Where does Battletoads come from?
In 1991, Nintendo released the video game Battletoads, which many saw as trying to capitalize on the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A “beam ‘em up” or “brawler” game, Battletoads lets gamers play as Zits, Rash, and Pimple, a team of hip, muscular, anthropomorphic space toads who have to combat all enemies in their path on their way to rescue a princess from evil forces. The game was known for being incredibly difficult—and quite strange. Though it remained fairly obscure, Battletoads was initially successful enough to get a number of sequels, and even be adapted into a thirty-minute animated pilot in 1992. The pilot was never picked up for a full series.
The franchise’s relative obscurity, short life, and all-around weirdness inspired the Battletoads memes. According to Encyclopedia Dramatica, by at least 2007, users on the online imageboard site 4chan were jokingly asking the question “Is this Battletoads?” in response to any user seeking the title of an older or unknown game.
Then, in 2007, users from Anonymous, 4chan, eBaum’s World, and other forums began prank-calling Gamestop stores asking if they had a copy of Battletoads or requesting a preorder of it. Obviously, it was unlikely that Gamespot would be carrying the short-lived, 15-year-old game, and no new version of Battletoads had been announced. But more inexperienced or younger Gamestop employees were caught off guard by these pranks, searching the stores and database for a supposedly hot new title that didn’t exist. Callers would request Battletoads for Wii, Battletoads II, and other made-up titles, resulting in confusion. The prank spread virally and reportedly flooded Gamestops. In 2008, a fake Battletoads for Wii trailer was posted on YouTube.
The prank arguably hit the height of its popularity when numerous pranksters called Rick Harrison, the host of the TV series Pawn Stars, asking him about Battletoads. These calls escalated until the point where Harrison threatened to call the cops, an action which led to even more calls.
Though it has slowed down in the years since, the Battletoads pranks continue. None of this newfound popularity for the Battletoads brand has resulted in a sequel, though publications like Game Informer and Forbes have both called for one.
“I'd laugh if someone just randomly walked into the the lobby and asked,'Is this battletoads?'”
@SaedaSM Twitter (June 26, 2011)
“I looked at him, confused, wondering what just happened. He looks at me and he says, 'Battletoads?' I just started laughing my ass off after it hit me. So we started talking about it. Apparently for the past two weeks (and has gotten very bad the past couple days) both GameStops in that mall, the GameStop a town away, and two other GameStops past that one, have been getting the Battletoads harassing calls.”
ZeoVGM Neogaf (December 1, 2007)
“That was all she wrote for Battletoads for the next couple decades. The most we ever got was a prank call/hoax thing where people would constantly call up Gamestop to ask if they could pre-order a nonexistent Battletoads reboot for Xbox.”
Gavin Jasper, “Battletoads: The Strange History of a Nigh-Impossible Franchise,” Den of Geek (August 4, 2015)