Tag Archives: NES

Ninja Gaiden (NES) Review

“Nintendo hard.”

That’s a term commonly used to describe the often brutal difficulty of games found on the NES. From Mega Man to Castlevania to Battletoads, the NES was riddled with games so punishing, that arguably no system has since repeated such consistently high difficulty. Among the most famous of these “Nintendo hard” games was Techmo’s Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja Gaiden is a side-scrolling action game, where players take control of Ryu Hayabusa through six different worlds, each more difficult than the last. Ryu can jump, slash enemies with his katana, and use special items Castlevania-style by pressing up on the D-pad along with the attack button.

Perhaps Ninja Gaiden’s most notable aspect that set it apart from other 8-bit action titles, however, was Ryu’s ability to wall jump (these were simpler times, when a simple new game mechanic could be used as a selling point for a title).

“Though its story is nothing to write home about, Ninja Gaiden’s cinematics were novel in their time.”

For the most part, Ryu Hayabusa is a fun character to control. His jumping feels smooth and responsive, and the simple combat mechanics are quick and fun. On the downside of things, the wall jump – despite being one of the game’s biggest draws back in the day – isn’t nearly as consistent. Ryu sticks to any wall you jump towards, which is fine, but once he’s on there, it can get tough to get him down. You can’t simply drop down, and instead have to use the wall jump (which can get troublesome in enemy-packed areas). Problems arise though, when the wall jumping doesn’t always coincide with your button presses. It’s a strange phenomenon, because while Ryu’s controls otherwise feel completely responsive, you may have to press the jump button several times before Ryu decides to jump off a wall. Playing as a wall-jumping ninja certainly is a cool idea, but I’m afraid time has exposed how unpolished the mechanic was in Ninja Gaiden.

With that said, Ninja Gaiden is still a really fun game overall. The levels are short but challenging, and for the most part that challenge – while it can be steep – is generally fair. And thankfully, the levels feature a decent amount of checkpoints, and even game overs simply take you back to said checkpoints, so this helps keep the frustration down (though it also may make you wonder why game overs were even included to begin with). You even have unlimited continues, which means you have ample tries to learn from past mistakes.

There are two major caveats with the levels, however: the first is that dying during boss fights will take you back to the start of that level, which is a dumbfounding decision, seeing as any other death takes you back to the nearest checkpoint. I’m not even saying you need to start back at the boss door or anything, but why not the closest checkpoint? It’s just a weird inconsistency.

The other problem with the stages are how easy it is for enemies to respawn. Sure, many games feature respawning enemies if you go a certain distance and come back, but it seems like if Ryu moves even an inch backwards, previous enemies will respawn. This can make things kind of annoying when trying to make the game’s trickier jumps, and you need to keep readjusting your position, only for the enemies to respawn and stand in the path of your jump.

So Ninja Gaiden has a few aged elements to it. I suppose that should be expected, considering the NES era will still something of a pioneering time for the medium. But even if it can’t compete with more timeless NES titles like Mega Man 2 or Super Mario Bros. 3, Ninja Gaiden still displays a strong sense of fun and challenge. And hey, it’s still not as tough as Battletoads.

 

 

7.0

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Friday the 13th (NES) Review

There really aren’t a whole lot of movie franchises that can keep going strong after more than two or three entries (with Star Wars being one of those exceptions, though even it had the hated prequel trilogy to overcome before the franchise got back on its feet with The Force Awakens). But that doesn’t stop studios from overexposing movie franchises, even long after they’ve wrung dry. Horror franchises in particular, have a long history of never knowing when to quit, and Friday the 13th may have been one of the worst offenders, with ten total films in its original series, plus a crossover and a reboot during the 2000s. That’s a lot of mileage for a series that essentially boils down to little more than a madman killing a bunch of campers. Friday the 13th was one of those horror franchises where, much like its antagonist, it just wouldn’t die.

The 1980s were an exceptionally busy decade when it came to milking horror franchises. Another relic of the 80s came in the form of taking virtually any conceivable movie and turning it into an NES game, whether it had any right to be one or not. It only makes sense that both of these dreadful trends would eventually cross paths. Enter LJN’s NES adaptation of Friday the 13th.

