Re(?)Considered: Battletoads

Toad the wet sprocket, or something

In the wake of E3's Battletoads revival, an exceptionally juicy thought popped into my head, and that thought was "the Turbo Tunnel isn't even that hard". A big ol' Grinchy grin spread across my portly fizzog and I took to my keyboard. Reason, however, prevailed, so I booted up Rare Replay to prove my hypothesis. And I was brutally beaten into the ground over and over again without mercy. Not by the Turbo Tunnel, though. That's still not that bad (except for the very last part), so I'm still right, which is what's important here.

No, the true Battletoads starts when you hit the stage Volkmire's Inferno, an unrelenting gauntlet of absurdly demanding obstacles, many of which are - unless you have precognitive abilities - literally impossible to avoid on the first pass. You're flying at ludicrous speed on a rocket with walls of lightning appearing in front of you, with less than a second to react and pass through the gaps. Then they up the ante and you're zipping through the gaps as they close. There's a point where it's so tight that you will die unless you know it's there and are already far enough to the right of the screen. Brilliantly, however, the next obstacle is a wall of lightning with a gap that opens, so you need to be far on the left to stand a chance of passing through. Evil genius.

The easiest section of Volkmire's Inferno. It's still very hard.

There's another stage almost immediately afterwards that tasks you with running away from giant cogs through claustraphobic tunnels. The appalling twist being that you have to duck into a cubbyhole to escape, with no indication which way the cog is going to go. You could hide in a totally logical spot only to have the giant metal sod bear down on you for an instant death. It is atrociously unfair! In the same level you have to fight instant-kill Rubber Duck enemies that seem to be utterly random in their own vulnerablity; sometimes you can stunlock them, sometimes they'll just counter you and you're dead. Then you're swimming past instant-kill spikes, dodging sharks who can knock you into said instant-kill spikes. Then you're floating down hazard-filled shafts using a little portable helicopter blade. And wading through waist-high water avoiding Rubber Ducks, giant cogs, sharks and instant-kill spikes.

Everything here kills you in one hit.

It's relentless, in both difficulty and - crucially - invention. You could never accuse Battletoads of resting on its laurels, with every single level offering up something new to kill you. And while it is totally (toadally?) unfair, it's at least worth persevering with, given how much love has clearly gone into every moment. Great graphics and sound, lots of long levels that don't get repetitive, super tight gameplay. Battletoads is a game you'd be entirely forgiven for not liking, due to its insanely demanding nature, but you've got to respect its craft. It's rare (pun intended) to see a NES game with some many ideas and all executed so well. It's one of the best-looking games on NES with brilliant use of colour and feels polished to match any given first-party title you could think of.

The Turbo Tunnel really isn't that hard, though.