Tag Archives: anatomy

FGC #151 Super Mario Bros. 3

Plantys!Super Mario Bros. 3, ladies and gentlemen, one of the greatest games in the history of gaming, and the bestselling NES blockbuster featured in the perennial Jenny Lewis vehicle, The Wizard. Much ink has been spilt extolling the virtues of SMB3, and even a few angry nerds have tried to make their mark on the universe by claiming SMB3 is terrible. Honestly, 26 years after its release, it feels almost gauche to even touch such a sacred cow.

But the robot demands it, so I may as well toss something together.

Hey, why not look at the worst level in the best game?

World 7: Pipe Maze has always been Mario Hell. Back when I was a wee Goggle Bob playing this game with my friends, a frequent way to annoy player 2 (which could be me!) was to collect the warp whistles of World 1, tornado over to World 4 (which was awesome!), and then skip from there to World 7. And now we have to play this wretched world! You butthead!

But World 7 wasn’t really that bad. I’ve played SMB3 a number of times from beginning to end in the last nearly thirty years, and, honestly, I find it hard to find faults in this game at all, particularly when compared to some of its 2-D descendants. Before red coins and hidden exits and secret mega mushrooms, Super Mario Bros. 3 was the purest “Mario runs from left to right” experience that ever was or ever would be. However, World 7 is a preview of what would come into Mario’s world… and that has a tendency to scare children.

So, in the spirit of chastising my younger self for not understanding the finer points of Piranha Plant Place, here’s a full rundown of Super Mario Bros. 3’s World 7.

World 7-1

Wrap StarThe start of this world is pretty damn Mario. We’ve got a new “playstyle” to acclimate to, and the design of the world does a pretty good job of teaching the player what to do. You start out seemingly trapped under a staircase of blocks, but, gasp, this level is apparently a tube (like some kind of pipe), and Mario can easily run off the left side of the screen and reappear on the right. That’s cool! Of course, the same applies to the koopa troopas of this stage, so watch out for those damn bitey turtles… Wait… I’m describing 7-5? There’s nothing like that in the first stage that features this wrap-around gameplay? Well that’s lame.

Alright, let’s try this again: 7-1 has the looping feature seen in games like Kid Icarus and Mario Bros., but there’s no clear indication at the start that that is the case. Oh well, I suppose you might just run into the edge of the screen naturally, but it’s not really a requirement/danger until a lone red koopa troopa about halfway through the stage. Odd choice. Regardless, your goal here is to scale the vertical shaft via traveling through particular pipes. We’re off to a great start with this “Pipe Maze” concept!

Overall, this stage is basically there to make this all look easy… and screw you if you don’t know which pipes to use. Given the choice between licking a porcupine and a stupid maze where the wrong pipe deposits you back at earlier in the level, I’ll take the porcupine every time (do I get to choose where I lick the porcupine? Oh, never mind). And there’s, what, one powerup in this whole stage? Aggravating.

And this is all before the final area of this level: a room with teeny tiny ceilings and two koopa troopas. This is another situation where, if you know exactly what to do, you’ll have no issues, but if you’re inexperienced and hurting from earlier piranha plants, you’re likely to perish at the hands of these turtles, and have to repeat the whole stage all over again. Hope you figured out what you did wrong!

Stage Verdict: Dreadful start to a world of pain.

World 7-2

Music to my earsIn general, this stage is something that seems like it could be fun, but it also takes the time to introduce one of the most tedious traps to the Super Mario universe. 7-2 is mostly about an above ground “overworld” that uses a series of tubes to connect to a sunken underwater area. Depending on the obstacles in your immediate area, it may be in your best interest to pop into a pipe and switch areas to make some progress. This is a fun concept! Just ask Link!

Unfortunately, the centerpiece of this stage is a gap in the middle of the stage that you’re unlikely to clear on your first jump. And, once you’re in that gap, you’ll find you’re trapped with a koopa paratroopa by a ceiling of previously invisible blocks. Attempt to leap from your pit, and you’ll continually be struck down by magically appearing music blocks. Sorry, buddy, you’re going to have to backtrack through the underground to make it out.

Once again, this is the kind of thing you reflexively anticipate when you’re playing the game for the 30,000th time, but on your first visit, it’s a nasty trick. You’re very likely to be skewered by that troopa when you bounce off an inexplicably appearing music block, and, while it’s very (very!) possible I was a dumb child, I personally wound up in this trap every stupid time. It’s all fun and games until someone gets eaten by a turtle.

Oh, and I consider this the start of those “appearing block traps” in Super Mario Maker, so this stage loses a lot of points for introducing that little bit of sadism.

Stage Verdict: Fun concept, one terrible trap.

World 7-3

dedededededeThree stages in, and we finally get a real Super Mario Bros. 3 stage! Cherish this brief reprieve before we hit the really horrible stuff.

This is Mario, ladies and gentlemen. Run left to right, avoid dangerous fauna, and hope you hit the goal before Lakitu dumps more spinies onto the stage than should be possible for the NES to render. Hey, we’ve even got some slopes here! I love slopes!

The charm point of this stage is that, should you move fast enough, you can maintain a star/invincibility powerup throughout the entire stage. This was before this would mean a million 1-ups, but it’s still fun as all get out to run at top speed and mow down every impediment in your path. And SMB3 has that cool rolling jump for invincibility! Screw you guys, I’ve got a screw attack!

Stage Verdict: My greatest regret is that I have no way to transcribe the star theme. De de de de de de dedede.

World 7-4

StingerWelcome to Hell!

