It’s a little-known fact that Rare’s NES slugathon Battletoads literally cannot be beaten in two-player mode. The reason for this might surprise you: It’s impossible to complete the second level if you have a second player. You see, after level 1’s fairly straightforward brawler romp and slightly untraditional boss fight, the game switches things up and places you in level 2, a long, slow, vertical descent where each player’s toad is clinging to a rappel wire. Pilot your toad near the edge of the screen, and he will turn into a super-destructive wrecking ball; press B and you rocket across the screen, instantly killing anything in your path. Including player 2. There are then shouts of “Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to!” but naturally player 2 makes sure to do the same thing in return, to “even things out.” But how can you obey pleas of, “Truce now, okay? Seriously...,” when your toad once again flashes into that wrecking ball shape? You can’t. And the cycle continues until the Game Over screen. (There are some rumors that a bug in the code prevents two players from finishing the second-to-last stage as well, but these reports probably came from Rare’s QA team, who could use debug to skip level 2).
Single-player mode is far from smooth sailing itself. The key flaw in the Battletoads formula is the sheer variety developer Rare designed into the game. While the game advertises itself as a brawler in the tradition of Double Dragon, that genre only holds its attention for a level and a half, and then not even adjacently. Outside of those limited instances, it’s an ADHD-fueled exercise in dartboard game design. While this means you’re not stuck for long on a stage you don’t like, it also means you spend very little time playing stages you actually do like. All moot points, of course, because you’ll never pass stage 3, the speeder bike level.
Beating stage 3, in fact, sealed my fate in the game industry. The developers at Virgin Games prided themselves on creating difficult platformers. Since games were for little kids back then, there were many arguments about toning down the challenge level of Global Gladiators, Disney’s Aladdin, Cool Spot, etc. When the team learned young Tomm could get further in Battletoads than anyone in the company, they recruited him as a tester for the singular purpose of pointing at him and saying “See? Our games are way easy for kids.” If not for that, I may never have moved on to Atlus and Konami to work on not one, but two of the most difficult games on the Nintendo DS.
So the next time a stray bullet brings your Contra 4 playthrough to a screeching halt, don’t blame me. Don’t blame WayForward, or Simon Lai, or Konami. Blame Rare; they ruin everything.