Remember renting games from video stores? It was just about the raddest thing 10 year old me could experience on the weekend. Walking into what would later become a Blockbuster, and staring at the rows of promise before me. With chore money in hand, I would peruse the ailes for entertainment. Back in the halcyon days of 1991, the 16-bit stereo sounds belting from a 13 inch tv that was connected to my Sega Genesis signified that me and my friends would loose ourselves to a world pixelated magic.
ToeJam & Earl, a game I rented so often, my parents decided to buy it for me for my birthday. It was one of those games you never really got tired playing. You could randomize each level, and the split screen mechanics made exploring in a two player game a joyous experience. Me and my friends rarely fought while playing TJ&E like we often did playing NBA JAM. Part of reason we never fought is due to solid game mechanics, but it was mainly because the game was so… happy.
TJ&E had a two sequels, both of which I owned. One was a side scroller called Panic on Funkotron and the other was a light gun shooter that came with “The Menecer” called Ready, Aim, Tomatoes. Neither of them lived up to the first ones magnificence, though they were both humorous to an adolescent boy.
Now, nearly 30 years later, we get a proper sequel with ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove.
The premise is nearly identical to the first game. Collect spaceship parts on earth to get back home to Funkotron before Lamont finds out you broke his ship again. You avoid bad earthlings like Crazy Dentists and utilize good earthlings like Opera Singers to aid you in your quest. You pick up presents dropped by a jet pack flying Santa Clause or any of his hidden elf friends.
However, there are elements from the Panic on Funkotron in the game as well. The always annoying hyperfunk zone is back along with the much more enjoyable dance battles. Leveling up isn’t automatic like it was in the originals though. You have to wind a Wiseman (the guy in the carrot costume) each time you acquired enough xp to move up a rank. You can improve your skills in several different area now too, like “luck,” carrying capacity, or speed.
There are also unlockables as you play the game. There are several new characters to play as. Did you know TJ & E have girlfriends? Well they do. Did you know if you finish the game you can play as Big Earl’s mom? Well you can. Plus you can along people to join in your game as you play. Need some helping getting a spaceship piece? Someone across the internet can lend you a hand.
The part I loved most about this game is the new difficulty level, “toddler.” As long as one player is playing on “normal” difficulty, another can play a much stronger character. I no longer have to worry about my son’s character drowning because he was playing with a dolphin. I don’t need to worry that he gets repeatedly run over by a haunted ice cream truck. He feels like he’s contributing, because he actually is.
With all the praise I heap on this game I do have to say there are a few draw backs. The game can be a bit glitchy at times, with strange stuttering that shouldn’t take place on any modern console. The elevator scenes while funny, could be a bit shorter, and lack variety. The gameplay and controls can be a bit unforgiving at times.
Yet, for a mere $19.99, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is well worth the price of entry. Buy it now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, or Nintendo Switch.