Battletoads And Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team
by FreezingInferno

Battletoads. My good god, what a game that is. I could talk about it at great length, but I won't. Why's that? Because today I want to write about its blockbuster all-star crossover of a sequel; Battletoads And Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team. In order to properly talk about this game, however, I have to talk about the original Battletoads. I'd like to start with a little quote from Mr. Crono Maniac about Battletoads. It sums the game up pretty damn well:

"Battletoads' difficulty is legendary. It is at the top of many "Hardest Games Ever" lists, and those it is not at the top of are wrong. Every single one of the game's twelve levels starting with the midpoint of level three is completely impossible at first, only winnable through continuous attrition as you pick away at that their patterns and obstacles before finally discovering exactly how to win the level and burning it into your brain."

Battletoads is a strange anomaly in the video game world. There honestly isn't anything quite like it on the NES. The game's a giant genre stew. Beat-em-up, shoot-em-up, platformer, racing game... hell, there might be more there. No two levels are exactly alike (okay, maybe the Turbo Tunnel and Volkmire's Inferno are kind of the same, but other than that!) and the game demands new skills to be mastered. If the thing had unlimited continues, it'd be a masterpiece. Alas, you gotta play the hell out of it over and over until you Get It Right. Despite that, Battletoads is... god help me, kind of fun! Battletoads is also one of the most deceptive games ever made, though. Those first two and a half levels introduce you to the concept of beating up enemies to get by, using those cool cartoony finishing moves. Then you hit the Turbo Tunnel and... well, I really don't have to elaborate about how well THAT goes for a first time-player. Most sane people give up there, but for the madmen of this world, there's 75% more game to be had. A challenging and sadistic experience that's constantly shifting what it is. In the back of your mind, though, you may wonder "what if"? What if Battletoads remained a cool beat-em-up with those awesome finishers? What if it just stuck to one thing so you could focus on it? Rare must have heard these wishes because Battletoads and Double Dragon corrupts them in ways no vengeful genie could ever anticipate.

In that moment, Jimmy Lee understood the plight of war hero Rad Spencer.

Let's start with the good, though! For an NES game, this thing looks pretty damn great. Being that it's from 1993, that wonderful "twilight era" of the NES, one would expect it to look pretty damn great. This game tops the original Battletoads in the looks department for sure. That's an accomplishment in itself; Battletoads had great visual design to accompany its crazy genre mix. There's some technical wizardry going on here that only Rare could deliver; the floor in stage 2 scrolls with this cool depth scaling trick thing, and I swear there's something that looks like Mode 7 near the end of the game.

Make no mistake. Though this game has those crazy Lee twins in it, along with plenty of Double Dragon enemies to beat on.. it's a Battletoads game in spirit. The health and life bars are the same, the game plays the same as the beat-em-up bits of Battletoads... hell, even the crazy finishers are here. The Double Dragons are a little more conventional with their attacks and don't grow horns from their heads, but they play pretty much the same as a Battletoads. Hey, look at that! You can play as all three Battletoads this time! Pimple isn't useless this time, hooray! Not only that, but...

YOU CAN PLAY 2-PLAYER MODE WITHOUT FRIENDLY FIRE THANK YOU JESUS THIS IS GLORIOUS! Can I just say I never understood why friendly fire was ever an option for beat-em-ups? My nearest guess is to "add to the challenge", but to hell with that. Old beat-em-ups are hard enough as it is, let alone adding a buddy to accidentally punch your character in the face periodically. Does anyone even play with friendly fire on by CHOICE? I sure as hell wouldn't. There's another thing that would have improved the original Battletoads; the option to turn friendly fire off. Along with, you know, making Clinger Winger PLAYABLE in 2-player mode in North America.

Robo-Manus is very upset that he lost his "the boss with the gun" status and has decided to nuke the Earth.

Battletoads and Double Dragon is not a crazy genre mix like Battletoads was. This game is 80% pure beat-em-up. At first glance this seems like a brilliant move. No more bullshit Turbo Tunnel sections where you die instantly! It's a cool beat-em-up with awesome moves and a co-op mode that actually works! This is certainly a valid reaction to have at first, and it's the one I had when I first watched a longplay of the game. Then I actually played the thing. I really wanted to like it, and I figured it would be a breeze after conquering the numerous death traps of Battletoads. Boy, was I wrong. I think this thing actually made me angrier than Battletoads did. That's saying a lot. Why does the game fall flat? There's a simple answer to that: because it's a beat-em-up.

The original Battletoads began as a beat-em-up in stage 1, but it quickly morphed into its medley of madness. Parts of levels like the Turbo Tunnel or Surf City had you moving on a plane and pummelling rats, but they weren't the bulk of the game. Hell, in Karnath's Lair you don't kill ANYTHING! All you do is survive on the backs of snakes. Battletoads and Double Dragon is a one-genre game, for the most part. There's some revamped areas in the early stages that are callbacks to Wookie Hole and Turbo Tunnel, and Stage 4 is an Asteroids clone of all things... but other than that? Run on a plane and fight guys. In the later levels you don't even get a plane; it's all 2D fighting. This is very unfortunate because... well... Battletoads and Double Dragon is a pretty shoddy beat-em-up.