If there are two things I hate in Mario games, it’s autoscrolling and water levels. And what do we have here? Why, it’s an autoscrolling water level! And it’s choked with hazards like jellyfish and cheep cheeps! Go ahead and use your frog suit, you’ll lose it within ten seconds anyway!

You can plainly see what’s going on here: this is the last water level in the game, and the designers clearly wanted to pull out all the stops for the finale of NES water levels. That’s great an’ all, but it also means a whole lot of dead Marios all of a quarter into the world. This is the make or break point for a lot of players, and I can’t blame anyone that decides to use Lakitu’s Cloud to bypass this entire stage (and the nearby pipe guarantees you won’t have to repeat it, even if you [inevitably] die in the next area). I mean, come on, on top of all the obvious hazards, there’s even a Big Bertha fish that will swallow you whole, regardless of powerup acquisition.

And as a final “eat it” to the player, there’s that one damn puke plant at the finish line, and if you don’t get ahead of the thing immediately, you’re pretty much guaranteed to suffer. Well, suffer more.

Stage Verdict: Pure hate in digital form. The greatest part of this stage appears to be that it is meant to be skipped.

World 7-5

Fly awayLikely tackled before 7-4 (why rush the pain?), 7-5 is the first of the “puzzle” stages in World 7. I consider a Mario Puzzle Stage to be any level that requires more foresight than simply steering Mario from left to right. Think practically every stage in Super Mario World’s Forest of Illusion. There are four puzzle stages in World 7, and two puzzle stages in the entire rest of Super Mario Bros. 3 (and one of those is wholly optional).

At least 7-5 is voluntary (unlike a certain upcoming fortress), and your reward for completing this stage will be one of Mario’s special suits…. Assuming you’re playing a one-player game. In a two player game, you’ll conquer this stage, and then Luigi will swoop in there and claim your prize. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Regardless, the two big obstacles in this stage are a single, low-hanging block that must be destroyed through any means necessary, and a gap that is nearly impossible to cross without revealing a whole new set of invisible blocks. Individually, neither of these roadblocks is that bad, but combined with a time limit, it’s another situation where, if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, Mario is going to meet the reaper. Hey, frog suits are for closers!

Stage Verdict: Hone your problem solving skills here, because it’s only going to get worse…

World 7-Plant-1

Munchy MunchyIn the absence of Hammer Bros, this map contains two piranha plant-based obstacle courses. This plant is technically optional, but you’ll probably want to tackle it to open the shortcut and claim its P-Wing prize. Or don’t, because you’ll probably be piranha chow if you’re unprepared.

After a couple of pipes that are juuuuust short enough to be vaulted, the meat of this stage kicks in with an army of munchers, little black plants that are anxious to turn Mario into a snack. Oddly, these creatures continue to move even after the game is paused, so if you’re headed for an impact, you can hammer that start button and hope for the best. If you’re not in the mood to cheat, though, this area requires nigh perfect timing, and is a test of your rhythm more than anything else. Once you’re past the munchers, you’re a spitting piranha plant or two away from your goal, so feel free to celebrate.

Stage Verdict: Tough, but quick. The munchers are adorable, even if they’re flowering death.

World 7-Fortress-1

SpooooookyMario Historians will claim that the Ghost House didn’t appear in Mario games until Super Mario World, and the boos and dry bones of SMB3 were just fun set dressing for the fortress stages. Bullshit. Here is Mario’s first ghost house, complete with a hidden exit and a pile of treasure meant to trap a greedy player.

Let’s talk about that first room. Raise your hand if you hit the P-Switch and just collected every coin forever and ever until time ran out. Yeah, that’s what I thought. This stage starts off so cool! It really feels like the designers are saying, “Hey, we know this world has been rough, have some fun!” Yay! Coins for days!

And then the rest of the stage is just… wrong. I have to give its creators credit: a fortress where everything is already “dead” and not activating is pretty damn creepy. There are candles without their fiery buddies, stretch blocks that refuse to twitch, and circles that should be surrounded by deadly light balls, but… nope. Nothing. Totally abandoned fortress.

Only big issue here is that, if you don’t know where you’re looking, you’re probably going to watch that timer count down to nothing, regardless of coin gluttony. It’s very easy to acquire that Tanooki suit, attempt to canvas the ceiling for pipes, but fall and miss the exact right part of the nondescript roof of this area. It’s another damn puzzle world, and this one doesn’t completely play fair. Is a coin arrow too much to ask?

Stage Verdict: Creepy and unkind.

World 7-6

!Hey, now here’s what I wanted to see in 7-1. A clear indicator of how the wraparound stages work, complete with koopa troopas that will hurt you if you don’t understand. That’s learning!

After the initial steps, this whole level is… weird. I’m not going to call it a puzzle stage, but it is a stage that has one weird trick for pissing me off. In this case, it’s a series of blocks that will change directions thanks to a hop or two. This is peculiar, and barely appears elsewhere in the game. And there are spikes! Like, everywhere! Are there spikes anywhere else in the game? I know there are, but not nearly this many. This isn’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, dammit! This is Mario! Get those pointy things out of here and bring back the jellyfish!

Most of this stage is spent riding those damn platforms, and it’s yet another situation where the “rules” seem to be ill-defined for a fledgling player. In fact, I’ve played this game a million times (that number keeps going up), and I still have no idea how long any given exclamation platform will last. Roughly until the next one shows up? Except when that’s not true? Bah!

Also, this is famously the stage that can be entirely skipped with a P-Wing. Just do that.