In all fairness, Friday the 13th isn’t the worst LJN game I’ve played, but that isn’t exactly saying a whole lot. This is still a game that seems more cumbersome and convoluted than anything else, and still deserves its frequent ranking as one of LJN’s worst creations. But at the very least I suppose it bears the name of a movie that feels like a product of its time, as opposed to taking a classic like Back to the Future or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and turning it into a monstrosity. The downgrade in quality between movie and game simply isn’t as extreme here, if nothing else.

With that said, the game still isn’t any good. The whole goal of the game is to defeat Jason Vorhees, the ski-masked murderer from the film series, before he kills all the camp counselors. You take control of six different counselors, which have minor gameplay differences between one another (some are faster, others jump higher, or throw offensive rocks in different arcs), and the player will select a different counselor upon the death of the current one.

Admittedly, the “different characters as different lives” setup was original at the time, and some of the game’s other aspects, such as traveling through “3D” space in the different cabins, were also decently bold for their time… even if their execution leaves a whole lot to be desired.

The game revolves around the player moving around the campgrounds, finding lighters to light the fireplaces of the cabins, and slowly chipping away at Jason’s seemingly never-ending health bar whenever you come across him. Most of the game is played in a 2D side-scrolling perspective, with the cabins, once again, having a go at three-dimensional space.

Friday the 13th features a map screen (which you awkwardly open by pressing start and select at the same time), which shows your current location on the campgrounds. Every once in a while, an alarm will sound, informing you that Jason is on the prowl. During these times, you can also see where Jason is on the map, and you have to get to that location and combat him before a timer runs out, otherwise another counselor dies.

Here’s where things really start to get hairy. The time you have to face off with Jason is very limited (I don’t think it usually reaches the minute-long mark), and oftentimes Jason will spawn on the complete other side of the map. And seeing that most of the gameplay is on a 2D plain, discerning which direction during gameplay takes you which direction on the map isn’t always easy (or consistent).

In short, it’s easy to get lost, and even easier to lose multiple counselors to Jason before you even have a fair chance at reaching him.

Should you manage to locate Jason in a cabin, however, you are pitted in a battle against him that looks like something out of Punch-Out!!. You can slowly deal bits and pieces of damage to Jason, but he does considerable more damage to you, meaning you’re far more likely to lose a character to Jason than you are of sending him away for the time being. I will admit though, when you actually run into Jason upon entering a cabin and searching its every corner, his reveal is actually successfully startling.

Sometimes, you can even come across Jason in the 2D sections, in which case you simply try to pelt him with rocks (or knives, should you be lucky enough to hold onto them for a prolonged period of time), while avoiding his attacks. Slowly but surely, you can eat away at Jason’s health with every encounter, in hopes of eventually depleting it entirely and finishing the game.

Dare I say the idea of solely fighting Jason Vorhees may have made for an interesting game under the right hands? Like I said, when you do come across him, it’s probably as scary as the game could have been for its style and time, and the fact that he can run across you just as likely as you can come across him is a pretty suspenseful idea. But of course, this is LJN, so the concept becomes more than a little ruined.

On top of the confusing layout and navigation, the entire process just grows far too tedious. And more likely than not, you’ll probably lose all of your characters before you take out even a fraction of Jason’s health. And even the suspense of Jason possibly being around any corner is ruined by the inclusion of zombies, wolves and bird enemies. Sure, these enemies drop items like the lighters and the knives, but their inclusion seems unnecessary. Like they’re only there to fill out the map. But the game probably would have benefitted from a smaller map with no enemies, where maybe you had to find the items through puzzles or something, all while Jason is on the prowl. But, again, this is LJN. Shouldn’t expect too much.

In the end, Friday the 13th just ends up being another example of LJN’s almost shocking ability to produce rushed and unfinished games. Though some of Friday the 13th’s concepts were novel at the time, the horrendous layout and arduous nature of the game make it a complete bore.

