In 1992, developer Bandai published a side-scrolling license beat-’em-up cartridge for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). This video game was called Toxic Crusaders, and based on the television cartoon of the same name. Loosely following the plot of the show, the adventure charges the player with cleaning up the streets of Tromaville as Toxie, the eco-friendly protagonist who has been tragically mutated into a hideous Toxic Crusader.
This is a standard, basic, formulaic side-scrolling beat-’em-up: A button jumps, B button attacks, the directional pad moves. There are really only one or two pieces of flair to be found otherwise; for example, the player has a life bar, but also has a Mop Meter. The player begins with a mop to swing as a weapon, slightly stronger than fists and with a little longer reach, but loses it in one hit. If the player can somehow manage to keep the mop around, and gain a mop meter point to two, the mop shoots a projectile attack. If the player can get the mop meter to three, then the mop can be thrown like a big boomerang weapon and Toxie can punch as it flies.
There are even the usual beat-’em-up elements like a skateboard level (quite essential to any 80’s or 90’s gaming experience) and even an underwater stage. The enemies are pattern-based, as repeated plays will make passing the waves of baddies much easier as the player learns their vulnerabilities, most of which amounts to “do not attack in a straightforward manner; rather, move up or down directly into an attack, or even let them move vertically to you as you are swinging.” Each of the six levels has a boss fight, and there are items hidden in destructible objects that can increase health or mop meter.
This is one of the NES video games to incorporate parallax scrolling (the appearance of layers of background that move by in differing speeds), which is always a nice touch. To be honest, this is a solid-looking 8-bit game, with large, colorful characters, well-crafted backgrounds, and decent animation performance with less flickering and slowdown than you would expect. The year is 1992, and console developers have certainly learned to push the NES hardware and palette to their max, Bandai being no exception.
The soundtrack is actually somewhat enjoyable, providing appropriate oomphy beat-’em-up tracks begging for some drum-and-electric-guitar remixes, even managing to range the gamut of moods from active inspiration to somewhat creepy in a minor key. The ditties do have some bizarre rapid screeching effects every once in a while, as though to purposefully throw the player off-guard. The effects are okay, but seem somehow a little off. For two examples: The pause noise seems like Bandai’s attempt at the classic effect of, say, Konami, or even Ocean’s superb pause sound in Robocop, only to not quite make it and seem a more sophomoric effort; secondly, check out the dying scream of the first boss for a true trip into weird-effect territory.
This video game is not only based on a pre-existing license, but is so blatantly formulaic that even its one attempt at creativity, the Mop Meter, is just an inferior version of the scaling-weapon functions present in many other, prior existing games. The level designs are okay, but skateboarding and underwater stuff was hardly ground-breaking at the time.
Toxic Crusaders never achieves deep gameplay mechanics. The first level only has two types of enemies, as one example. This cart would have also benefited, at the very least, from having a two-player mode. Nonetheless, what players have is a watered-down version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the environment-saving overtones of Captain Planet, driven through gameplay mechanics only a step above the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes NES game. Yet another license game that looks pretty good, sounds alright, plays okay, but never really reaches for greatness. This is a very average NES game that serves as a perfect case study of a Typical Early-1990’s NES Video Game, cleaning up a score of two and a half stars out of five. Oh, and expect repeat bosses. Also, try not to get a seizure from the intense flashing greens of the sewer water. Finally, remember: “DON’T BE A PUNK ‘” RECYCLE JUNK!”
Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.