- “ToeJam & Earl” is a cult-classic franchise that started life in the early ’90s on the Sega Genesis.
- Though the game has had several sequels, none were as well-received as the original game.
- With the help of Kickstarter, the original game’s creator just released a brand new “ToeJam & Earl” game. And it’s really good!
Nearly 30 years ago, the original “ToeJam & Earl” arrived on the Sega Genesis. It wasn’t a huge hit. Instead, “ToeJam & Earl” became a cult-classic.
There’s a good reason for that: It’s a game with a distinct sense of style, that played like nothing else at the time and very little since. But outside of that first game from 1991, the series has more or less languished across the past few decades.
Until now: 2019’s “ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!” beyond delivers on the subtitle. “Back in the Groove” is every bit as charming and stylish as the original game, but now it’s got all the conveniences that modern game design and game hardware brings.
What’s the deal with “ToeJam & Earl”?
“ToeJam & Earl” is very much a product of the early 1990s. It looks like a hip-hop take on “Rocko’s Modern Life,” and it has a unique, bizarre feel like so many games of that period.
What you did in the first game is very similar to what you do in the new game: Collect pieces of your busted space cruiser that are strewn across bizarre landscapes full of friendly and not-so-friendly people.
You also collect presents, which are essentially power-ups, and your ultimate goal is to reassemble your ship.
But the gameplay is far from the only thing you’re coming to “ToeJam & Earl” for – the experience is about exploring every little nook and cranny of the bizarre worlds.
What’s the deal with the <em>new</em> “ToeJam & Earl”? I heard that Macauley Culkin is somehow involved?
Indeed, “Home Alone” star Macauley Culkin is the executive producer of “ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!” He’s apparently a major fan of the original game.
Here's some things I'm doing instead of watching the #oscars
5. Toejam & Earl pic.twitter.com/w2jWutHw83
— Macaulay Culkin (@IncredibleCulk) March 5, 2018
After sharing his love for the original game so publicly, Culkin and the game’s original creator, Greg Johnson, got together.
All of which is to say: The new “ToeJam & Earl” is most like the original game that people remember fondly. You play as ToeJam, Earl, or one of several other characters tasked with collecting various ship parts, employing power-ups to defeat, or to escape from, or to distract enemies.
Exploration is key, as each world is shrouded in fog on your map until you go there yourself. Along the way you’ll encounter bizarre enemies, bushes that must be shaken to reveal their treasures, and false elevators that try to eat you.
It’s a really, really strange game, but it’s delightful in how strange it is.
What makes it so good?
What you do in “ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!” is relatively basic: Collect stuff and avoid enemies.
What makes it so good is all the personality. Instead of more traditional enemies, the stuff to worry about in “ToeJam & Earl” is an ornery man with a lawnmower, or a jackhammering construction worker, or a presiding judge in the Spanish Inquisition.
Sometimes, you’ll spot the Devil walking around. Sometimes you’ll spot multiple versions of the Devil walking around! Don’t run into the Devil(s).
There are also hidden delights to find, like warp zones that transport your character to a 2D minigame that feels ripped from 1996.
The minigames are charming and silly and fun every time.
Sometimes you have to match a beat, a la “Guitar Hero,” and sometimes you have to make a beat of your own (and then perform it!).
Such is the nature of the rhythm-based minigame that’s available on nearly every level of the new “ToeJam & Earl.”
It’s one of the many quick asides that make the general game feel constantly fresh – you’re never doing anything for more than a minute or two.
Bored with exploration? Play a minigame! Bored with minigames? Slap on a pair of rocket skates (one of the many “presents”) and see how long you can last before flying off an edge.
“ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!” is the rare example of an old franchise getting updated years later that succeeds tremendously. It’s a great game whether you played the originals or you’ve never heard of “ToeJam & Earl” before.
For a lot of retro game revivals, there’s a necessary caveat: “If you liked the original.” Not so with “ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!”
Whether you played the original game or not, the new “ToeJam & Earl” is a game that’s beyond worth your time and money. It’s the rare game that has a real sense of itself.
It’s fun just hanging out in the game’s world, let alone completing objectives, and the game’s creators were clearly aware of that. Their sense of joy clearly comes through, and makes the game itself a joy to experience.
Don’t just take my word for it — check out this ridiculous launch trailer and then try to keep yourself from playing “ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!”
“ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!” is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, and Nintendo Switch for $US19.99.
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