 

2.0

Back to the Future (NES) Review

Ignoring director Robert Zemeckis’ trilogy of uncanny valley heavy motion-capture films released in the 2000s, the famed filmmaker has had a pretty solid resume. Many of Zemeckis’ films have received high praise, and are remembered as classics of their respective decades, such as Forest Gump and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Perhaps the most beloved Robert Zemeckis film, however, is Back to the Future. With its unique blending of genres (a time-traveling/buddy comedy/high school drama), tightly wound storytelling (a movie about time travel that makes sense!), and its memorable characters, Back to the Future is one of the quintessential “80s movies.”

Like so many other beloved films of the 80s and early 90s, Back to the Future received an NES game courtesy of the now-defunct LJN, who became infamous for their ability to take seemingly any movie, and create a rushed, broken game out of it. And LJN’s treatment of Back to the Future frequently ranks as one of their biggest crimes against beloved movies.

Basically, the game works like this: You play as Marty McFly, the hero from the film famously portrayed by Michael J. Fox, and you make your way across rail-like stages, where you have to avoid enemies, collect clocks, and make it to the end of the stage with as much time left as possible. In between each series of walking stages are levels where you have to throw root beer floats at bullies, or collect hearts from love-struck high schoolers (or something).

In other words, it has nothing to do with the movie.

Mistake number one – which has been pointed out time and again – is that Marty bears no resemblance to the film’s main character. Sure, this was NES and developers could only do so much, but when the character’s red life vest and brown hair are replaced with a sleeveless black shirt and black hair, you get the impression they didn’t even try.

That’s actually the least of the game’s faults, however, as the actual gameplay is much, much worse.

In the walking stages, Marty automatically moves forward, with the player needing to guide him away from obstacles and enemies (which range from bees to hula girls) and grab the aforementioned clocks. There are two timers at the bottom of the screen. One of them, the more obvious timer, simply counts down how long you have to reach the end of the level. Every time an enemy hits you, you lose time on this timer. If it reaches zero, you lose a life. And however much time you have left when you reach the end of the level is multiplied into points.

The second timer is presented as a picture at the center of the bottom of the screen, and is suppose to represent the photograph of Marty, his brother and his sister from the movie (the one where each figure in the photo slowly disappears as Marty keeps inadvertently altering time). This timer works over the course of the walking levels, with the pictured characters slowly disappearing. For every 100 clocks you collect, you reset this timer.

Okay, things may not sound all that bad from that description, but where things really begin to fall apart are with the way Marty himself plays. For one thing, Marty’s standard jump is completely useless. If you try to jump over an enemy or obstacle, you just smack right into it, leaving you wondering why the jump was even included. You can, at times, find a skateboard (hey, something from the movie!), which allows you to move faster, and even makes the jump successful in leaping over some obstacles, but it also makes Marty move so fast that it becomes really easy to run into walls, and to miss out on collecting the clocks. So it’s a power-up that actively works against your goal.

To make matters worse, the enemies are all over the place, and most of them move much faster than Marty (of course). The worst are the bees, who will continuously follow you for a good while before they fly away. You can fight back enemies by picking up a bowling ball (remember the bowling scene from the movie? Me either), but if you get hit once, you lose the bowling ball as well as precious time.

As one final middle finger to the players, the clocks, skateboards and bowling balls are often placed directly in front of walls which will knock you down and steal time when touched. No point in even attempting to get those items, since you’ll just be punished for it as soon as you grab them, so then why are they even there? Back to the Future on NES was trolling before trolling was a thing.

Perhaps the worst bit of all is the music, which is just an obnoxious, sporadic loop of noise that repeats throughout the majority of the game. From the title screen and any level that features music (save for the final stage), it’s just the same scratching loop over and over again.

You may think that when you finally manage to get to one of the stages that doesn’t involve automatic walking, you are getting some kind of reprieve (not only are they different, but that awful music is muted as well). Sadly, you’d be wrong, as these stages may be even worse than the walking ones.

In the first such level, the one where you are throwing those root beer floats at bullies, Marty is confined behind the store counter. You can move up and down, and throw the delicious beverages at the oncoming bullies, who will charge towards Marty in different rows. Marty must continuously move up and down to make sure he’s in position to hit the closest bully. The problem is it’s incredibly difficult to make out when you are and are not in the right spot until the bullies are right in front of you. And should even just one of them make it to the counter, you not only lose a life, but go back to the previous walking stage! 

