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Like I mentioned a few days ago when the resurrection of the Battletoads trademark surfaced, this series has surprisingly awesome music. Well, “surprisingly” only based on the fact that one typically wouldn’t look to a game featuring anthropomorphic amphibians battling space pigs for high quality tunes. It’s less surprising after taking a look at Battletoads’ pedigree. Anything that comes from Rare Studios in the 90s is a pretty safe guarantee of quality. Looking even further reveals that the composer for these titles is none other than David Wise, most well-known for his work on the soundtracks on the Donkey Kong Country series.

If that name means anything to you, it’s probably because the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country 2 is one of the most idolized and talked about soundtracks in the 16-bit era. Those songs have deservedly earned their place in the hearts of retro game fans – in addition to the many times those tunes have found their way into later Donkey Kong titles (not to mention the various Smash Bros).

Title Screen – Battletoads & Double Dragon (SNES)

I mainly bring his more well-known work into this to give more weight to the songs I’ll be featuring today. The man has a lot of talent, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I gush about his work on this site.

See my Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze review for more gushing.

Where the Donkey Kong Country songs are melodic and atmospheric, suiting the whimsical and exploratory nature of those titles, the tunes to Battletoads are a much more focused affair. The bulk of them can be described as energetic – with major influences from metal and hard rock – in addition to hip-hop beats. Pounding is the sound, and crunchy is the texture.

Forest (Level 2) – Battletoads in Battlemaniacs (SNES)

A little back story, for those of you unfamiliar with the series. The legacy of Battletoads has everything to do with its ridiculousness and its difficulty. The original NES title and the Double Dragon crossover are arguably the most popular of the titles, but there are scattered ports and remakes over the various consoles of the 8 and 16-bit consoles and portables. All of the home console versions feature co-op, and almost all of the time playing them that way is an awful idea. They’re incredibly difficult games playing by yourself, and adding the “if your friend dies, everyone has to restart” style of play to the mix will only serve to ruin friendships.

The games can be described as beat-em-ups, but there’s enough variance in the level designs where most of the time that description doesn’t quite fit. A term that has become more popular nowadays would be precision platformer, which I think is more accurate. Precise, calculated movements coupled with a hefty bit of memorization are the only things that will get you through, so get ready to restart, and restart often.

Turbo Tunnel (Level 3-2) – Battletoads

vs.

Speeder Bikes (Level 3) – Battletoads in Battlemaniacs (SNES)

The most notorious levels are the speeder bike stages, wherein our heroes are forced along a crazy fast track while walls fly at them. It’s the players job to navigate these walls while they come at you faster and faster. Miss your chance by a few pixels, and you’re literally squished flat. These are usually the first levels that really drive the difficulty home, and they show up about 15 minutes in.

Nevertheless, the games are weirdly addictive, mostly because of their absurdity.

Level 2 – Battletoads & Double Dragon (SNES)

I’ve had various songs scattered throughout the article, and I realize I haven’t been addressing them specifically  like I was doing in my previous Castlevania column. Mostly that’s because I don’t have much to say about many of them, individually. They all kind of have their own theme to them, across the board. It’s hard-driving rock meant to get you pumped up, because that’s really the only thing pushing you through the stupid gauntlet of crap that comes with these difficult games.

The SNES soundchip does a good job simulating guitar, and the synth picks up to take bass responsibilities. The drums kick in and rounds out the package, but these tunes are pretty bare. The 16-bit tunes produce a more accurate power-metal sound, but there’s something to be said for the effort put into the NES songs, as well.

Surf City – Battletoads (NES)

As far as individual games go, I’d say the SNES version of Battletoads & Double Dragon features the best package of songs. It’s the game where Mr. Wise really nails the spacey rock themes, and those songs have the most depth out of the whole lot.

If Microsoft does decide to resurrect the Battletoads franchise, I implore them to get David Wise back on board. His rock themes were a perfect match for the series, and not many people can harmonize quite like him. Hopefully the success of Killer Instinct will convince them to give another dead franchise another chance, with a new audience. Just bring the rock with it.

I leave you with the finest pause music in the history of 8-bit tunes:

Pause – Battletoads (NES)


Seth Kellen

Seth firmly believes that there isn't a good way to make a bio sound anything less than pretentious without tossing in a self-referential meta joke, so here we are. Also I talk about video game music a lot.