Pianotoads- Live at MAGFest!


What is Pianotoads? Well, I’ll just re-print the description I gave for the MAGFest program:

“Speedrunner + Piano Player + Ridiculously Hard Game = Incredible Experience for All Involved. Marc J. “Emptyeye” Dziezynski (The disheveled one) speeds through the NES game Battletoads, making you wonder how you ever thought the game was so hard, while pianist Daniel “Kareshi” Brown (The elegant one), of Nintendo on Piano and Final Phantom fame, lends his musical skill in providing his live interpretation of the game’s soundtrack on piano.”

The thumbnail is the picture I sent for the program (Which is where “elegant” vs. “disheveled” comes from–note how Kareshi looks like he’s ready to go to a wedding, whereas I look like I’m ready for..a video game and music convention), which you can click to see the full-size picture. I’m pretty sure it’s the only picture of us together, so it went by default.

Battletoads is regarded as one of the hardest games on the NES (If not of all-time). I’m not quite sure why; harder NES games, off the top of my head:

  • Gradius
  • Life Force
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • The Silver Surfer
  • Ghosts N’ Goblins (Despite Kareshi‘s protests to the contrary)

Regardless, the game’s reputation is what it is, and my reputation, particularly amongst The Shizz (Where I’m known more or less as “That guy who can beat Battletoads”), is likewise what it is. Not that I’m arguing with this, or wishing it wasn’t so–as someone once said, “One hit is one more than a lot of other people have”–as I’ve obviously used it to my advantage here. I’m actually pretty nervous about this, and I’m not sure why–I’ve beaten the game many many times before, and I’m pretty sure I honestly haven’t done that in a non-speedrunning sort of context since late 2004 or so. Indeed, I’ve played the game in front of a small audience before; it is, for some reason, a highly anticipated unofficial event for the past two MAGFests, being as MAGFest is, or at least was (Long, dramatic story), essentially the Mecca of The Shizz. So why the nerves? I think it’s essentially because this is now an official MAGFest event, presumably attended by actual non-Shizzies, so I’ll have to bring my A-game now more than ever. Still, I think I can even use this to my advantage presentation-wise…

If you’re in the Virginia area from January 3rd-6th 2008, check out the whole of MAGFest; Pianotoads itself happens at 11AM on Friday, January 4th. All things told, it’s actually a pretty good time slot, with only early afternoon slots being more preferable–more people tend to attend the festival on Saturday, but that’s counterbalanced by the fact that people won’t be recovering from Friday night’s concerts. Prime-time slots go head-to-head with the concerts, My other options were basically Sunday (AKA “shut down/check out day”), 10AM Saturday (Not the best, for already mentioned reasons), or really late at night. So, for an event that amounts to “Emptyeye plays a game”, I’m happy with the time.

It should be great fun either way, whether I live up the hype or crash and burn, which is always a possibility.

EDIT 4/6/08: As mentioned here, Sam was kind enough to upload his recording of Pianotoads onto Google Video. Check it out here!


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    • James on December 18, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Heh, I’d like to see that. I agree that Battletoads isn’t super hard– it’s not even in my top ten for NES games! The game has good play control, not a lot of cheap hits and fair level design. The problem I think, like many games, is that you have to memorize a good deal of the levels from 3 on and people just don’t have the patience.

    Once you have the skills down, it’s a matter of staying sharp. NOW– acquiring those skills is a worthy task, so it’s still an awesome endeavor to link all the levels together.

    Here’s 10 Games I consider harder than Battletoads in no order:

    1. TMNT
    2. Rad Racer
    3. Gradius
    4. Double Dragon
    5. Top Gun
    6. Rad Racer 2
    7. Ninja Gaiden 3
    8. Top Gun II
    9. Stinger
    10. Digger T. Rock

    Noticed I omitted Ghosts N Goblins. GNG is another memory pattern game that can be dialed in (I’ve beaten it without continuing) ala Battletoads. I think games with random enemies and shooters are much tougher (I consider my two greatest gaming accomplishments beating all the VH’s in Story mode in F-Zero GX and unlocking the Selene ship in Einhander–hardest difficulty setting, less than two continues). Blazing Lazers is another tough one–shooters like Ikaruga though, aren’t as fun since they purposely overwhelm you but offer unlimited gameplay to master the stages. I much prefer a balanced game like Einhander.

    All that said, Battletoads is certainly not at easy game. But because the play control is good, the skill of the player and not cheap shots determine the outcome.

    Good luck!

    • emptyeye on December 18, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    Thanks for the well-wishes on my performance! As I’ve said, I’ve beaten the game many times before, but anything can happen in a live setting, to say nothing of some crippling bugs I’ll have to hope to avoid (I can, by and large, eliminate the Level 10 “Scuzz never falls down on the third bomb” bug through skillful play; I’m still not sure exactly what causes the “Toad tries to leap to Robo-Manus too soon and fails, causing him to respawn below the plane of death continually until you run out of lives” bug in Level 8, but I haven’t actually run into that one recently, so…

    (Plus, it worse comes to worst, Kareshi has a Game Genie which we can use for the purpose of restarting at the beginning of whatever level I encounter any crippling bugs on should it happen. That’s all I’d use it for, however.)