Keep in mind that you have to successfully defeat 50 bullies in order to finish this level alone, and said bullies increase in speed, and even start showing up in packs as you defeat more and more of them. I doubt most players would have the patience to continue with the game past this levels, but if they do, they can look forward to more walking stages, capped off with levels of similar difficulty to the root beer one. It’s a mess.

Back to the Future on NES should rank among the worst licensed games ever made. Up there with LJN’s own Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure. It not only has virtually nothing to do with the beloved film it’s based on (save for the title), but even without the mockery of its source material, it would still be a flat-out terrible piece of game design.

 

1.5

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters Review

It really shouldn’t be that hard to make a good Godzilla game. Okay, that’s perhaps an unfair statement, because actually making any game is a hefty endeavor. But in regards to concept, why would it ever be difficult to figure out what a Godzilla game should be? You have one giant monster fight another giant monster and there you go, a Godzilla game. But for whatever reason, it took developers a long time to figure out the obvious when it came to thinking of an idea for a game starring the king of the monsters. Such is the case with the NES’ Godzilla: Monster of Monsters which, despite having a few unique ideas at its disposal, is far more complicated and tedious than it needs to be, and is bogged down all the more thanks to some utterly baffling game design choices.

In Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, players take control of Godzilla and Mothra, as they make their way across shoot-em-up stages and face off with other monsters. Sounds simple enough, but here’s where things get weird; the game is presented as a kind of board game. Godzilla and Mothra make their way across a game board, with the different spaces leading to a short stage, and the enemy monsters having a turn of their own. When the good and evil monsters come face-to-face, they do battle with each other. More enemy monsters are added with each new board, and Godzilla and Mothra can gain levels a la RPGs by defeating more boss monsters.

Okay, so far it doesn’t sound so bad. Why Godzilla needs to be presented as a board game is anybody’s guess, but hey, combining the board game setup with RPG and fighting elements is original, at the very least. Godzilla and Mothra even play differently; with Godzilla moving two spaces on the board at a time compared to Mothra’s four, and Godzilla attacking with his claws and his devastating laser breath, while Mothra spits a projectile and can drop her wings like bombs (strangely, the special moves are used by pressing the Start button, with the Select button pausing the game).

Here’s where things start to go haywire, however. During your turn, you can only move one of the monsters at a time! And when I said the spaces on the board have their own stages, I meant every space on the board! So basically, a turn consists of moving one of your characters a few spaces, and then playing a stage in which you’re constantly being bombarded with enemy fire, and there’s often no definition between what’s in the background and what’s in the foreground (many obstacles, such as volcanos, which appear in the back must be destroyed before your character can walk past them). And how do you finish a board and move on to the next? By making your way to the opposite end of the board and completing its final stage, naturally.

The stages themselves may not be particularly long, but when you have to play through one for every space you land on, combined with the limited movement of your characters on the game board, the process becomes beyond tedious.

Things get even weirder when you realize your fights with enemy monsters have time limits. If you fail to defeat a monster during the fight, you’ll have to wait for another round to finish them off (thankfully, they retain any damage you did to them previously). But if you fail to defeat them two or three times, they’ll run away from the board (complete with hilariously translated dialogue boxes explaining the details of the monster’s cowardice), which means you miss out on gaining a level or two.

Here’s where the flaws go from obnoxious to game-breaking: In order to progress through the game, your surviving monster or monsters have to make it through the board’s end level. That may sound like it makes sense, but if both of the player monsters are alive, they both have to make it through the finish, which doubles down on the already tedious process. So if you think you’re being clever by strategically moving the slower but more powerful Godzilla into the path of enemy monsters to take them out while you have Mothra dart for the finish line, sorry. No dice. They both have to get through the finish line, which means you have to go through every stage on every space you land on!

