Sunday, July 8, 2012

This Open Letter to Battletoads

Dear Battletoads,

You probably don't remember me. I doubt you bother to learn anyone's names. To you, we're all just a bunch of faceless losers who can't get past the speeder bike level. It's been several decades and you still lord that over us. When we're old and our memories are fading, the feeling of utter crushing defeat brought about by your 8 bits of tyranny will still be as clear as day. Many of us will go to our graves wondering what was beyond that level.

This is what childhood trauma looks like

By now you must understand that you are more than another video game. You are more than a Double Dragon clone or a ripoff of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No, you are your own entity. Like Freddy Kruger, you feed off our nightmares. Whenever we play a game, be it the latest Super Mario, Madden, Zelda, Halo, Kingdom Hearts, Fallout, or any other new or existing property, your memory is lurking in the periphery.

You memory haunts us still. No matter how many games we conquer, no matter how many times we unlock 100%, no matter how many death-match levels we win or leaderboards we top, we know, deep down, that those achievements will never completely fill the void in our soul, a void you caused. Do you even care about the shattered husks left in your wake, the people who must bravely cope each and every day, hoping that the distance of time will heal our wounds.

But you know that it won't. You know that you have irrevocably left your mark. You made your kill, took your trophy, and moved on to your next victim.

I know what you'll say to us. You'll tell us that we need to get over it and learn to get better at video games. And normally, that would be sound advice. I spent my childhood doing exactly that. I could beat Contra without the Konami Code, so it's not a lack of effort or skill. You were the equivalent of a carnival game, open, enticing, and ultimately a cheat.

That's right. You were a cheat. We can all remember the incredible first level. The vivid colors and graphics, the smooth animations, and the incredibly fun fighting mechanic. You seemed like the ultimate beat-em-up, destined to be a classic. That first level was exhilarating. That second level changed things. Now we were descending as wrecking balls. You changed the formula, upped the challenge, but it was still beatable. It was still fun.

Then we had that third level, that speeder-bike nightmare. It was the ultimate bait and switch. When we thought speeder bikes, we immediately thought of Return of the Jedi. This was our first chance to imagine we were Luke Skywalker, but while he had the force, we had to deal with the Dark Side. This level went from a fun race to a brutal assault so quickly that we wondered if we were still playing the same game. It stopped being a game as we kept bashing our heads against the wall.

There was no need for that, and you know it. You did it on purpose, because you knew that you had even better levels beyond that you decided we just didn't get to play. You wanted us to have this nice, shiny game in our possession knowing that we'd never get to the end of it. It would be disappointing and traumatic just to look at it, at you. And that's what you wanted.

So yes, I guess you've won. I suppose you have eked out some victory against us gamers. Perhaps that was your entire goal, to create a legacy based on hate rather than being one of the most advanced games for its time. You chose to destroy us with the speeder bike level rather than allow us to experience the majesty that was the rest of you.

It's too bad, really, that you chose that route. You could have been a beloved classic. You could still be played regularly by hobbyists who like to break out their old machines for some nostalgia. You could have permanently resided in lists cataloging the greatest NES games of all time. But you gave up that opportunity, and as the years go on, you will see the error of your ways.

Every day new games are coming out, and the next generations hasn't heard of you. The platforming genre isn't dead, it's still evolving. Now these kids have games like Braid and Limbo. They have the latest Super Mario, or even Super Mario Galaxy. There are plenty of choices out there now, and a game like you is being relegated to the footnote of video game history.

If they do play you, they'll use an emulator. An emulator that allows them to constantly save and reload. You will not taste their tears of frustration. They'll cheat you like you cheated us, play through you once, and then put you away, never paying you any mind. They may spare a moment or two of pity for the older gamers like us who didn't have what they have, but then they'll whip out their next game and promptly forget you.

If you've noticed Kickstarter, you've realized that a lot of old game properties are getting a second wind. Gamers are coming out of the woodwork to support new projects that promise to take us back to those classic gaming days of yore. We can't wait to see these new takes on beloved franchises. It's going to be a great decade for gamers.

Here's the thing. No one is making a new Battletoads game. No one wants to, and not enough gamers would give money to fund such a revival. You had your moment, you had your chance, and you blew it.

So enjoy this fleeting attention from an old gamer. Enjoy being known as the game that could have been, an almost-classic no one enjoyed playing. You earned it.

Pitying you, always,

Charles B. French

More Open Letters


  1. I have no idea what kind of hand eye coordination you lack, but the speeder bike level is not hard. Like at all.

  2. Replies
    1. I was pretty sure teh game genie codes we had back then wouldn't help for that level. We had one where you couldn't take damage, but on that level, you just died, so it didn't work, so you just had to keep trying again and again.

      My friend and I played that game so often, that it became muscle memory going through that level. Yes, we used the game genie, because we wanted to see the whole game. Yes, it's a fun game.

  3. The snake pit was far as i could get and that's when i was at my best and that level was a nightmare.

  4. I would agree the speed bike level wasn't too bad once you got it down. Not to say I didn't blow through about 5,000 lives getting it down on the good ol' game genie.

    I always had more trouble with the fire level and the second to last level where you're riding that one-wheeled speed bike and that blob is chasing you.

    I will say that even with the Game Genie giving you infinite lives, many levels are still infuriating...but the game overall is fun nonetheless