Hardest Games Of All Time: I Beat Battletoads And No One Believes Me

By Alex Riviello , Updated Mar 23, 2015 10:03 PM EDT
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This week in honor of the release of Bloodborne on the PlayStation 4 we're taking a look back at HARD GAMES, the most difficult games of all time. Games used to be a challenge but at some point we became soft. New games that are hard (without being cheap) are rare enough that we celebrate the release of each of them, but back in the day it used to be almost a standard.. Some we love to hate for their challenge. Case in point: Battletoads.

Of all my major accomplishments in life- professionally, in my marriage, raising my kids, or what have you- few achievements stand up to once beating Battletoads unassisted. No cheat codes, no Game Genie, just me and the game and hours of training and gallons of sweat from perfecting things till I could get through it all, start to finish, in the measly three lives developer RARE cruelly sought to provide us with.

Like many other kids of the era, I became absolutely hooked on Battletoads when it was released for the original NES in 1991, but my obsessions started even before. I really don’t know what awakened the curiosity in the game- was it the incredible-at-the-time graphics, the fun finishing moves that saw the Toads’ hands and feet being turned into giant weapons, the fact that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was currently a thing? Most likely it was Nintendo Power.

For a while, that was the bible for gamers. There wasn’t anything else like that, and volume 25, with the Battletoads living large on the cover, was the first issue of my subscription.

It covered the game in the way that magazines never could in the future, basically acting as a strategy guide for the entire experience. I read and reread the magazine until the cover fell off, just soaking in the words and glorious screenshots no matter where I was- the school bus, the dinner table, at the supermarket with my mom.

Then it was finally released in the way they usually were back then- suddenly appearing in a toy store one lucky day. I grabbed it up and dived right in. The first level of Battletoads, with its pig and robot enemies, is enough of a challenge, and you’ll soon find out that even the smallest enemy can whittle down your health if you're not careful, the way that characters often did in those days. (It's remarkable that things changed so much over the years that Dark Souls felt so new bringing this back, decades later.) The second level changed the sidescroller up in a way gamers never saw before, as our toad heroes go rappelling down into a tunnel full of ravens that can snip your wire and cause you instant death. It's difficult, but with a little practice you can get through it relatively unscathed. 

But then, there came TURBO TUNNEL. Level three. Most people who played Battletoads never saw the rest of the game past this point, even though there were 13 levels in the whole game. It broke almost everyone that played it, requiring almost superhuman skills and memorization to defeat.

It starts off slow enough as you jump on a hover bike and take off, seeing barriers that flicker on the side of the screen before zooming at you. Hit any of them and you die. Miss a ramp over a chasm and you die. Jump when you should have ducked and you die. Did I mention you only have three lives? There was an easy trick to start the game with extra lives, by hitting Down, A, and B together while hitting Start at the title screen, but purists like myself refused to use it. 

Remember- this is in the days before infinite continues, before saving at checkpoints became standard. If you die too many times here you have to start from the beginning of the game all over again.

The Turbo Tunnel quickly becomes a nightmare, with new challenges being thrown at you before you have a chance to react. It eventually gets so fast that reflexes alone won't cut it, and I even scribbled down all the directions in a Mead notebook (using arrows and J’s for Jumps) to help me out, plotting my course and yelling at the TV what was next. I never did that for any other game I ever played, but Battletoads would not beat me.

Of course, defeating this section only means that you have to get to the end of the game with whatever remaining lives you might have, and naturally the first time I beat the Turbo Tunnel- achievement as it was- was quickly quelled by the fact that the rest of the game features boss battles and new challenges every step of the way. I died after level three, many times, but it was always that looming Turbo Tunnel that was typically my downfall.

What helped? For most people, it was a Game Genie. Back in the day when games used to crush you without hesitation, and Game Genies were absurdly popular. A peripheral that ended up selling five million units worldwide, they were pass-through devices that plugged into the system itself and allowed you to enter codes that would essentially break the game to your liking. Using the device for Battletoads could give you infinite lives, easier enemies, or even skip levels entirely.

Among my cousins, among my friends, even among everyone on the playground at school- no one had beaten Battletoads without it. No one, but me.

Of course, the one bleary night I finally managed to defeat the Turbo Tunnel without a single life lost- cruising through the freezing ice levels, the surfing levels, the many giant bosses- I finally bested it and witnessed its lackluster ending sequence.... and was alone, well past bedtime. If only achievements had existed then, or cell phone cameras, or Twitch streams!

Now of course lots of people have done it- a cursory YouTube search proves that my achievement wasn't as remarkable as it felt at the time. I doubt I could ever do it again, nor would I want to. The knowledge that I once did it is enough. I remember, and Battletoads does too.

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What’s the hardest game you’ve ever completed? What game have you made your own? Let us know in the comments below.

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