Stage Verdict: This isn’t the sharp kind of stage design I’m looking for.

World 7-7

The bad side of invincibilityWe’re finally on the last island chain of the world, and here’s yet another stage that demands you know exactly what you’re doing.

I’m calling this one a puzzle stage, because, while it’s simple left-to-right stage clearing, you basically have to do exactly what the designers want you to do at any given moment. Run across this army of munchers via star, star, jump, jump, jump, back up, star, running duck, jump, and done. That’s the level, and I hope you mastered that running duck (or are already small), or you’re pretty much done inches from the goal post.

A Mario level that requires absolute precision is no Mario level at all.

Stage Verdict: You will know exactly what to do, or you die.

World 7-8

Carefuly, he spitsThe second real Mario level!

We’ve got a lot of pipes (which is world appropriate), every kind of genus of piranha plant available, and even that one, lonely white nipper that can lob fireballs. There’s a hidden room containing a Hammer Bros. suit, and, if you’re using that or a fireflower, you should be able to rule this level like a king.

I like it!

Given you have a choice between 7-7 and 7-8, and 7-8 opens the path to a mushroom house, I have to say there’s practically no choice at all here. You’re pretty much guaranteed to lose your powerups in 7-7, but 7-8 gives you a hammer to toss around? Sign me up!

Stage Verdict: 7-8 rules, 7-7 drools.

World 7-9

Mazey!This whole world was named Pipe Maze, but, man oh man, this is the pipe maziest pipe maze of them all. I’m calling this our last puzzle stage, because… ugh… say what you will about 7-4 (it sucks!), but I’ll take a thousand stinging jellyfish over cramped corridors and loopy labyrinths any day.

If that screenshot doesn’t flood your memory with the horrors of navigating this stage, 7-9 is a maze of pipes similar to the ones seen in the desert stages of World 2. The chief difference here is that the pipes form a complete network filled with goombas and koopa troopas, and you’re expected to know where to go through the miniscule pipe breaks. There are a few “coin rooms” along the way, but, by and large, this is a stage that is feeding off the nondescript tilesets of the NES and expecting you to get lost amongst the pipes immediately. Technically, you could brute force this area, and find your way through a lot easier than that forsaken fortress stage, but even then, Mario trapped in tight spaces isn’t the most fun way to spend your day.

Stage Verdict: It’s a-maze-ing how helpful Nintendo Power can be.

World 7-Fortress-2

Sweet revengeJust a good ol’ fashioned gauntlet of an obstacle course. Yay?

On one hand, I want to say that this stage was built for the Hammer Bros. suit, what with its careful placement of thwomps and boos and various other hammer-weak creatures (that is to say, nearly everything in the game). On the other hand, the pipes suspended over lava have a tendency to lead to flambéed Mario, and any powerup you once possessed is probably going by the wayside thanks to an inopportune piranha plant or two. Heck, even a P-Wing probably isn’t going to survive those errant fireballs.

The real fun, though, is the final pipe of the first area, which requires a masterful triangle jump with perfect timing. At this point in the adventure, you should have a firm grasp of Mario’s air-steering abilities, but even then, it’s a lot more likely Mario is going for a dunk in the lava trying to reach that one essential pipe.

Once you’re in Boom Boom’s area, though, you’re practically in the clear… except for those run/duck + thwomp traps. Man, I’d like to see the guy that could conquer this stage on his first try.

Stage Verdict: It’s playing by “real” Mario rules, but it’s difficult as all get out. At least it’ll open that final shortcut on completion.

World 7-Plant-2

Too biteyThis is, basically, a palette cleanser before the finale. This Plant stage is required (unlike its earlier brother), but it’s quick and easy and even kind of forgiving. You must bound across a series of music blocks near the end of the stage, but it’s over munchers, not a bottomless pit, and I’ll take losing a powerup over losing a life any day. Other than that, if you already made it through both fortresses, you’ll have no problem with this petite stage.

And then you win a mushroom. Oh boy!

Stage Verdict: Nothing to see here, move along.

World 7-Airship

The big bad musicianAnd, finally, we have the last “boss” airship for Super Mario Bros. 3. World 7-Airship is a gauntlet of practically every trap and trick from the previous airships, but at least there are two powerup blocks? I don’t really have much to say about this level, because it’s hard, but it’s really supposed to be hard. This is the final airship before you enter Bowser’s demented domain, so it should be bad to the bone. At least you don’t really have to interact with the blue screw blocks too much.

Ludwig Von Koopa is the boss here, and he’s also the combination of all previous non-circus, non-female koopa kids. He’s got a magic wand, he’ll shake the ground with every step, and you’ve got to stomp his fabulous hair to proceed. Everything seems in order here, time to call this world a day.

Stage Verdict: Justifiably difficult.

And that’s World 7, everybody! I take it back, this world is terrible, and I should have trusted my younger self’s assessment of it being the worst thing ever. 70% of the stages rely on some awful gimmick, and, when I list all the stages like this and see that, it just doesn’t speak well of Piranha Plant Land.

So, in conclusion, I’m using Warp Whistles from now on. Ice World, you’re on notice!

