Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs (Super NES)

Battletoads and I go way back. It was probably my favorite 2-player experience on the NES and a game so good that I was willing to play it on the black and white tv in my grandmother's room. You know what? It still looked freakin' awesome. The graphics were great, the music was groovy, and the action was outta this world. It was also one of the hardest games I had ever played. Amazingly, I had enough patience back then to at least make it to the final stage before dying. I swear a buddy of mine and I beat this thing. It was years ago - did we really beat it? Was it my imagination? A fever dream? Did Game Genie bless us in our quest? I still don't know for certain to this day.

In fact, a whole slew of gamers have had awesome experiences with Battletoads. It was insanely popular among all of my friends, it was infamous for that crazy difficulty level - heck, it's even the source of a popular internet meme/game store prank. No need to preorder a copy from Lukie Games, they've probably got some in stock as we speak! What started as a cult classic Nintendo game quickly spawned awesome sequels and spin-offs as well as a failed cartoon. They battled evil with Billy and Jimmy of Double Dragon fame in the crossover "Battletoads and Double Dragon," they destroyed rats in an over-the-top gruesome bash-fest for the arcades (my personal favorite,) and blasted onto the Super-NES in this 16-bit beat-em-up extravaganza "Battletoads in Battlemaniacs."

Epic double-fisted pig destroyer

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs was released in 1993 once again developed by Rare and published by Tradewest. It opens with the Battletoads landing their helicopter at a monastery where their trusty mentor Professor T. Bird is demonstrating a new artificial game generator by this company called Psicone. Suddenly a pig riding on the back of a dragon kidnaps the daughter of Psicone Inc's C.E.O. and Zitz, so it's up to Rash and Pimples to get them back. I suspect the Dark Queen might be behind these shenanigans. To anyone unfamiliar with the Battletoads games - I'm sure this plot sounds pretty Fruit-Loops, but that's half of the fun of Battletoads. It's all kinda nutty, but you learn to love it!

A pig on a dragon just stole a lady I barely know. Okay?

The first thing you'll notice when cracking into Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is that it's very similar in presentation to the original Battletoads. It's still a side-scrolling beat-em-up where enemies come atcha from every direction. The graphics are a great improvement over the original, but retain a lot of the original's cartoony charm. It actually reminds me a bit of the Arcade game that would come out about a year later - the action is tighter, the graphics are better, and the big over-the-top finishing attacks like the "battering ram horns" and the smashing mallet fist are big, bold, and hilariously cartoonish. The level design is great. It's neat to walk through the level and have craters form and cliffs and mountains pop from the ground. The music is pretty rockin'. It's like heavy metal in midi complete with squealing guitars. The sound effects are limited but effective - every punch, kick, and super attack emits a nice "Pip!" "Pap!" "Smack!" noise.
This might look familiar

Controlling Pimples and Rash should feel pretty familiar as little has changed since the NES days. That's both a good and a bad thing, I suppose. The controls feel nice and familiar like a comfortable old pair of sneakers. You only need two buttons; one for punching and one for jumping. In order to work your attacks into combos all you have to do is tap forward twice and hit punch to headbutt, or punch multiple times to work your special attack in. Hit detection is pretty close to perfect and the controls/hit detection feel tighter than the original game. The only major problem I have with the controls is the lack of innovation. You guys had 6 buttons to play with and stuck with just the two action buttons and no real deviation from the original control format from the NES. For shame! It's a very competent beat-em-up and the level design is interesting and innovative, I just wish they had worked a little harder on taking advantage of the Super Nintendo's capabilities.

Anyone familiar with the Battletoads series will know exactly what I'm talking about when I say that this game is tough. These games are notorious for their difficulty and I would be lying if I said that I beat this thing. It's rough because without another player helping out it really feels like you're getting swarmed with enemies. Most of the enemies are pretty easy to tackle with just a small flurry of hits - but some of the more powerful ones can be a pain to kill. You'll feel like you're having to smack around a Viking pig for 20 minutes before the darn thing bites the dust. Most of the difficult isn't so much in the enemies you face but the obstacles built into the level design. In the first level, there are plenty of pits, broken bridges, fireballs raining from the sky and other hazards that will do much more damage than a skeleton warrior or a raging hog will any day. Sometimes these enemies will come running at you from offscreen and knock you into said pits if you aren't careful.

Level hazards continue in subsequent levels like in stage 2 where you face off with spiky logs on both sides of the screen and descend down a pit ala Battletoads for NES. The real challenge comes when the screen speeds up to a frantic pace and you have to avoid the spikes with all of your might. This is where I have died, and died, and died again. That leads us to what the main strategy for all of the Battletoads games is - play, die, memorize, and repeat. Eventually you'll have fallen through every pit, gotten struck by every fireball, stabbed against every log and will have a better idea how to get through. This strategy would work well if it weren't for the very limited amount of continues you get - 2 continues and then it's game over. Overall the game has a few less levels than the first game and is a tiny bit easier - but you'll still get frustrated by nonsense hazards nearly everywhere.

Helloooo Nurse!

Overall Battlemaniacs is a good (though not perfect) follow-up to the insanely hard and quirky-as-heck original. It's really surprising that there weren't more entries in the Battletoads series since this game. Why weren't there any on the N64? Heck - there was even a Toejam and Earl game for the Xbox. Why no Battletoads? Anyway, this is a more than enjoyable 16-bit slice of beat-em-up toad action! You really ought to add yourself to the waiting list at Lukie Games because it's not often you can control a humanoid toad person and smack pigs with your hammer fist. Trust me - I've tried.