Okay, so I will be honest. I had vague memories of playing a weird game with my cousin when I was a kid. It had strange space aliens, funky, crazy 8-bit music, and a journey to find the truth while in the company of good friends. I never beat it but it became a crowd favorite and has been a staple of video game history since the 1990’s. That game was Earthbound. This review is not about that game. I also have some fond memories of this whacked out alien game with weird music, even weirder crass dialog, and some of the most far out marketing I have ever seen, and that game was ToeJam and Earl.
Originally for the Sega Genesis, TJ and Earl was not an initial success. It was a slow build up that people had to ease themselves into, as this game was pretty weird, even for the 90s. 1991 was a year where you could put out a game about two rapping aliens who are just looking for parts for their broken up, beat down spaceship and people would think it was cool. Fast forward to 2019, we have a new and improved version of that franchise, with ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove, and I have a feeling that people will still think that these two alien bros are pretty rad and deserve a chance to find their way back onto your television screens.
Self-published by developer HumaNature and funded through a $400,000 Kickstarter, TJ and Earl are back on our TV screens with a lot to say; even if some of those words are wacky and unusual. The history of this franchise has a crazy cult following and a couple of sequels that never lived up to the original. Partner that with the fact the Sega used these two interstellar dudes as official mascots for the company in the 90s, this new game has some serious hype behind it. The marketing for Back in the Groove has also been a weird form of guerrilla warfare; check out the Twitter handle @toejamandearl and you will find that they literally tweet at everyone and everything aboutToeJam and Earl. It’s pretty funny if you ask me.
ToeJam and Earlstarts off with our heroes flying through space, listening to some sweet jams outside of Earth. A couple of unfortunate events occur, including the lumbering alien Earl pushing the wrong button and results in a whole bunch of bad luck. Que in a space vortex black hole thingy sucking them into a pit of nothing and poof! The spaceship gets torn apart and dispersed throughout space. The opening scene is really funny and brings back a lot of the weird and crude humor you would expect to see from these guys. This sets the scene for the journey ahead.
BeforeToeJam and Earl begins, you have a selection of a variety of characters besides ToeJam and Earl, with others you will be able to unlock. What is cool about this is that this installment of the series has stats you level up and build as you go. It also allows for up to four players to join in, either online or locally. This adds to the funk because some of t
ToeJam and Earl can be overwhelming, even if the premise is not that complex. Allowing a buddy or two to join in the hunt makes this game that much more fun. I didn’t get to try out the online portion because it wasn’t up and running, which was kind of a bummer, but I did play with a friend and it was a blast.
The first level dumps you off onto a small island, with water all around and you are plunged right intoToeJam and Earl. You are tasked to shake down all the trees, all of the signs, houses, parking meters and more as you are looking for your spacecraft pieces. Along the way you find various presents, which some can be great, like a boombox attack system, and some can suck, like gross, old food that makes you throw up and lose health. ToeJam and Earl is not a highly combative game, there is no formal attack button. However, when encountering enemies, there are a variety of ways to either defeat or distract them but, in most cases, I found myself running away and hiding in some sunflowers. Upon searching to your heart’s content, you then have the option to ride the elevator up into space and onto the next level. This is the basic formula of the game, hide and seek with aliens. It seems simplistic, and it is, but as you go up, the levels become more challenging and have an array of enemies and characters to interact with. It makes for a fun time because you want to search every nook and cranny to find all of the things.
What I liked most about this game was the characters, the art style and the music. I found myself bumping into D&D nerds, wizards in carrot suits, and dancing hula girls that forced me to dance with them. There were some fun mini-games attached to some of the characters too, like rolling a die and betting on the outcome or even a dance contest! The art style plays along with the characters as well. It has a very retro feel without looking unpolished. If I were to compare it to something, I would say the environment looked like a high-def version of the Nick TV show, Rocko’s Modern Life. That is high praise coming from a 90s kid like me. All that mixed in with some phat, funky beats is a great way to spend some time looking for spaceship parts.
Even though it is pretty fun, the gameplay itself it a tad clunky, I struggled a lot near ledges or even near water. Whenever I would go near water, my alien dude would jump into the water, I would jump back out and then most times jump right back in. It got slightly annoying but I did my best to not approach water unless I had to. The same goes when searching for items, as it didn’t always search the right things and it seemed slightly repetitive. Couple that with the always chasing enemies, and it can get pretty frustrating while trying to flee from danger.ToeJam and Earl is fun and the humor is great, but it gets a tad repetitive at times.
Overall, this is a breath of fresh air as I have been playing games like Red Dead Redemption and MLB the Show. A smaller, indie title with some great ties to my childhood is a solid choice in my opinion. Back in the Groove is fun, humorous and doesn’t take an incredible amount of thinking to play. With that said, it is a bit repetitive and isn’t going to be the most intellectually stimulating game you’ll play. Also, former child star Macaulay Caulkin helped produce it which adds even more to the weirdness of this game. So if you’re looking for a good laugh, and want to be a fresh alien looking around space, look no further because ToeJam and Earl really have re-found their groove. You can pick this game up on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and any PC you have starting on March 1st.