FGC #151 Super Mario Bros. 3

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, but it also wound up as part of Super Mario All Stars for Super Nintendo, and then Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Gameboy Advance. Classic version is available for Wii/WiiU, too.
  • Number of players: One Mario, and one green, cowardly parasite that robs all the mushroom houses.
  • Behold the kingMighty Number 5: My game database started out as an excel document that was cobbled together long ago. My initial impulse was to group games by franchise, so, naturally, I started with the Mario games. Number one and two are Donkey Kong and Mario Bros., respectively, and then we get into the Super series. Super Mario Bros. 3 is, thus, number five. For the record, I got past the Mega Man series before I gave up on the whole franchise grouping thing.
  • Speaking of Hammer Bros. suit: Ever notice that the sprite for obtaining the Hammer Bros. suit actually looks more like a toad? Wonder if there was originally a toad suit planned… but Mario determined he was too good to be degraded to toad status.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: Most people are aware of this, but in the Japanese version of SMB3, Mario will always shrink down to “regular”, small Mario after taking a hit, regardless of powerups already acquired. While this change (for the better) impacted all of the international versions, you can still watch Raccoon Mario shrivel down to nothing after a single hit on the title screen.
  • Did you know? There were apparently bonus games cut from the final game that were hosted by koopa troopas. I’m going to say we didn’t miss much, though, as did anyone even really like those silly match games? Well, assuming you weren’t using Nintendo Power to cheat…
  • Would I play again: World 7? No. The rest of the game? Yes, many times, and until the day I die.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… To take a week off. That’s another 150 (or so) articles down, so I’m going to take a week off from writing about video games to relax and sip some ecto cooler. In the meanwhile, next week should see some updates about eclectic topics, and then I’ll be back to the FGC on July 11 with… Earthworm Jim. Please look forward to it!

Fireworks!

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #10: Cowardly Level Design

Q. What’s this about “cowardly level design”?

A. A while back, I mentioned that one of Kingdom Hearts’ greatest failings is its “cowardly level design”. This post will illuminate exactly what I meant regarding that statement. As such, while I’m going to be taking a very objective tone, keep in mind that my own hangups and beliefs regarding level design are very subjective, as they inevitably must be. My point? I realize I may have carried myself as something of a Kingdom Hearts “authority” through these posts, but I just want to be clear that this is all just my opinion on matters here, and does not represent the feelings or opinions of Kingdom Hearts, Squaresoft, Square-Enix, Tetsuya Nomura, Xehanort, Gogglebob.com, or the nefarious and entirely fictional Talking Tim.

All that said, let’s actually play some Kingdom Hearts! Wooo! Get excited! Grab that game off your shelf and follow along.

That’s right, no HD remix for this post. I will admit that I have been using the remixed games for this FAQ, but I decided to go back and actually experience the good ol’ days for these captures.

See, opening screen of Kingdom Hearts. They make the bold choice to show you, before even pressing button one, that Sora has normal sized feet, but he chooses to wear gigantic clown shoes as a fashion statement. Sora is a nitwit? Canon.

Woof. I’ve wasted my life.

Oh, this post is going to be even monstrous than usual, so please please click to load like thirty more pictures.

FGC #024 Battletoads

Amazing cinematicsWhen I started this blog, I set down a few rules for myself. Among them:

1. No hyperbolic anger/rage. Yes, it’s fun for everybody to compare a game to an ass crapping on another ass and then the second ass eats up that crap and pukes it back onto the first ass in an infinite assplosion, but it’s way too easy to slide into that being a shtick that is applied to even the most minor of flaws. It cheapens the medium as a whole when something like Final Fantasy 13 is referred to as the “worst RPG ever” while we still live in a world that contains Hyperdimension Neptunia and its inexplicable myriad of sequels. Besides, if ROB ever chooses Beyond the Beyond, it will make my venom all the sweeter. I’ve been saving it in jars since 1996!

2. No beating dead horses. I’m coming into this video game blogging thing fairly late in the scope of the internet, so no posting the same old thing that has already been inscribed by every other blogger. Yes, Super Mario Bros. 3 is amazing. Yes, Deadly Towers is terrible. I can spend a thousand or so words saying what everyone else already has, but what’s the point unless I can provide something I haven’t seen elsewhere? Mark my words, there is a post about these games in the future, but it at least has to come from an angle that hasn’t been done to death.

Given you’re likely capable of reading the title, you probably see the issue: There’s only one thing to talk about with Battletoads, and that’s the difficulty. Sure, I could write a sonnet from the perspective of a captured Pimple, or perhaps something related to Turbo Tunnel PTSD, but it feels dishonest, as if I’m dodging an issue like so many pink walls.

So I’ve made up my mind: I’m going to talk about Battletoad’s difficulty really well.

Sit down and buckle in: I’m going to analyze this game’s difficulty curve on a level by level basis, and hopefully unearth exactly what happened here, and the why and how of Battletoads being the most difficult NES game out there.

Level 1 Ragnarok’s Canyon

This toad's got it allWhat’s going on here? This is a remarkably straight beat ‘em up stage. There are grunts in the form of pudgy lil’ piggies, slightly stronger walking robot dome things, and the occasional flying dragon thrown in for a little variety. It’s all pretty normal, and, particularly with the ability to steal weapons from walkers, feels like a fantasy/sci-fi Double Dragon.

Difficulty? Assuming you’ve played a beat ‘em up before, you’re probably not going to have a problem here. If you figure out the ramming dash attack, it’s entirely likely you won’t even take a hit. This might be the most deceptive first level in all of gaming.

Boss? The Giant Walker boss might be the first sign that this game is going to go off the rails. The start of the fight immediately changes the view to feature your toad as seen through the boss’s vision, and the secret to winning is not using your traditional punching skills, but to return the boss’s projectiles right through its glass face. Interestingly, you won’t see another boss for a while, and this is the only boss in the game that is even a remote “puzzle”. At least it isn’t that difficult.

