Funky & Fresh
I come into ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove with trepidation. When last I travelled to Earth from Funkotron (the homeworld of our titular heroes) it was a confusing affair. It was the 90s’ I was close to 10 year’s of age and I first tried out ToeJam & Earl with my neighbour from across the road. She had a fairly sizable collection of games and so myself, my little brother, and my two neighbours took turns playing this game.
ToeJam & Earl was after all a multiplayer adventure game. You play as two weird ass aliens who are searching for the missing parts of their crashed ship. Sounds simple enough right? Wrong!! The Earth that ToeJam and Earl land on is a frightening fever dream which is populated by equally terrifying humans. You travel across 25 levels utilising an array “presents” that hold within them gadgets, power-ups, and weapons to try and reassemble your ship so you can return home.
When I played it that afternoon over two decades ago it stuck with me, god knows why.
This brings me to 2019 and I am now a (reasonably) successful critic and I have within my possession ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. There are two questions haunting me now, however – What have I got myself into? And do ToeJam and Earl need to get their groove back?
Back in the habit
If like me you played the original you will notice immediately that the team behind ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove has taken a, “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” mentality. The gameplay and the level design seems ripped from the Sega Genesis era so much so that if the graphics hadn’t been given such TLC you’d swear you’re playing a SEGA Genesis game.
This is easily the highest praise I can offer to ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove because from the gameplay to the level design to the enemies you encounter this is a laborious mess of a game. The types of enemies you face are bizarre. For example, there is a cupid creature. If it shoots you with its arrow your movement is completely messed up meaning you can fall off a level. There is also the boogeymen that are invisible that chase after you, the sentient ice cream trucks that can be both a help or hindrance when they either throw out ice cream (yum) or gone off cheese (yuck).
There are many enemies but there are also allies. From the legendary Gandhi that brings peace to your enemies to a screaming Viking lady who insta-kills enemies, your allies are equally strange. So you utilise your presents filled with goodies, your allies, and you avoid the randomly scattered enemies so you can fix your ship to get home. I had to rinse and repeat this for 25 levels. You ascend from level to level in an elevator (sometimes an enemy watch out!) until you find all the pieces of your ship.
You have to scour every level, unlocking the map for the piece of your ship and if you don’t find a piece you just have to keep on trucking up the ever-maddening levels until you do.
Pump up the jam
I finished ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove in the space of three evenings. I would have finished this far sooner except I didn’t want to. Each time you finish ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove you unlock a new character who has new abilities and a whole fresh new style. Not only that you get a new hat which unlocks special abilities and finally a new level of difficulty is unlocked. Another interesting factoid is when you complete the game your save file is deleted. Why they do this I do not know that is not why I am here all I know is it happened and I didn’t care because I was glad it was all over.
Every difficulty following ultimately means this: They hit you harder and there are more enemies meaning you have to avoid enemies like a champ. This is dull!!
The reason I dislike this game so much boils down to this: The best part of the whole god damn game is the minigame in the end credits scene no joke.
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