Battletoads Xbox Preview: Dlala and Rare have nailed the gorgeous, funny and tough formula

Over at Microsoft’s flagship new store in Oxford Street this week, we had the chance to get our hands on one of the most exciting upcoming Xbox exclusives.

That’s right – we’ve finally had the chance to play Battletoads!

This new version of the cult classic is developed in tandem between IP owners Rare (who developed the original game back on the NES in 1991) and Dlala Studios – who has staff on its roster that have worked on the animation teams for the likes of Earthworm Jim and other Saturday Morning cartoons.

The build we got to play took us through on of the side-scrolling beat-em-up levels, and one of the (in)famous Turbo Tunnel levels – and the result is something that feels at once fresh and nostalgic.

The most striking thing about the game (from the second you’re dropping into the action and have the choice of picking either Rash, Zitz and Pimple) is the art style. It looks like something halfway between Earthworm Jim and some sort of Western anime – The Last Airbender comes to mind in some animation cycles.

This art style carries through from character models to backgrounds – all of it looking authentically 90s and brimming with attitude and style.

Once you get your hands on the controls, you also start to realise this isn’t a standard beat-em-up – it’s not just a rip from the 16-bit era of games. Dlala and Rare have added more complex combo strings to the title, and given each of the ‘toads a class (all-rounder, rushdown, tank).

This means multiplayer co-op bouts require a little easy co-ordination to get the most out of the game – with players needing to get in rhythm with their allies and drop volleys, area of effect attacks, and light attacks to chip away at enemies as they encroach.

Bosses appear with so much California 90s attitude that we felt like the words “straight buggin'” were about to drop at any point (this is a good thing), and the encounters that we’ve seen so far are tight, fun and just difficult enough to trigger memories of that nigh-impossible ’91 release.

Measures have been taken to make this a more approachable game than its predecessors, though: in the Turbo Tunnels, one player staying alive at any given time will allow other players to spawn back in after a slight delay, and you can spawn in similarly in battles, too.

That isn’t to say Dlala and Rare are going to ignore the heritage, though… we’re told a mode will be available at launch that will be ‘authentic’ to the NES game experience. Best get warming up your thumbs and testing your reflexes now!

Microsoft’s latest motto is ‘games for everyone’, with the likes of Xbox boss Phil Spencer telling us all back at E3 that the brand wants to give players the chance to ‘play the games they want, when they want, where they want’.

With something like Battletoads propping up the Xbox behemoths like Halo, Forza and Gears, that philosophy is clear in Microsoft. 

Battletoads has everything it needs to be the next big couch, co-op hit, drawing on the rich history of the Battletoads IP and mixing it with fresh new design elements that make it an absolute delight to play. 

This is exactly the sort of game Microsoft needs to be introducing to Xbox Games Pass and its PC and console roster to show gamers it isn’t just focused on the gargantuan, triple-A monsters or the ID@Xbox gems: it’s a title that wants you to remember what gaming used to be like, what it feels like to sit on the sofa with your friends and family and go at a goal together.

Brimming with that Rare charm and bought to life in incredibly authentic style by the folks at Dlala, Battletoads might just be the most exciting Xbox exclusive in development right now.

We can’t wait to play more.

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