Anything else? Rash and Zitz can acquire a club from a defeated walker, and then hop onto a dragon ala Golden Axe and fly around shooting fireballs. These stackable powerups are rather interesting, and never appear in the game again. Ever.

Level 2 Wookie Hole

Yay bonusWhat’s going on here? The Toads descend through a vertical shaft while swinging from a thread overhead. The jump button is completely unused for this sequence, and movement is available in all directions. As a lovely, never seen again bonus, a toad may squeeze against either side of the cave, transform into a wrecking ball, and one-hit kill any unlucky foes in the way.

Difficulty? By and large, this area is similarly simple compared to later challenges. The first signs of Battletoads flashing its fangs is featured here, as crows with large beaks may sever the support string and send Zitz plummeting to an instant grave. For new players, there is very little indication that these crows are as dangerous as they are, but at least your immediate respawn will allow a player to notice the difference as opposed to a simple, “What the hell just happened?” The electrical barriers toward the end of the level are difficult almost exclusively because they spawn too late for a player to really see them coming without “knowing”, but at least they only cause damage, as opposed to instant death.

Boss? None. The level just kinda ends. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs closes its similar “descent” stage with a horrendous spiked wall gauntlet (which I’m happy isn’t here) that does make the end of the stage feel more significant.

Anything else? This level is skipped if you take the warp from Level 1 to Level 3, but that almost feels like a trick, as this level is practically made for acquiring points and extra 1-ups from juggling crows. You don’t quite know why yet, but even the cheats in Battletoads are vaguely malicious.

Level 3 Turbo Tunnel

MY SPINE!What’s going on here? And here’s where half the players quit. I am really disappointed that Rare Reply doesn’t provide an achievement for completing the Turbo Tunnel, as I’d be interested to see what percentage of players start the game, and then quit after a thousand head traumas. I digress. This stage starts with some basic, Level 1 beat ‘em up enemies, a brief cameo from space invaders, and then the eponymous Turbo Tunnel, where speeder bikes are ridden and toads break their spines.

Difficulty? It all sounds simple, but in practice, this level is absolutely insane. Your choices are, basically, up, down, and jump. Going up avoids a low wall, going down avoids a high wall, and jumping will get you over pits, short walls, dropped walls, and help with ramps. There’s never an attack from the rear, so the fact that you can move forwards and backwards is inconsequential. You receive a small preview of your next obstacle, so you have a window of opportunity to choose your lane or jump. Jump, jump, slide, slide, the end.

Unfortunately, the reason this level is such a brick wall (ha!) for so many players is that that window of opportunity is only opened a crack, and you’re likely to lose a finger as it closes. Every incorrect move is punished with death, and causes your toad to restart from the most recent checkpoint, allowing the chance for you to fail even earlier in the race, and never even see the milestone you’d reached previously. And, while I would say you simply need good reflexes to get through the first few areas, the final lap requires you to just plain know what’s coming, and snake between walls with absolute precision. And remember, if you lose all your lives, it’s back to the absolute beginning of the stage, and every single challenge involved must be completed anew.

Boss? The final deluge of walls is all this stage needs for a memorable finale. Though a polite game would pause after all that to allow you a moment to wipe the sweat from your paws.

Anything else? As an extra special bit of terrible, the ramps in this stage work by holding down the jump button when hitting the ramp, not using any kind of special timing like hitting A right at the moment of impact like I’ve apparently been doing wrong for years. This is another place where the instant death mechanic of the level works against the game itself: it is incredibly difficult to know when you are doing something right or wrong when damn near everything results in your immediate demise. You can only learn from a mistake if you know how you made the mistake.

Level 4 Arctic Caverns

Spiny all aroundWhat’s going on here? Alright, there’s a warp in the Turbo Tunnel that you may take to avoid the final bits of Level 3 (also, you may just hit it accidentally, like everything else in the Turbo Tunnel). If you take the warp, you’ll arrive in Level 6, and skip this level and the next. So, this often-missed level is the always fun ice stage. This is also the first stage where the faux 3-D of the first and third levels is nixed for some straightforward 2-D running and jumping. There’s a lot going on in this stage, but the three main things are…

  1. Ice is slippery, so your naked heroes just slide everywhere. Additionally, ice blocks and giant spiked turtle shells slide around, potentially tripping a toad.
  2. Frosty the Snowdope appears often to initiate snowball fights. These projectile based battles are pretty easy, and just require your toad to duck or jump before returning fire. A possible hang-up here is that this, the fourth level, is the first your toad has occasion or the ability to duck.
  3. Various “gates” appear throughout the level that must be smashed by some kind of opposing force, whether it be a sliding iceblock or luring a snowman into tossing snowballs at the obstacle. While these gates are normally permanently destroyed, towards the end of the stage there are gates that temporarily “pop up” at the touch of those giant spiked shells.

There’s just a lot going on here.

Difficulty? A lot of this stage is pretty fair, though it does expect expert reactions to “traps”. The real hell doesn’t appear until the latter parts of the stage, when the slippery stage is combined with moving platforms and instant death spikes above and below. It’s the first 2-D “platforming” stage in the game, and it basically requires a masters in physics that were just introduced. And, as an added jerk move, the previously mentioned “pop up gates” will squish a toad for an instant death if your timing is just a little off. Instant respawning was left back in the first section of the Turbo Tunnel, but at least the checkpoints are generous. Basically, if you’re already a master of Super Mario ice stages, this level might be fair, but if this is somehow your first video game, this is about where you should get off.

