Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team
I picked up Battletoads/Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team for peanuts at a pawn shop and yet… I still had great expectations because of the hype that surrounded the game in my neck of the woods. (Insofar as there can be hype for a 16-bit action-fighting game that’s almost ten years old.) To say that B/DD was a disappointment would be an understatement. Playing it at length left me both dejected and incredulous. Surely there was more to the highly touted team up phenomenon than this?
There isn’t. And the irony of B/DD isn’t lost on me. The Battletoads characters began life humbly and ashamedly as rip-offs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and their mission was to cash in on the success of their pioneering mutant kinfolk. And yet, their first game was a trailblazing test laced with awesome innovations and unheard of challenge. The Double Dragon games could be criticized for their repetitiveness, so a merging with the Toads, who know something about mixing it up (with bike chases, shooter scenes and the like) seemed like an ideal mating. And yet, it isn’t.
To be perfectly blunt, B/DD’s one-player game is incredibly boring to play. There are a standard seven levels of side-scrolling beat-em-up action that you should find fairly challenging, and fairly unexciting as well. But there is hope! We knew we wouldn’t be bashing heads all by our ourselves if we chose not to. Fancy using Zitz and Rash as a total Toad team? It’s your choice! Or play as Billy and Jimmy Lee in an exclusive Dragon ass-kicking exercise, or else combine Pimple, the third Toad, and one of the Dragons for a interspecies alliance. Certainly the two-player simultaneous option is a welcome feature, especially as so many 16-bit arcade style adventures are lacking in this area.
So when I enlisted the aid of a buddy, things got quite a bit better. You can beat up enemies with your buddy chucking knucks at your side or at your back, and have some laughs hitting enemies and each other. And, as you pound on the attack button continuously, the game will randomly throw in some specially animated finishing moves that should also serve to entertain. A normal fist at the end of a normal punch will suddenly become a gigantic cartoon fist on the end of a super punch that will send your flailing assailant soaring across the screen.
Beyond the punching and kicking and the obligatory dash and jump kick advanced techniques, you can fashion a few useful, makeshift weapons from the carcasses of pummeled foes. (Don’t worry, this only applies to enemies of the mechanical ilk, there won’t be any rib cage wielding, or femur-style swash-buckling.) Beat on a robot once and claim one of his legs as a weapon. Use it to pound your next enemy into the ground before pole vaulting onto his head and drilling him right through the turf.
I wanted very much for the hero combination to work. I’m a pretty big fan of the Double Dragon boys, and I quite enjoyed the first Battletoads for the NES, despite its insane level of difficulty. This game mates the two fighting teams and manages to mate the casts of enemies from both franchises as well. You’ll encounter Double Dragon bosses like Abobo and Roper, and you’ll encounter Battletoads bosses as well; most notably, the head honcho of the game, the Dark Queen herself.
So everyone is here, but nobody is in his or her Sunday best. Unfortunately, the graphics are pretty poor for a Genesis outing. The NES version of this same title doesn’t suffer much in side-by-side comparisons with this, its 16-bit counterpart. That’s not good. This truth is exacerbated by the fact that the very first 16-bit Battletoads mission – Battlemaniacs for the SNES – looked substantially better, featuring much larger characters, much more detailed and faithful Battletoad backdrops, and a much more engaging sense of atmosphere.
The atmosphere part of the equation was facilitated in part by the great score, the likes of which is sorely missing in this newer cart. It’s not that I expected a direct follow up to Battlemaniacs – which in turn was a direct follow up to Battletoads – but those games are obvious points of reference.
It’s difficult to compare B/DD to any Double Dragon game, because I just don’t feel authentic involvement from Billy and Jimmy Lee. They’re just there. They look pretty much as you would expect them to, replete with mullets and jean jacket vests, but none of the tunes in the game tip their hats to the brothers’ past adventures, and the silly animations of the ostentatious Toads tend to overshadow Billy and Jimmy’s more clean and tidy fighting styles.
The worst thing that could have happened, happened: in an attempt to combine the best of both worlds, B/DD manages to place both sets of characters in decidedly bland outer space environs like the outside of a space ship, the inside of one, and behind the canopy of a smaller craft (in the one standout shoot-em-up stage). The result is that both the Dragons and the Toads seem quite out of place in front of the cardboard, uninspired backdrops and the Dragons especially seem to be wasting their celebrity on a game that is tilted toward the cartoonish personality of the Toads. As a Toad game, B/DD is substandard, but as the clumsy amalgamation that was attempted, B/DD is wasteful and pointless.
It’s a decent jaunt if you have a friend over, or if you’re in a party environment and want to have a few laughs at the expense of the overstated animations and the handful of really good bits, like when you are called upon to toss grenades back at a concealed grenade-tosser, or when you’re scaling fences and dodging lasers in the space station interior. But like the girl you just met at that party, you’ll play Battletoads/Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team, wake up the next day, and forget all about it.