Ah, Battletoads; the series wasn’t as big as Super Mario and Mega Man in its day, but seemingly everybody of a certain age spent chunk of their childhood trying, and failing miserably, to get anywhere in Battletoads. The game has cult has grown over the years, and it might now be one of the five most reminisced over, meme-ified 8-bit video games ever made.
The Battletoads cult has grown to such a degree that Microsoft has been dropping hints left and right that a new Battletoads game may be in the works more than 20 years after the last game in the series was released. So, in honor of the ‘Toads new found relevance, here are 10 things you might not know about the game that basically defines “Nintendo hard”…
1) Nintendo itself secretly helped fund Battletoads. The Battletoads series was the work of Rare, the company that would eventually go on to create classics like Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007 and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Rare is based in England, and they did a good business developing games for British home computers in the early ’80s like the ZX Spectrum.
While working on their computer games, Rare became aware of a new console released by Nintendo in Japan, and they quickly set to work breaking the NES’ lock-out security so they could figure out how the system worked. Despite this being totally illegal, Rare didn’t hide their activities. In fact, Rare founders Tim and Chris Stamper proudly showed what they’d done to Nintendo themselves, and Nintendo was surprisingly impressed by their initiative. While most third party NES developers were limited in the number of games they could make, and received little to no support from Nintendo, Rare was given free reign to make as many games as they wanted (they made almost 50 over a four-year period) and were provided with essentially unlimited funding from Nintendo itself. So, this weird, kind of violent game about alien toads named after skin conditions was actually partially bankrolled by Nintendo.
The ‘Toads and Mario do have a common hatred of bricks.
2) The infamous “Turbo Tunnel” speeder bike stage is actually one of the easiest in the game. The third stage of Battletoads, in which you have to zip a speeder bike around a series of obstacles at blazing speeds, has become one of the most infamous levels in video game history. Many have called the Turbo Tunnel the hardest video game level of all-time. That’s just because the vast majority of those who play Battletoads never make it past the speeder bikes.
The Turbo Tunnel is actually one of the least challenging levels in Battletoads. In fact, there are three other racing-style levels in the game — Surf City, Volkmire’s Inferno and Clinger Winger — and they’re all significantly harder than the Turbo Tunnel. Surf City and Volkmire’s Inferno are randomized, so you can’t even memorize the patterns, and you’re running from a weird psychedelic black hole on an anti-gravity unicycle in Clinger Winger. And those are just the vehicle-based stages. Just check out the complete ridiculousness of Volkmire’s Inferno, while taking into account that the fireball and missile sections are totally random…
Like it or not, that speeder bike level you never beat was basically the game’s tutorial.
3) There’s a trick for gaining extra lives in the second stage. Another thing that makes Battletoads one of the toughest games of all-time is that it’s very stingy with lives. There’s really no place you can stockpile them, with one major, notable exception.
Similar to the Super Mario Bros. 1-Up trick where you can jump on a turtle shell multiple times for multiple lives, you’ll encounter many enemies that look like ravens in stage two of Battletoads (the one where you lower yourself down the pit). Once you kill one, you can continue to mash on its falling corpse for more points. Keep “juggling” the bird for long enough, and you’ll get an extra life. There are more than 30 ravens in the level, so you can rack up more than 30 lives if you’re good enough at juggling (don’t worry, the life counter only goes up to five, but you can get more than that). So, if you want to best Battletoads the honest way, mastering the second level is pretty much essential.
4) One of Battletoads‘ later levels is literally impossible to beat in two-player mode. Is Battletoads driving you batty? Think playing co-op might help? Har har, think again. Co-op actually makes Battletoads harder because that’s just how this goddamn game rolls. Your attacks can hurt your friend in two-player mode, and trying to get through the vehicle-based challenges with two people is almost impossible. In one case, it’s literally impossible.
In stage 11 (Clinger Winger), there’s a glitch that causes player two’s controller to become inactive. There’s nothing you can do about it; if you’re player two, you just have to sit there and die. So, it doesn’t matter if you and your sidekick are the most coordinated co-op duo in history. Come stage 11, you’re f*cked.