Boss? Thankfully no, unless you want to count those snowdopes.

Anything else? This is true of most levels in this game, but it’s worth noting here: after the mastering the Turbo Tunnel, the following level utilizes basically none of the skills you would have acquired during your speeder bike tenure. And, as you may have guessed, you’ll never see icy conditions or snowball fights again. Thanks for playing!

Level 5 – Surf City

Let's go surfin' nowWhat’s going on here? Immediately after the ice stage is the summery beach stage, naturally. Half of this stage is back to level one-esque beat ‘em up rules, and the other half involves surfing, which controls similarly to the speeder bike incident, but minus the ability to jump. Hang ten with the radical toads, dudes!

Difficulty? Let’s lead with the obvious: this is an easier version of the Turbo Tunnel, and there is no reason Level 3 and Level 5 shouldn’t switch spots. The surfing segments of this level never reach even half the speed and necessary skill as the previous speeder challenge, and the general layout/setting is much more welcoming than the lava ball pit of Level 3. I guarantee that, given the chance, a Battletoads neophyte would be able to complete Surf City much faster than Turbo Tunnel. Hell, the opening surfing “walls” aren’t even instant kills! It makes all the difference!

Boss? About 75% of the way through the stage, you’ll encounter Battletoads’ second boss. Big Blag is a gigantic, ugly rat that generally attacks by attempting to stomp on a chosen toad, which will lead to an instant death. Aside from this obviously powerful move, he’s pretty straightforward, and can be juggled infinitely for an easy win. This is, in Level 5, the first boss in the game that features traditional gameplay.

Anything else? If I had to guess, I’d say this level is a “reward” for not taking the warp in Level 3 and then proceeding to complete Level 4. While it’s still likely to drain your lives, it’s the only real reprieve in the game. We won’t see a level like this again.

Level 6 – Karnath’s Lair

Jingle SnakesWhat’s going on here? The level where a toad rides a bunch of snakes. For whatever reason, the snakes are nonpoisonous, they just zoom around, defying gravity without a care in their snakey little heads. It’s your job to guide your Battletoad toward riding and climbing these procrastinating predators.

Difficulty? This one kinda depends on your own precognitive abilities. This is our second 2-D platforming stage, and it actually plays easier than Level 4, but with the caveat that you know where to jump when. It’s easy enough to guess where most of these snakes are going and then follow along, but the final area of the level gets very tricky with confusing the player as to what snake will emerge from which hole. Once you know what’s happening, it’s easy as pie, but you’ll probably lose a few lives guessing wrong. “Guessing” is a bad thing for most any skill based game, and it’s not the last we’ll see of that concept.

Boss? Another one where the level just ends.

Anything else? Karnath is not actually seen in his lair, but he does appear in the arcade version as… a giant snake. I guess he’s just hibernating during this game.

Level 7 – Volkmire’s Inferno

Missing-lesWhat’s going on here? And here’s the direct sequel to the infamous Turbo Tunnels. Much like Level 3 or Level 5, this stage has a few beat ‘em up sections, follows it with a few tricky jumps, and then sticks your toad on a vehicle for the remainder of the stage. This time, you have a plane that allows flying in all 8 directions (the first that’s been seen since Level 2), and another fun time dodging obstacles lest you experience instant death.

Difficulty? The… speed plane? Yeah, let’s call it that. The speed plane is like a more advanced speeder bike, in that your vertical movement has expanded from a third of the screen to the entire thing, and there are a number of places where your horizontal location will make an impact on your continued breathing. On the other hand, again, nothing approaches the insanity of the final Turbo Tunnel segment, so even this level could comfortably sit before Level 3. You’re going to die, of course, but it’s a lot easier to approach the traps of this stage than expertly serpentine through pink walls. Your speed plane mileage may vary, though.

Boss? Nope. The way the level trumps up the speed plane segment prior to hopping in the cockpit seems to present half the stage as a “boss”, though.

Anything else? This is the last natural “cave” stage, as everything past here is inside something manmade, whether it be one continuous structure or a series of interconnected, underground buildings. I’d say the final leg of this game has excellent geography after stuff like ice cave ➡ beach ➡ snake pit ➡ inferno.

Level 8 – Intruder Excluder

Right in the faceWhat’s going on here? Back to 2-D platforming, here’s an entirely vertical stage with a boss at the tippy top. This might be Battletoad’s most straightforward, video game-y level, and it’s only eight levels in.

Difficulty? Assuming you have some familiarity with platforming games, this one isn’t too bad. You have to jump precisely, as you’re dealing with the kind of scroll that will leave you finished if you drop slightly lower than your current altitude, but if you have those skills, there isn’t much in the way of Battletoads trademark gotcha moments to knock you back down. I mean, of course there’s blasts of gas that will just instantly kill you, and there’s fans that are meant to push you off platforms, or suck you into their whirling blades of instant death, but, overall, you’ll probably have an easier time here than in the Arctic Caverns.

Boss? The mechanized Robo-Manus stands at the top of this tower. This is the first time a Battletoads boss really feels at home in Battletoads, as his bullets will hit-stun you into death after the slightest tap, and he borrows the instant death jump/stomp of Big Blag. Assuming you don’t just ram juggle this bot into oblivion, you’re probably going to have a tough time of it.

Anything else? In many ways, this level feels like a training stage for the finale, a mere four levels away. Of course, by the time you reach that tower, you’ll have long forgotten these sunnier days. C’est la vie.

