After two years of milking the first Battletoads game across several consoles and one portable spin-off, it appeared that Rare had finally produced a sequel to its cult NES hit. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs (henceforth simply Battlemaniacs) seemed like the perfect expansion of the original recipe and a worthy contender amongst the many SNES beat-em-ups. In reality, it’s not so much a sequel as it is an elaborate remake of the NES Battletoads. Once one looks past its next-gen sheen, it’s clear that it offers little more than the same concepts in a new arrangement. For newcomers to the series, it makes for an excellent introduction and a worthy challenge, but for those who cut their teeth on the original, Battlemaniacs is just a light remixed version of the same game.
Borrowing plot elements from the Nintendo Power comic (which we’ll continue to ignore for the moment, as it makes this game’s premise especially confusing) without actually filling in any important details, we find the Toads invited to an isolated research facility in Tibet to witness the unveiling of a detailed virtual reality simulator. As the “Gamescape” is being demonstrated, creatures from within kidnap the daughter of the corporation’s CEO and Zitz as he tries to intervene. It is then revealed that the previously unintroduced Silas Volkmire intends to somehow merge the game universe with reality in order to conquer everything with the Dark Queen by his side. As usual, the remaining Toads, Pimple and Rash, must enter the “Gamescape” and stop this from happening.
Unsurprisingly, the “Gamescape” looks and behaves a lot like Ragnarok’s World, but in a much more stylish manner. Ragnarok’s Canyon, instead of being a dull, benign landscape, is now a lava-filled trench with belching volcanoes, burning bridges, and unpredictable terrain. The Turbo Tunnel looks and plays in a largely familiar manner, but taken to the next level with double and triple walls, more elaborate obstacle arrangements, and a few particularly frightening segments where you actually land in the crazy ball pit and must hit a concealed ramp to leap back out. Combat and control is mostly the same as the first, but you get a new special move that can hit enemies on both sides of you. There’s even a new beat played when you pause! In general, the attitude here is “bigger, better, more” but without drastically changing the nature of the game.
Despite this attitude, there are a few notable additions. There’s now an option for 2-Player Mode A or B, where Mode A is the original full-contact Battletoads style while the much-needed Mode B prevents the players from harming one another in the melee. Given the “game within a game” storyline, the Dark Queen now offers the player a pair of bonus rounds where you ride on a hockey puck and must collect white bowling pins or dominoes while avoiding obstacles. Hitting a rat-driven puck will cause you to lose some of your score, but hitting the black pins/dominoes will detract from your hit points, eventually causing you to forfeit the round. Collecting enough at round’s end earns you extra lives. These don’t really flow well with the rest of the game’s levels, but the opportunity to gain a few lives is crucial, since other than the level two trick (you can juggle the wasps there much like you could the crows in the original game) there aren’t many other places to do so.
Most obviously, Battlemaniacs improves the series’ art direction with larger sprites and more cartoonish animations, exemplified by the Toads various “Smash Hit” finishers. There are now unique animations depending on whether you’re playing as Pimple or as Rash (who once again are hard-coded to their respective controller ports) and the enemy characters have a lot more personality than in the earlier titles. The synth backing also rocks pretty hard and features some of the more memorable tunes of the series. The control and hit detection are rock solid and the challenge, while potent, is completely feasible, leaving originality and length the only complaints worth leveling against Battlemaniacs.
Not counting the two bonus levels, there are only six stages in the game, all of which are directly based off of levels from the original. Though each of these noticeably improves upon the base mechanics, all are merely variations on the canyon stage, the cable descent, the Turbo Tunnel, the snake pit, the Rat Race and the Clinger-Winger/Gargantua maze, with the final fight against the Dark Queen being only the second boss battle in the whole game (none of the usual bosses show up for this one, for some reason). Overall, Battlemaniacs has roughly half the content, so it only seems about half as hard to complete and won’t take nearly as long to master. Still, the brief time spent with it is enjoyable.
In addition to the SNES original, a Sega Master System port of Battlemaniacs was published by Tec Toy for the South American market, though Virgin Interactive’s name is all over the thing due to a cancelled European release. From a first glance, it’s a rather impressive port given the obvious technological downgrade. The first level plays about the same, minus the earthquake features, and the graphics and sound are reasonably represented, though the smushed sprites remind one of the original NES game. Playing further in, the SMS Battlemaniacs soon reveals itself to be rather unfinished and glitchy. The first boss fight plays out much differently thanks to the shoddy hit detection, psyko-pigs will walk right over open pits of lava, the magnet guys in the hollow tree stage don’t do anything (and the wasps can’t be juggled), and the snakes there are floating heads without necks. Also, segments of the Turbo Tunnel turn into a scrambled mess and some of the stage music doesn’t play. Interestingly, there’s an option in the main menu to adjust the difficulty, but it really only changes how many continues (if any) you receive. There’s lots of other subtle differences (for instance, the bonus rounds are much easier to lose), but the overall verdict of this ill-fated port is quite negative.
Faults aside, Battlemaniacs still looks good in anyone’s SNES library, if you can get over the hangup that it’s basically just a shorter, spiffier and more balanced version of the same old Battletoads. The Super Famicom version starts the player off with five extra lives instead of three, but is otherwise just the same.