Now, you can take a bit of a shortcut… if you purposefully get one of your monsters killed in one of the levels or against a boss. But that puts you at a huge disadvantage should your surviving monster have to go up against multiple monsters in order to progress (like the bosses, your damage also stays intact, unless you find enough healing items in a stage). But if one monster dies early, you can get the other to the end and both of your characters will be back on the next board. It’s just a risky game to play.

Don’t think that process will work in reverse though. If you manage to get one monster through the board, you can’t have the monster that’s left on the board die, because then it’s game over. The game would still be pretty bad even if the progression were more streamlined, but I can safely say it wouldn’t be nearly as bad if you could just move on by having one monster reach the end! If the player reached the end of the board, that’s all that should matter. The game really gives off the impression that the developers just didn’t think all these details through.

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters is one of the many early examples of developers overthinking what a Godzilla game should be. Although the board game and RPG elements have a bit of originality to them, the gameplay featured in the stages is just too bland, and the process of getting through it all is simply beyond arduous, making the whole thing go from a missed opportunity to a flat-out bad game.

 

3.0

Milon’s Secret Castle Review

Milon’s Secret Castle is a prime example of a decent video game concept gone awry. Developed by Hudson Soft for the NES, Milon’s Secret Castle had the potential to put a new spin on the platformer genre by setting all the action in a single location (the titular castle), in which you must uncover secrets to delve further into its chambers. Unfortunately, Hudson went a wee bit too far with these secrets, which end up being so cryptic that getting through the castle no longer feels like a series of puzzles, but one big guessing game.

On the bright side of things, Milon controls well enough. You can walk around, jump, and shoot magic bubbles from a wand. The bubbles are used to defeat enemies, as well as uncover hidden items behind breakable blocks, and reveal invisible doors. If there’s any complaint to be had with Milon’s sense of control, it’s that the only way to run is simply build momentum, which can often be difficult in the castle’s cramped walls. And seeing as Milon was released after Super Mario Bros., there’s really no excuse why a run button couldn’t have been implemented.

The setup of the game goes like this: you traverse the chambers of the castle, looking for hidden passageways and money, which is used to purchase items from shops, which themselves are often hidden. The items are used to make Milon more versatile, improving the damage of his bubbles, or giving him more ways to traverse the castle, like bouncing on springs and shrinking (by the baffling means of being hit by a boxing glove). Additionally, honeycombs can be found hidden within the castle, which add to Milon’s total hit points.

Because of these character-progressing elements, the game almost has an RPG or Metroidvania-type of appeal. This is greatly detracted, however, by how utterly cryptic the game is. Granted, the game is all about secrets, but we aren’t simply talking about solving puzzles to unlock these secrets, but just randomly shooting bubbles at every last pixel on the screen and hoping you get lucky and find something. What’s worse, some of the game’s hidden items randomly generate in different spots, which only makes things that much more of a guessing game. Thankfully the random items are less frequent than the fixed ones, but in a game that’s already so cryptic, adding any random element into the mix was never going to end up well.

This overly cryptic nature prevents Milon’s Secret Castle from reaching its potential, and turns what might have otherwise been a good game into a mediocre one. But the grave flaw that demotes Milon’s Secret Castle below that is that you have no extra lives, and no continues. If you die just once, you have to start the game from the beginning! 

Rarely is a game that gives you no extra chances a good idea, but for a game that already alienates the player with its cryptic elements, the lack of extra tries turns the whole thing into a giant, tedious, trial-and-error affair.

Milon’s Secret Castle had the potential to be something memorable, and had it been developed properly, may have made an impact in the Metroidvania scene. But it’s inability to challenge the player’s thinking, and instead insisting on making the experience feel like a guessing game, coupled with its unforgiving punishment for a single loss, really make Milon’s Secret Castle a massive missed opportunity.

 

3.5

Karate Champ (NES) Review

Just because a game helped shape a genre, doesn’t always mean it’s good. Sure, the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Tetris are timeless classics that remain entertaining even today, but not all influential games are so lucky. Look for no further proof than Karate Champ, a title which helped shape the fighting genre in its early days, before Street Fighter added depth and fun to the genre.

