GAME REVIEW | ToeJam & Earl Returns With A Bumpy "Groove"
Alongside Sonic the Hedgehog, ToeJam & Earl were seen as SEGA's golden boys back in the 90s. With their debut title in 1991 and its Panic on Funkotron sequel two years later, the slick alien duo brought big beats and cool vibes to Genesis users all across the world. Now many years later, after one failed Xbox title and radio silence soon after, the duo returns to their roots with HumaNature Studios' ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. The question remains: is this the comeback retro fans have been waiting for?
ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove has players crash-landing on a strange planet known as Earth. With their ship in pieces, the duo and their girlfriends Latisha & Lewanda set out to recover the missing pieces, all the while interacting with the friendly folks and evading the nastier ones. From desert lands to snowy hills, the funkiest bunch of invaders aim to get back home and keep their party going.
More aligned with the first game, players will have to seek out the parts of their ship on many randomly-generated levels. As you progress, opportunities to level up and earn such noble creeds as "Dufus" and "Banana" will be handed to you as you roam about the dangerous world. Not only are there hazards like long waters and moldy cheeses to be careful, but also some pretty bad people who are itching to make your alien butt deader than MC Hammer's career. Lawnmower men, ghost cows, rabid fans, and even annoying drone users are just a few of these enemies you'll run into.
Fortunately, there are also some good people that hope to see ToeJam & Earl succeed in their quest. From wizards and board game aficionados to even Ghandi himself, the friendly humans aim to give the strange creatures from above their own dose of kindness by any means necessary. A good thing, considering how troublesome the enemies get the higher you go. Even more-so with the fact that if you lose all your lives, you'll have to start the game back at square one.
Yes folks, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove does not screw around when it comes to both its old-schoolness and difficulty. You've got your lives, your health bar, and a little anxiety thrown in to make sure you survive by the skin of your teeth. Die, and be back at point zero, with nothing in your pockets except some experience and disappointment in one's performance. Considering that you rarely have a means to defend yourself (seeing as you're an alien race wanting peace and funk for all), that means that you'll find yourself spending a good chunk of your time evading enemies and running towards a slice of pizza or taco to regain your energy.
Of course, you do have some options for assistance in the form of presents. These gifts are normally a total mystery until you wish to use them. Sometimes they can be in the form of food or some other sort of sustenance. Other times, they can assist with finding elevators to the next level, ship pieces, and even hidden paths. It's when it's a wacky invention when it truly can be seen as an advantage, be it powerful skates, wings, springs, and decoys for nearby enemies. Unless you have someone look to see what sort of gift it is beforehand, how you use these presents is up to your discretion.
Back in the Groove has a lot of charm and humor that makes ToeJam & Earl's return very entertaining. Gameplay-wise, it depend on if you were on Team Original or Team Funkotron as to whether or not it's to your liking. As someone who was in the minority that preferred Panic on Funkotron over the first game, it did take a little bit before I felt like I was having fun with it. Mini-games like the Dance-Offs and the HyperFunk Zones had some appeal to them, adding a little something extra to the roaming aspect of the game. All-in-all, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't smiling for the majority of my time with it.
With that being said, one cannot ignore some of the game's hiccups. Character animation I noticed would slow down when there were more than three people on-screen at once. The game's opening movie is filled with pauses and buffering issues that make it tough to enjoy the characters' silly 90s-like Kid 'n Play-like bantering. Lastly, its moving controls can be a hassle at times to properly figure out, as roaming around the sometimes narrow pathways can lead towards an accidental fall on more occasions than you can count. Needless to say, the game can sometimes be as frustrating as sitting through a screening of Cool As Ice.
If you play your cards right, you can beat ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove in about three hours. Although it's a short time, the game is tailor-made to be played in small doses. Players can also dive into a random mode that spins the levels by any means necessary, as well as a much more challenging hardcore version of it. Playing the game solo is fun, but if you have the opportunity to do either couch co-op or online play with 1-3 other players, then dive into the multiplayer madness by any means necessary.
- Spirit of the original game in-tact
- Creative enemies and helpful characters
- Some nice presents and power-ups
- Animation bugs
- Can get tough very quickly
- Not for people who only enjoyed Panic on Funkotron
After four years in development, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is a nice return for the hip-hop aliens. With its classic gameplay mechanics in place, fans of the original will have no trouble jumping back into the wacky worlds the masters of funk embark on. Despite some bugs, Back in the Groove is a fine "welcome back" to two gaming icons.
Promotional consideration provided by Veronica Stodolnik of Stride PR. Reviewed on the PS4.