Level 9 – Terra Tubes

Gears of DoomWhat’s going on here? Welcome to hell! Battletoads pulls out all the stops for its sewer level, a 2-D platforming affair that features homicidal robots, useless propellers, gear racing, swimming, and even a murderous rubber ducky. I want to say this is the longest stage in the game, but it just might feel that way because it’s even more difficult and random than usual.

Difficulty: Here’s a detailed list of what you’re up against:

  1. This entire stage is a series of tight corridors, simulating actual sewer tunnels. There’s a number of instant kill spikes and robots that, for whatever reason, are also instantly deadly when approached.
  2. Occasionally, there’ll be a vertical segment where you descend with a dinky propeller slowing your fall. It may feel like a return to Wookie Hole style gameplay, but there’s no enemies, just spikes to be avoided and a scroll that usually doesn’t reveal the spikes until it’s too late. So, back to guessing for survival.
  3. This is the first and only stage the Battletoads encounter (non deadly) water. When waist deep, it merely slows a toad to a crawl, and disables the run (and ram) ability. When submerged, the level becomes an actual “water level” complete with precision swimming around more instant kill spikes. Also, there are a few random enemies, like fish and sharks, swimming around, and, no, the designers didn’t feel like equipping Zitz and Rash with any dedicated submerged attacks. Just punch air (water?) like usual, and hope for the best.
  4. And most fun are the horror gears, which dominate the corridors and require your toad to race ahead. The first few gears are pretty straightforward, but later gears require you not only know exactly where you’re going, but also have complete knowledge of how various minor obstacles work. So, your toad is in a puddle of water: does he move faster when “water running” or hopping? Guess wrong and die.
  5. And then toward the end of the level? All of the above.

I’m gonna go ahead and put this stage in the “difficult” column.

Boss? Oh thank God, no. Last time I get to say that.

Anything else? Oh yeah, those rubber duckies that float along simulating background elements, and then spring to life and go all Chica on you until you are very dead. Did I mention they first appear toward the very end of the level? I want to reiterate that I have no idea how anyone ever got through this game with their sanity intact.

Level 10- Rat Race

Giblets 'n gravyWhat’s going on here? On paper, it’s very simple. This is another 2-D stage (actually, they’re all 2-D starting with Level 8, just noticed that) where Mr. Toad has a wild ride trying to outrace a giant rat named Giblet. It’s a vertical descent, and the “trick” is that you’re trying to touch the ground as little as possible and “fall” through the stage to your goal. Complete with the palette swap decorating, it’s like Level 8 in reverse. Except…

Difficulty: … This is a dreadful level. The first two races are, at best, deceptive. Yes, you may lose at first, but you’ll eventually win, likely without noticing the nuances of the race, like that your Battletoad will automatically run, unlike the entire rest of the game where running requires the ol’ double tap. This is essential knowledge for the third and final race, where the slightest error will result in Giblet far outracing Zitz and, sorry mate, you may as well give up five seconds after the start if you hit the wrong wall.

This creates an interesting quandary: what’s worse? Instant death upon the tiniest failure, ala the Turbo Tunnel, or entering a failure state seconds into a sequence that can take minutes, and having to wait out your inevitable demise? I’m fond of the Turbo Tunnel, as it doesn’t waste any time indicating that you suck, but the advantage of the Giblet race is that if you fail early, at least you have the time to “explore” what’s coming, so maybe you’ll get past what killed you the first time and avoid issues that you never knew existed down the line. Battletoads: how would you like to die today?

Boss? Oh and on top of everything there’s a boss, General Slaughter, whose sprite appears to be a rhino, but he was a bull in the animated series, and then popped up as a total boar in later Battletoads games. What’s important is that he’s got horns, and he’s the first enemy to turn the Toads’ ram skill against them. Aside from having to avoid a frontal assault, he’s basically the same as Robo-Manus, minus the gun, so he’s not a trying fight. Though the idea of beating every last race and then having to repeat it all after falling to an ill-timed stomp attack… shudder

Anything else? This stage features the first of two game breaking bugs: on rare occasions, you may beat Giblet in his infernal race, but the sore loser never makes it to the finish line himself, and your poor toad will wait dutifully in the now empty room forever, and, with no timer or enemies around, the game must simply be reset. I cannot even imagine getting this far back in the 90s and then having to start over thanks to some improperly placed code. Like, I’m pretty sure you’d be legally allowed to murder the design staff at that point.

Level 11 – Clinger-Wingers

WeeeeeWhat’s going on here? The toads must ride motorized unicycles called clinger-wingers along an oddly shaped course while outrunning the Hypno Orb. All glory to the Hypno Orb!

Difficulty: This is Battletoads: Master Class. The way this vehicle works is that you must, at all times, be holding the proper cardinal direction on the control pad, else the Hypno Orb will catch you, and it’s life over. No jumping, no dodging, just hold the right…err… correct arrow at all times (and no diagonals to try to fudge two direction at once, that will just get you killed). If you fail, even inches from the finish line, you’re back at the start all over again. And, like Rat Race, you can have a bad couple of opening seconds, perfectly take every twist and turn afterwards, and you’re still pushing up daisies inches from the goal thanks to youthful transgressions. Oh, and the final area deliberately burns any “lead” you might have on the orb before throwing you the most successive turns in the course. Good bloody luck!