5) The game contains an insider reference to Space Invaders. Throughout the game, you’ll occasionally encounter little green enemies who fly in from the top of the screen and steal pieces from your energy bar. If you look closely, you’ll notice these enemies are straight-up rip-offs of the aliens from Space Invaders. The game’s manual even shamelessly refers to these baddies as “Vaders.” The Space Invaders enemies were snuck into the game as a nod to Rare’s history, as company founders Tim and Chris Stamper first learned how to program video games by tinkering with old Space Invaders circuit boards.
6) There are four hidden warp zones in the game. By now, you’re probably thinking Battletoads was created by complete sadists, and you’re probably right, but they did throw players a few bones. There’s the raven juggling trick in stage two, and there’s a series of four secret “Mega Warps” scattered throughout the game. Each one jumps you ahead two stages, allowing you to skip a stage.
The first warp is on a ledge in stage one. The second warp is actually accessed by crashing into one of the last walls in the speeder bike stage. The third is in found in the snow and ice-themed fourth stage. The final warp is found in stage six (the one with the big snakes). You can check out a handy dandy video guide to finding all the warps below…
7) Battletoads was ported to the Sega Genesis. Battletoads will always be most associated with the NES, but Rare actually ported the game to a number of other systems. They even got in bed with Nintendo’s arch rival Sega, bringing the game to the Genesis. In fact, the Genesis port is arguably the best version of Battletoads, featuring better graphics and music and vehicle stages that tone down the insanity just a hair. If you can find this obscure version of Battletoads, by all means, grab it and give it a go.
8) There’s a shockingly violent arcade version of Battletoads. Speaking of obscure versions of Battletoads, you probably never saw it at your local corner store or swimming pool, but Rare made an arcade version of Battletoads. Freed from Nintendo’s censorship, Rare went nuts with this game, focusing more on brawling and introducing crazy Mortal Kombat level violence to the Battletoads mix.
Unleashing a major attack will cause spouts of blood to spray from an enemy, which then collapse into piles of radioactive bones when killed. You can even latch onto the junk of some enemies and wail away with low blows to your sadistic heart’s content. No, really. Check this bloody, ball-busting action…
9) The Battletoads games actually take place within a Tron-like virtual world. I’m guessing you never devoted much thought to the Battletoads universe. They’re toads from space that like to punch things, what more do you need to know? Well, it turns out that Battletoads has a strange, surprisingly complex backstory.
As revealed in an eight-page comic in a 1991 issue of Nintendo Power, Rash, Zitz and Pimple are professional gamers Morgan Ziegler, Dave Shar and George Pie. Rare wasn’t so good with the names, okay? The world of Battletoads is actually an advanced virtual reality game the three play for the entertainment of fans around the world. Unfortunately, the programmer of the game, Silas Volkmire, is jealous of our heroes’ fame, and he rigs it so Morgan, Dave and George are permanently trapped in the Battletoads universe as Rash, Zitz and Pimple.
I pretty much always feel like a bunch of molecular building blocks.
It’s actually fairly dark stuff, considering there’s no indication in any of the Battletoads games that our heroes ever return to their reality. Are Morgan, Dave and George laying comatose on some slab somewhere in the real world during the Battletoads‘ many adventures? Maybe not, because the comic seems to hint that the VR game is actually a physical portal to another universe, but even if that’s the case, we have three innocent guys stuck as grotesque frog men having to survive in a strange, violent universe with no hope of return. Not exactly typical fun kids’ fare. Speaking of which…
10) There was almost a Battletoads cartoon series. The Battletoads series is completely shameless in its aping of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so it’s not terribly surprising that the ‘Toads almost got their own Saturday morning cartoon series. There was a pilot episode produced (it was even written by Turtles cartoon writer David Wise), but it never got picked up for a full series. Probably because the Turtles phenomenon was already waning by the time the ‘Toads pilot hit in 1994. You can, uh, “enjoy” the entire Battletoads pilot episode below.
That’s all the toadtacular facts for now! Know anything about Battletoads that I missed? How far could you make it in the original NES game? Let’s talk Toads, folks.