In Karate Champ’s defense, it probably fared a little better in its original arcade form, in which one or two players would take on their opponent using two different joysticks to perform moves. It still would lack substance, seeing as both fighters are identical in appearance (save for gi color) and moves, and there’s no deeper mechanics to speak of than “land the first hit.” But at least the moves might be at least a little responsive to the joystick controls.

I can’t say that’s the case for sure, seeing as I’ve never even seen a Karate Champ Arcade cabinet. But surely something was lost in the translation in bringing the game to the NES, because Karate Champ can be called nothing short of unplayable.

As stated, the battles really are as simple as landing the first hit to score a point. Score two points and you move on to the next fight. It’s basically just rinse and repeat from there, because every fight is exactly the same. The player (or player 1 if you’re exposing another human being to the game for some reason) is dressed in the white gi. While the CPU (or player 2) is in the red gi. The game couldn’t even be bothered to change the opponent’s gi color per level. The scenery changes (though each stage is just as ugly as the last), but that’s about it.

Things go from shallow to outright disastrous, however, once you try to control the game. Karate Champ on NES is up there with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure, World Games (both also NES) and Dark Castle (Genesis) for the title of most uncontrollable game.

Simply put, you can’t control Karate Champ. You can press buttons, and the character will react, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind the action the character decides to make. You’ll walk towards your opponent and attack, only for the character to perform a leg sweep behind him. Or your enemy might get behind you, and you try to attack him by holding back on the D-pad and striking, only for your character to kick in front of him. It seems no matter what direction you’re holding or which button you press (both A and B perform attacks), the player has no say-so as to which action the character performs. Winning a match ultimately comes down to sheer luck then. I had my best performances simply by standing still and hitting one of the attack buttons once my opponent got close enough. It didn’t always work, of course, but it seemed to give me the best chance of actually landing an attack.

On top of all this, Karate Champ also suffers from some extreme technical issues. Sure, a lot of NES games are susceptible to such technical problems, but Karate Champ seems to constantly be plagued by graphical glitches, freeze-ups and crashes. These issues turn what is already a mechanically unplayable game into a technically unplayable one.

Perhaps the arcade versions of Karate Champ helped pave the way for the fighter, but no doubt pretty much everything that was created in its wake surpassed it by a great margin. And the NES port of Karate Champ may have actually devolved the experience all the more. At the very least, the two player mode may have you and a friend chuckling for a few minutes as you randomly swipe away at each other and see who manages to get lucky and actually hit the other. But it’s a short-lived joke, if anything. The bigger joke may just be how a game this broken eventually lead us to Street Fighter.

 

1.5

Battletoads Review

*Review based on Battletoads’ release as part of Rare Replay*

 

Battletoads is the hardest video game ever made.

That’s an often repeated statement you’ll hear around the gaming community, and it’s a hard point to argue. I can’t think of another video game that demands so many actions to be pixel perfect, or that’s so unforgiving with its level design. Battletoads is on a level all its own in the realms of video game difficulty, with a challenge so incredibly steep that only the most dedicated players will see their way past the first few levels.

To put it simply, Battletoads is one tough bastard.

But is it any good? Well, that all depends. Battletoads is certainly a game that has a lot going for it: the core gameplay is fun, the levels are full of variety, and the music by David Wise is pretty awesome, and sounds a bit like a precursor to the composer’s later work in the Donkey Kong Country series. Not to mention the game has a fun attitude that serves as a pretty funny riff on the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles.

With all that said, Battletoads is also most certainly not a game everyone will enjoy simply because it is that damn difficult. Some levels even feel downright sadistic with their demands on the player. And in what has to be the single dumbest design choice in the game, if you have two players partnering up for the adventure at hand, you can (and most definitely will) hurt each other!

Essentially, Battletoads is a beat-em-up. Players can take control of two of the three Battletoads, Rash and Zits, as they embark on a quest through deep space to defeat the sexy Dark Queen and rescue a princess as well as their kidnapped comrade Pimple (I always wondered why Rare bothered to make three Battletoads characters since one of them always seems to be on the sidelines).

