What’s the first video game you received for Christmas? If you’re anything like me, this was the defining moment in your Christmas experience. Every other gift was a mystery, and some might even suck, but once you saw the obvious rectangle shape under the tree (size and thickness dependent on what system you grew up with) you knew you were going to be happy.
I still remember the Christmas I received my first video game. It was a white Christmas, which in song and on the screen are beautiful reminders of the cozy spirit of the holiday. In the real world, we lost our power. The first present I grabbed was that now famed rectangle. I ripped back the paper and there was ‘Battletoads…and it was fucking useless to me until the power company got off it’s ass in order to save Christmas. Until the power was restored, we played a Treasure Troll board game. It’s only due to the situation that I even remember that game and after looking up pictures of it on Google, I can see why I never played it again after that morning.
Once the power went back on, I was finally able to play the game that everyone was talking about. Until Christmas that’s all I heard, talk. The only time I actually saw it played prior to owning it was at my friend’s house, but it was only for a few minutes because it was his birthday or some shit. Now it was my turn. I could play it as long as I wanted. This was about to become the best Christmas ever…
HERE’S WHAT I REMEMBER:
Rage. Absolute unadulterated rage. Fun moments, silly moments, then RAGE. And you all know the reason why.
How many times have you beaten the first boss with his own projectiles, descended past the murder ravens and electric fields, booted the weird mouse enemies off screen, only to jump onto a speeder bike and die? I’m confident that 99% of the people who bought ‘Battletoads’ know the first three levels incredibly well, yet the other 75% of the game remains a mystery.
I do remember seeing the other levels, but I cheated like a motherfucker to get to them. Thanks to Game Genie, I was given the opportunity to get my ass kicked by a variety of different gameplay mechanics.
All I wanted was more beat em’ up action, but on my first level skip, all I got was a version of snake that was a bigger “fuck you” than the T.I. calculator version, and that fucking thing didn’t even have an ending!
It’s not like I hated all the different mechanics for each level, it’s just not what I was expecting. I remember playing ‘Battletoads’ as much as any other game and I even remember having certain levels that I’d go back to. I’d never beat them, but I enjoyed playing them. I guess what I wanted from this game was for it to be the arcade version (which I didn’t know about at the time), but instead what I got was a frustrating exercise in variety.
HOW DOES IT HOLD UP?
So…I just spent 40 minutes or so playing the speeder bike level in the bathroom at work (if I’m going to put myself through this, I’m going to get paid while doing it goddamnit!) and it’s not just frustrating because it’s hard, it’s also not fun. The first few moments are enjoyable because they’re letting you test the waters. The difficulty spiked up and I died a lot, but I didn’t feel cheated because with a little practice I could get past it. The difficulty ramped up again, but this time it because legitimate issues with the game and not just skill.
When I was forced to hyper focus and pay attention to everything I was doing, I realized that the controls aren’t that good. The character floats around when you move them and there’s a bit of weight and momentum that you have to account for when trying to stop. It feels like moving around a marble that you occasionally need to stop to punch a pig. When you’re going around beating up enemies, it’s not a big deal. The second I needed to use these controls for precise maneuvering however, I realized it would be easier, and I’d have more fun, trying to dress up an angry cat.
The ultimate sin isn’t the controls, it’s the design. If you went onto YouTube and looked up videos of ‘Battletoads’, you’ll find plenty of people who can beat this level. With enough practice, as well as trial and error, anyone can get past this stage. That’s the problem though. The issue isn’t with the player’s skill, it’s the fact that the level throws things at you that forces you to react before you’ve even seen the obstacle. That’s not good design. It’s okay to be hard, but at least give me a chance to react. Forcing me to memorize sections and rely on muscle memory rather than engaging me simply isn’t fun.
You may have noticed that I said I was playing ‘Battletoads’ at work (ignore the location) and are wondering “How is he playing it away from an actual NES?” Well, I knew that I’d get frustrated playing the same parts over and over again and didn’t want to deal with it. I emulated that shit without a moment of regret. I gave myself the ability to cheat, use save states, even slow down the game to a quarter of the speed, and I still couldn’t beat that fucking level. The biggest kick in the balls was that I accidentally found a level warp and advanced two stages. The game got harder.
How can I be a hero for my kids and beat these levels when they ask for help? I don’t actually have children, but what if I knocked up a stripper and all I could afford was an old Nintendo because of high child support payments? Even with the game slowed down to a fraction of the speed, my reaction time wasn’t fast enough. This game is best left to the people who enjoy mastering a game rather than react with it. Maybe I’m old, maybe ‘Battletoads’ was broken to begin with, but I don’t have the patience anymore to put up with it.