Friday, 14 April 2006
I couldn't hide the gigantic grin spreading across my face as I tore through the bubble-wrapped envelope, and couldn't help pausing for a moment to thank God for the miracle known as Ebay. I also cursed God for letting the previous owner of this thing wrap the packaging fifteen times over with about twenty feet of tape. Trust me, I know -- it's still sitting in a big sticky pile under the kitchen table. (Rather than actually getting on my hands and knees to scrape the shit off the floor, I've come to accept the eyesore as part of the family and, a week or so ago, christened the little tyke Ducky.) Once I'd battled with the package a good ten minutes, I finally freed the desperate prisoner inside; what many believe to be the holy grail of NES games -- Battletoads. This was the first time I'd seen a NES cartridge in this great a condition; though the manual was a little beat-up (and the first page seemed to be smothered in long-dried peanut butter), the box and game were in a superb state. Upon closer inspection, I was further surprised to see the cart was totally void of the usual sort of wear 'n tear often prominent on fifteen-year-old NES games. No scratches, no stains, no marks...But as excited as I was by the superb condition, I couldn't be too quick to pass judgment. Yeah, the thing looked good, but did it even work at all? I just couldn't wait, I had to find out...
I carefully opened the box, making sure not to bend or damage the thin cardboard flaps in any way, handling the decade-old box as if it were a reincarnation of the baby Jesus. As I said, the actual cartridge looked spectacular, but now was the moment of truth: I slipped the cart ever so gently into my Nintendo and reached for the power button. To my sheer amazement, the game came to life in all its glorious, 8-bit splendor the very first time I put it in. And so it has been since then. With the way this thing's been working, you'd swear it was an N64 game; I haven't had to blow on the damn connectors even once since recieving it in the mail almost three weeks ago. Those familiar with the fundamentally flawed NES technology will realise how truly fantastic that statement is. Most other games, while perfectly playable, often necessitate a painful emptying of the lungs on par with -- oh, I dunno -- getting smacked in the gut with a billiard ball. Or something.
A quick glance at the manual is all it takes to realise that there was a time when these things didn't have to be 112 pages long for every damn game. Incidentally, this thing reads more like an advertisement than an actual instruction manual, with only one page dedicated to controls (there are only two buttons, after all) and a whole lotta other stuff that you'd never particularly need to know, such as the specific names of all the 'baddies' and obstacles. Who knew that those snowmen that populate the fourth level are called...Snowmen? Particularly amusing is the section naming the various 'smash hits' the Battletoads can perform, which range from the Turbo Thwack and Jawbuster to the Battletoad Butt and the aptly-named Swingin' Size Thirteens. Elsewhere in the manual, the author teases readers into thinking they might concievably have a chance at beating this game by including a few screenshots of the later levels, which include the likes of Karnath's Lair, Volkmire's Inferno and The Revolution.
So there I was, staring at the beautiful title screen of a classic game I hadn't played in ages, as the Battletoads main theme kicked in. I searched the room for a moment to find the controller...Then I remembered I'd thrown it behind the TV after a five-hour Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! marathon a few weeks earlier had ended in a devastating first-round knockout. Frustration had set in that day that no man should ever have to experience -- the frustration of knowing that twenty-year-old A.I. is still kicking the living shit out of you. Sure, I could beat the pants off Super Macho Man just fine, but Tyson's defense was just too strong. With the memory of my horrible defeat still fresh in my mind, I reached behind the TV to find the battered controller and then plugged it into the NES to give it a thorough workout.
There are plenty of things you can say about Rare's classic NES game Battletoads... Most of all, though, it's an 8-bit technical marvel and a game that was truly ahead of its time in 1991, as very few Nintendo games boast such excellent graphics and superb sound. But if it were all flash and no cash, Battletoads wouldn't nearly be as appealing as it is; thankfully, the game's sights and sounds are accentuated by an insane difficulty level that rewards patience and practice, much like fellow NES classics Contra and Punch-Out!!. In order to advance past the multiple levels, you'll pretty much have to memorise the placement of each and every obstacle, not to mention practice the jumps like hell and work out strategies for the increasingly difficult boss characters. (By the time you reach Robo-Manus at the top of Level 8, you'll long for the simplistic boss battles of yore -- Bowser's a real pushover compared to these bruisers!)
The third level alone in Battletoads is worth the price of admission, providing fast action and plenty of laughs as your toads zip along the narrow space on hover bikes avoiding brick walls and plunging over ramps as you, the idiot holding the controller, struggle to keep up. With a dynamic combination of cool characters, spectacular levels and awesome gameplay mechanics to boot, Battletoads easily rates as one of the best games on the system and probably one of the best 8-bit games ever crafted, period. Though it spawned a ton of classic sequels on the SNES and Genesis and even an oft-forgotten arcade cabinet, the original Battletoads arguably remains the strongest entry in the series and is one of those rare games that is every bit as entertaining and challenging as it was when released.