Though the game primarily serves as a beat-em-up, the levels quickly find ways to add variety to the mix. The second level sees the toads traveling downwards in a cavern via ropes, while the infamous third level (the game’s first massive difficulty spike) has players riding hover vehicles through a tunnel with rapidly appearing walls (with a single crash meaning instant death). Later levels include surfing, swimming through sewers, and racing giant rats down a construction building to reach bombs (this particular level being the bane of my existence).

The sheer variety is a constant delight, and even when Battletoads is settling in its traditional beat-em-up stages, it still proves to be fun, especially because of the comical animations (which were quite impressive for their time). If you run and attack an enemy, the toads’ heads will cartoonishly turn into ram horns, and after you smack a foe into the ground, you can kick him into oblivion when your toad’s foot transforms into a giant boot.

Simply put, the gameplay, when taken on its own merits, is fun. But the ridiculous difficulty will no doubt prove alienating to many players. The third stage alone will exhaust all of your lives and continues several times over. And should you somehow manage to make it to the later stages, well, good luck is all I can say.

The aforementioned sewer stage includes sections where you run from giant gears, which will instantly kill you if they get too close. But these gears are fast, and will always seem to be trailing inches behind your character, and when they start chasing you upward, you might find yourself shouting obscenities you may have forgotten you knew, because the jumps you need to make have to be one-hundred percent accurate in order to keep your momentum going and survive the gear. I wish I could say I were exaggerating, but if you’re even a split second off, you’re dead.

Anyone who actually managed to conquer these levels in the game’s original NES release definitely have my respect. How they managed to master such trial-and-error after so many game overs sent them back to the start of the game, I’ll never know.

The Rare Replay release includes a neat way to avoid having to start over, however. Along with being able to save your progress at any time, Battletoads – like the other early titles included in Rare Replay – gives players the ability to rewind up to ten seconds. So while you will most assuredly die and die again, you can, at the very least, rectify most of your deaths  without having to go back to a checkpoint or getting a game over. It was only with this rewind feature that I was able to complete that infamous third level. You may say that I cheated, but as far as I’m concerned, Battletoads cheated first with how long that level drags on, how fast your vehicle ends up going, and how fast walls start appearing right in front of you.

Besides, the rewinding can only help you so much. It still took me countless tries to get those jumps with the gears just right (and even then, I think I got lucky more than I had them figured out). And to be honest, the rewinding ability still hasn’t helped me conquer that dreaded Rat Race stage. Those rats run so fast that rewinding isn’t going to do much other than have you reliving the sight of a giant rat zooming past a humanoid toad over and over. Even if you manage to hit the rats (which, again, requires one-hundred percent precision), you only buy yourself less than a second’s time, since the rats move so fast that, when they hit a wall and turn back around, they’re just going to speed past you all over again.

Yes, even with the rewind feature, I still can’t beat Battletoads. Normally, I like to beat a game before I write the review, but cheat codes and level skips certainly help in seeing enough of Battletoads to write about it. I fear I might otherwise never make it past those rats.

“They are going to die…probably by each other’s hands.”

The disappointing thing is, with a game this difficult, it was just begging to be played with two people working together to help get through it. But then Rare decided to troll gamers by making the Toads able to hit each other, which will result in countless unintentional deaths from each other on top of all the ones you are going to get from enemies and obstacles. What’s worse, the players share lives and continues, so if the players end up accidentally killing each other repeatedly, you’re going to start the whole game over. With a single player, Battletoads feels close to impossible. With two players… it might very well be.

Now we go back to the question “is Battletoads any good?” Honestly, I feel like depending on when you ask me, my answer could be very different. For all the things it does right in gameplay, variety and music, it almost seems to want to turn players away with its frequently unreasonable challenge.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so stumped as to how to score a video game at the end of my review. When playing through Battletoads again, there were times when I felt I’d rate it as high as a 7.5, and times when I felt it was unrelenting to the point that it took away much of the enjoyment, and that something like a 5.5 (or lower) might be more fitting. In the end I’ve decided to settle on a middle ground between those mentioned numbers with a 6.5. Though depending on when you ask me, I might tell you Battletoads is better or worse than I grade it here.

While the challenges Battletoads throws at its players often require them to be one-hundred percent accurate, my ultimate feelings for the game are anything but.

 

6.5