    As far as the list goes, I’ve played most of those games (Exceptions: Top Gun 2, Rad Racer 2, and I think I have SLIGHT experience with Digger T. Rock from when you brought it over my house one time), and of the ones I know, I’d swap out Ninja Gaiden III for Life Force. Honestly, from a skill perspective, I think the original Ninja Gaiden was the hardest of the three; III was just outrageously cheap and excessive with its penalties for failure (RANDOM FUN FACT: Did you know the Japanese version of NGIII had passwords?). I beat Ninja Gaiden III in five days from when I got it, compared to the ten YEARS it took me to take down the original. Granted, I was about 6 or 7 when I got the original NG and maybe 17 when I first got III, but still.

    RE: G’N’G: The main concession I’ll give to it being easier than Battletoads is that it has unlimited continues, meaning even a total beginner can theoretically beat the game in an “Infinite Number of Monkeys” way, given enough time and determination (And yes, I realize this hurts my argument for including the original Ninja Gaiden on a Hardest Games list versus the third installment). Regardless, I feel that overall, it’s more random than Battletoads is, as well as being much less balanced in a learning curve type of way–haven’t you said that Level 2 is actually the hardest level except for Level 6?–which also makes it harder.

    As far as F-Zero GX goes, maybe I played it much more obsessively than most people, but I didn’t think a lot of the VH missions were super hard like a lot of people seemed to–the last one I completed was actually Mission 1, probably because CRUSHING ALL COMPETITION was not in any way a useful skill in that mission. Everything else seemed to be made easier if you incorporated my style of trying to execute a Police Code 188 in with your “use skill and finesse to win” style–hence why you found the Dark Schneider useless, whereas I won two Master Class cups with the thing (Acceleration? Handling? Bah, overrated! Destruction capability? THAT’S where it’s at!).

    So in short, I agree that, while Battletoads isn’t an easy game, it’s also not completely impossible beginning with Level 3 like a lot of people want you to think it is. Well, unless you get to Level 11 with two players, but that’s another rant entirely.


    • James on December 19, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    I was surprised when I tried to play through Life Force (after your death free run) that after 2 or 3 days, I was able to beat the game with only one death and that because I didn’t memorize the “dash to safety” that concludes the game. I think Gradius is harder, but I like them both.

    The Rad Racer games are very unforgiving and despite having a built in continue code listed in the manuals, I have trouble with them both. They are rarely mentioned in NES challenges but try getting past level 6 in Rad Racer and tell me what you think.

    I’ve always thought Ninja Gaiden wasn’t very hard outside of the memorization AND execution of stage 6-2 and keeping the spin attack throughout stage 6-3. I DO admit, it took some practice on the Emulator to master all forms of Jacquio without using special weapons but it is very possible to figure it out. It’s funny, three of NES’s hardest games: Castlevania, Punch Out and Ninja Gaiden are all titles I can play through in a single session and I do just that once in a while.

    “Hardest” is a tricky term when it comes to NES games. Some are “hard” because of awful play control, stupid level design or just bad gameplay (Athena anyone?) Heck, Super Mario Bros. is pretty hard but rarely gets mentioned because it’s a good game. I think Ghosts N Goblins is sort of both–cheap enough to warrant anger yet a skilled player can master the controls and make it look easy.

    F-Zero GX was a bear– I had trouble on “Save Jody” in particular, yet passed VH Mission 1 the first time I tried. Go figure. I also think the gold medals in Rogue Leader are pretty damn hard, espcially the Battle for Endor gold (ugh). In that vein, the missions in Tie Fighter on the PC are pretty rough too.

    I noticed a trend in your gaming style IE Civlization, F Zero– when given a choice between RAW POWER and strategery, looks like might makes right!

    • emptyeye on December 19, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    I actually agree that Gradius is harder than Life Force, but both have more or less the same problem–regardless of what your life counter says, you effectively have only one life at any given time, because if you die, you’re so woefully underpowered that continued survival becomes pretty much impossible on subsequent lives.

    If I remember correctly, “Win the Grand Prix”, Mission 7, was another one I had a hard time with in GX–you more or less HAD to kill Black Shadow (And ideally Blood Falcon) right away, or you had no hope of ever catching up with them. I think Mission 8 was another toughie, because again, CRUSH ALL COMPETITION didn’t work–Deathborn actually RETURNED TO THE TRACK if you somehow managed to knock him off, at least on VH.

    And you’re absolutely correct in regards to my gaming style; I very much tend to go the brute force route wherever possible, even in ostensible “Strategy” games like StarCraft–wait, you mean “Mass Carriers = Instant Win” is just a joke?! Oh…

  1. […] I said last week, not much happened this week. I’ve been practicing for Pianotoads, and..not a whole heck of a lot of importance happened other than […]

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  3. […] and what was really the point of this post (I swear), fellow Shizzie Sam has generously posted his Pianotoads footage for everyone to see. It’s screen-only, and he apparently cut off the Q & A at […]

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