There is such a thing as glitch hiking. The term has been around for a few years now, perhaps since Vlambeer’s 2011 Global Game Jam entry GlitchHiker, and certainly before last year’s Glitchhikers. Funnily enough, although each of these videogames bear the two words “glitch” and “hike” in their titles, they don’t really fall into what I’d deem “glitch hiking.”
In fact, the game this article is about, Pause Screen From Battletoads, is one of the few that even acknowledges that this rascally activity exists. For it is not known by many. It’s a secret kept among a few passionate people who live to break games and explore their fragmented forms. What glitch hiking involves is daring to venture beyond the realms of the assumed game space, to walk through walls and into the void. It is the one true exploration in videogames, as not even the game’s creator has touched where a glitch hiker will go; where every glorious sight is an accident formed of the software’s violation. Simply put, it is the act of hiking into an unknown virtual world of glitches.
Pause Screen From Battletoads is an emulation of glitch hiking. If you follow what its script wants you to do, which is to supposedly break the game, then what you’re doing doesn’t actually qualify as glitch hiking. You are not breaking the game at all. It may look like it as the tilesets corrupt and the sprites morph into upset pixels, warping the characters they once denoted into catastrophic versions of themselves. But as you are following what the designer wants you to do, step-by-step, it’s not true glitch hiking.
That makes it no less thrilling. As with Frog Fractions before it, Pause Screen From Battletoads puts up a front for you to break through in order to find the adventure hidden beneath. It starts off pretending to be a tribute to the pause screen from the 1990s action-platformer Battletoads. One of the anthropomorphic toads falls in an endless loop through an underground tunnel. There’s an annoying whistle that repeats itself with every descent. Press the pause button, however, and the undeniably catchy, crunch-thudding groove of the 1991 NES game kicks in. Seriously, listen to this thing.
You might think, due to both its title and the relief that this funky pause screen brings, that the entire purpose of the game is to, as previously said, act as an homage. But no. After a few loops of that repetitive tunnel, a text box pops up at the bottom of the screen, which reads “PAUSE TO ESCAPE.” You may think nothing of it at first, but with some experimentation you should work out that this is an instruction, albeit one that has been concealed by its syntax. Work it out and you’ll start on your quasi-glitch hiking adventure.
To say more of Pause Screen From Battletoads would be to spoil its short, key-mashing voyage into the unknown. As its creator says: “The point of the game is figuring out how to play.” So, neither will I tell you what to do should you get stuck. But heed this: be curious, shake things up, don’t be afraid to try something wild to see if it works—it might. And if you’re enthused by the idea of glitch hiking then try it out proper somewhere else. When you next open up a videogame see if you can go where you should not.