Boss? Oh, and at the end of it all, you must fight the orb in hand-to-hand combat, presumably because the boss budget ran out a long time ago, so Proto-Ozma is all anyone could come up with. This fight is very similar to the previous battle against General Slaughter, except Hypno Orb has a wonky hitbox that means you’ll be taking damage if you touch it at juuuust the wrong angle. What is that angle? Who’s to say?

Anything else? And here’s the second completely absurd, game-breaking glitch: it is completely impossible to beat this level with two players. Player two just immediately fails upon entering this stage, and that’s all she wrote, you won’t be seeing the Dark Queen tonight, toads. This is, if you think about it, fascinating, as such an obvious glitch means that not a single playtester team ever got to Level 11 with two players. Ever. Either that, or it did happen, the designers were aware of it, and they just ignored it, because what are the odds of two people that are that good at Battletoads ever being in the same room? The world just isn’t big enough for that kind of coincidence.

Level 12 – The Revolution

Fabulous graphicsWhat’s going on here? The finale, the coup de grâce, the… golden… fly? I don’t know, this game is kind of exhausting in body and soul. As far as I’ve ever cared, this stage is a victory lap after the true final challenge that is Clinger-Wingers. Here’s a pretty straightforward ascent up the Dark Queen’s tower to a final battle with the mistress herself. The graphics are pretty impressive for a NES title, which is a shame, as probably a whole six people saw this level before the advent of emulators. Hop, skip, and jump up the tower of death, traversing disappearing platforms, springs, and occasionally grabbing poles to hang on for deadly hurricane force winds. Also, fight a cloud every once in a while. Weirdly, the whole thing feels like it was built for Wizards and Warriors.

Difficulty: It’s really not that bad. Sure, that statement is relative at this point, but it’s still a fair kind of difficulty, where even the disappearing blocks don’t feel as difficult as trying to guess snake trajectories earlier. The only major Battletoads jerk move I can see is the occasional appearance of the instant kill winds, but usually you have a little warning by seeing the poles you need to access ahead of time, so, generally, survival is assured.

Boss? The evil Dark Queen herself challenges the Battletoads at the apex. At this point, you should be pretty good at Battletoads bosses, as they’ve all been the same since Level 5, just make sure you don’t get too close when she inexplicably turns into a human tornado (unless you brought along Kain, who should just use Jump), and use your ram attack and juggle to your heart’s content. She’ll sully your victory by escaping, but at least you’ll have rescued Pimple and Princess Angelica, about whom we know nothing.

Anything else? Some cultures believe completing Battletoads is a rite of passage: a time when you are no longer a child, but have become a neo maxi zoom dweebie. Wear your newfound standing with pride, and let no one tell you that you know nothing of hardship.

I’ll Get You Next Time, Toads! (Conclusion)
She's just unpleasantNo one ever had a chance. Battletoads may as well have been created, published, and then placed in a little box labeled “do not open until save states”. The rules change too often, the gameplay is all over the map, and entire levels require amazing luck or rote memorization. Skills are learned, honed to perfection, and then discarded, never to be seen again. The very idea that someone could complete this game in less than a year’s time and without dedicating 100% of their brain to the task is laughable. Achieving seeing just a quarter of this game on its original hardware would require a level of effort akin to torture.

But, oh man, does it feel good when you cross that finish line. I’ll see you in Hell, Giblet.

FGC #24 Battletoads

  • System: NES and Xbox One. It’s got a variety of quasi-sequels across other systems, but right here is the real McCoy.
  • Number of players: Two, right up until Level 11. I suppose this glitch was fixed in international and modern versions, but I’m standing by the idea that no two people are going to beat Level 11 simultaneously anyway.
  • Would you say this game is well done? Nah, I think it’s pretty Rare.
  • You mentioned an arcade version? Yes, and it features The Great Karnath in all his nightmare fuel glory. Take a look!
    Chomp chomp

    The arcade version is also, to my knowledge, the only pure Battletoads game where all three toads are actually playable. Hey, Rare, why create a trio when you know all the systems you’re designing for have only two controller ports?
  • You mentioned an animated series? Well, more like animated serie. Is that a thing? It was only one episode (the failed pilot, I suppose), and it features three random teens that are transformed into The Battletoads in an effort to appease a cranky bird and rescue a princess from another dimension. The Dark Queen, in all her dom glory, is pretty much unchanged, and The Battletoads all retain their “wacky” combat skills, which is appropriate for an animated series. The show’s tone seemed to be very similar to the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon of the time… the daily, silly one, not the deathly serious one that aired on weekends. God, that was a weird time to be watching cartoons. Oh, and I obviously own a VHS copy. Why the hell wouldn’t I?
  • Battletoads to the Future: Will we ever see the Battletoads in a game made after the 16-bit generation?
    C-C-C-C-Combo Breaker

    The world may never know.
  • Did you know? Geez, haven’t we covered enough Battletoads trivia at this point? Fine, let’s squeeze some blood out of this stone… oh, I know: The original Battletoads origin story, as seen in Nintendo Power, paints the Battletoads as three humans who were playing a virtual reality game, and then whooooa got sucked into the game and, like, it’s totally real, man! Nowadays, that would probably be seen as charmingly meta, but back in the 90’s, I’m pretty sure this was the plot of every third game. There was a lot of fear about being sucked into video games back in the day…
  • Would I play again? I beat Battletoads frontwards and backwards to write this little screed, and I am glad to be rid of it. Never again. Except if someone wants to play two players, in which case, just give me a ring.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dinocity for the Super Nintendo. That’s… that’s like Jurassic Park, right? Yeah, it’s probably just like that, but I guess we’ll confirm it. Please look forward to it!