Part of what makes Battletoads work so well for me personally is that there isn't anything else like it on the NES. Like I said, genre stew. Battletoads and Double Dragon is a beat-em-up. You've got actual competition now, toads! Not only is there a trilogy of games from your crossover co-stars, but you have other gems like River City Ransom or, hell, Mighty Final Fight. These games work way better as beat-em-ups than Battletoads does. (Okay, I'll give you Double Dragon 3.) Battletoads and Double Dragon is just... I can't believe I'm going to say this... unfairly hard as a beat-em-up. This coming from a guy who liked the original Battletoads. Let's look at it compared to other beat-em-up games, though. The gems like Mighty Final Fight or Double Dragon 2... you have a bunch of lives, and a fairly sized health bar. Some enemies can hit hard, but unless you go flying into a pit or something you're not going to die in that many hits. Now let's look at Battletoads and Double Dragon.

See, this is totally a crossover game! There's a Battletoads guy and a Double Dragon enemy!

Three lives to begin with. Six points on your health bar. Regular enemies will usually hit you for one point of damage, two if they combo you. Three good hits is all it takes to kill you. Adding to that, you only have invulnerability if you die. There have been times where I got knocked on my back, got back up and BAM! HIT DOWN AGAIN! To be fair, they changed health refills slightly in this game. No more catching flies, since you could be playing as a human who does not eat flies. The health powerups in this game refill your whole life bar.. but the trouble in the later stages comes from GETTING to them. You'll often find yourself getting killed for one reason or another by the numerous enemies and obstacles in your way.

Another drawback is your limited attack ability. To look at the other beat-em-ups again, they all have a large variety of moves, one of the most useful being a crowd-clearer. Think the Double Dragons and their rockin' cyclone kicks. In this game, you have none of that shit. You have flashy finishers, but that's all they are. FINISHERS. There's not too much you can do if you start getting flanked on both sides by enemies. Move to another plane? CAN'T DO THAT PAST LEVEL 2, BOSS. It's all 2D from there! Some brief sections near the end of the game are planed, but by then the enemies are swarming you like crazy and, like I said, you've got no real crowd-clearing powers to speak of.

We haven't even gotten to the instant kill bits yet. One-hit kills are a bit of a trademark of Battletoads, I'll admit... but here the levels aren't built AROUND them. They're just there as another thing to screw you up and kill you. Case in point; the final section of level 2. It's a Turbo Tunnel! Except the obstacles are pathetically toned down. It almost feels like it's in there just because that was an iconic thing Battletoads had in it. They could have just made a Turbo Tunnel about half the length the original one was, and that would have worked. Probably. Instead, you have two simple obstacle course sections sandwiched between a bit where thugs on hoverbikes come at you. Your only offense on the bike is kicking directly behind you. Coincidentally, the thugs attack by punching forward. You know, the space where you have to attack THEM. It only takes them two or three punches to get you in a combo and knock you off the bike. You lose two points of your life bar... then lose the other four as you hit the ground. There have been several times where I've kicked a guy from the edge of the screen, only to be immediately comboed by the next guy who's STILL OFFSCREEN. At least you could memorize the Turbo Tunnel. Christ.

I think I liked it better when the pink walls were coming at me at 800 miles per hour.

Then you have Stage 4, the Asteroids knockoff. Some of its obstacles are two-point hits, some of them are instant death. I see what they were trying to do here, in a sense; it felt like an attempt to recreate the cool vehicle parts of Battletoads. You know, because that's what Battletoads did. It changed its genre. Here it just doesn't work. Battletoads worked because it never stuck to one thing. You can't just have a game that's a straight beat-em-up for six of its seven stages, and then make the seventh a space shooter. That makes no goddamned sense!

If you somehow manage to survive the three continues and three lives (or five if you're savvy and use a code) given to you, making it to the Dark Queen herself... well, holy shit, is this a final boss fight. Now, the Dark Queen in Battletoads was somewhat of a tricky boss. Admittedly, the level before her was way harder than the fight itself, but I still wouldn't call her a pushover. The Dark Queen in Battletoads and Double Dragon is just maliciousness on the part of the game programmers. You'll often find yourself getting "juggled" by her attacks due to no invincibility, which is essentially a one-hit kill if you look at it with a jaded stare. Then you have the weird computer behind her. It spits out powerups contained in little eggs. Health refills, invincibility pills, even 1-ups! Sounds helpful on paper, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. At all. In this game you can't just run OVER a power-up egg. You have to smash it open. You can't just jab either, because BY GOD THIS IS A GAME WITH FINISHERS! You have to spend three seconds performing your OVER THE TOP ELBOW DROP in order to smash the egg open. That's three seconds where the Dark Queen can hit you with her fire.. and as established, one hit can easily lead to three and kill you dead. It's easily the worst boss fight in the game. The original had bosses that could combo you to death, I know... but at least you could headbutt combo them back if you were clever enough. With this Dark Queen, that just isn't happening.

Pretty much my reaction to this part of the game.

Phew. That's a lot of vitriol. It's a strange opinion to have of a game, I know. As hard as Battletoads was (and let's face it, it was pretty damn hard) there was a certain charm to it as well. This game has very little of that. It's just a really hard beat-em-up, one that's hard out of unfair design. The original Battletoads was hardly fair, either, but there was a method to it. You had clear patterns you could adapt to, eventually. With this game, it's just a bunch of dudes coming after a character that isn't programmed with the ability to defend himself against a bunch of dudes. It's a real shame. I actually think I've gotten angrier at this game for killing me than I have at the original Battletoads. That shouldn't be the case at all. Battletoads can be fun despite its ludicrous difficulty. It was at least unique. In contrast, Battletoads and Double Dragon is just a mediocre dime-a-dozen beat-em-up without a single inspired thought in its head.

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