "greatness" of the game's presentation. Another reviewer summarized that the graphics were colourful and well-animated, although he considered the sprites to be "too small".[24] Frank O'Connor of Computer and Video Games (CVG) thought the graphics were the best aspect of the game, heralding them as "packed" with colour, smooth scrolling and "humorous" animation. Paul Rand, another reviewer of CVG similarly praised the graphics and presentation, asserting them both of "excellent" quality.[4] Bryan Lajoie of Quebec Gamer praised the graphics, stating them to be among the most graphically advanced NES games, in particular the animation.[25] Japanese publication Famitsu gave the Famicom version of Battletoads a 30 out of 40 score.[21] Famitsu gave the Mega Drive version a 26 out of 40, and the Game Gear version a 24 out of 40.[22][23]

O'Connor praised the overall gameplay, stating that while it borrowed "style and ideas" from other games, the combination of various styles "works a treat" and proved challenging.[4] Rand heralded the gameplay as addictive.[4] Reviewers of Mean Machines were divided over gameplay; one reviewer was initially sceptical over the prospect of "another NES platformer", although he praised the emphasis on beat 'em up action over conventional platforming.[24] Another reviewer of Mean Machines praised the gameplay as fast, addictive and challenging, summarising that the wide variety of levels are enough to prevent the player from "getting bored easily".[24] Lajoie was mixed over the gameplay, admitting that whilst accepting it as a difficult game, the overall experience required "a lot of patience" and determination in order to progress.[25] In a negative retrospective review, Spike ranked the game's ending as the sixth biggest letdown in video game history.[28]


Battletoads was nominated for the 1991 Nintendo Power Awards in nine categories, winning the first place in the categories: Graphics and Sound (NES), Theme and Fun (NES), Best Play Control (NES) and Best Multi-Player or Simultaneous (NES), it was also given the title of the Overall Best Game for NES of 1990.[29] In 1997, Nintendo Power ranked the NES version as the 89th best game on any Nintendo platform.[30] In 2010, UGO included it on their "Top 25 games that need sequels"[31] also featuring the Arctic Cavern level on the list of "coolest ice levels".[32] Topless Robot ranked Battletoads as the number one "least terrible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip-off" in 2008,[33] also naming it as one of ten best beat-'em-ups of all time in 2010[34] and as one of ten video games that should have gotten toys in 2011.[35] In 2012, it was also listed among ten "classic videos games that deserve an HD remake" by Yahoo! News.[36] GamesRadar ranked it the 18th best NES game ever made, stating that "it was a fun game but its most notable element was its difficulty".[37] Jeremy Dunham of IGN listed Battletoads as the 40th best NES game of all time.[38]


Battletoads has been noted by critics for its extreme difficulty.[33][39][40] The game has even been included on numerous occasions among the hardest games ever made, including the number one spot according to GameTrailers.[41][42][43][44] A reviewer of Destructoid stated that despite the game's "brutal and unbalanced" difficulty, it was often remembered as one of the most "beloved titles" of the eight-bit generation.[45] In 2012, Yahoo! Games stated that the game was still widely recognised as one of the most difficult games ever made, particularly noting the chance of players accidentally killing their partner in two-player mode.[46]

Nerdist remarks that Battletoads's sudden difficulty spike was intended to combat the video game rental industry; if the game was more difficult, then it would take longer to complete, and consumers would be more likely to purchase a retail cartridge instead of renting one.[47]


The game's initial success led to Rare developing various sequels which would later become part of the Battletoads franchise. A spin-off game for the Game Boy, also titled Battletoads, was first released in November 1991.[48] Despite having the same box art and title as the NES release, Battletoads for the Game Boy is a separate game in the series, featuring different levels and mechanics from the original.[12]

Two direct sequels, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and Battletoads & Double Dragon, were both released for various consoles in 1993,[49] with the latter being placed number 76 on IGN's "Top 100 NES Games of All Time" list.[50] Battletoads Arcade was released in 1994 to mediocre sales, and was the last installment of the series.[51]

A pilot episode for a Battletoads TV series was also produced by Canadian DIC Entertainment, in an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The pilot originally aired in syndication in the United States on the weekend of Thanksgiving 1992, but it was never picked up as a full series.[52]

Entertainment Weekly gave the Genesis version of the game a B+ and wrote that "Most kids will probably accept Battletoads (...) as a good-humored rip-off of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But what players may not forgive is that this Genesis game is almost a pixel-for-pixel duplication of the original NES Battletoads, meaning it's a bit warty in the graphics department. Still, the hop, kick, and jump game is fun."[53]


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