If like me you owned a Sega Megadrive back in the day, then you were probably aware of the zany platform adventures of Toejam and Earl, in my personal opinion, one of the best games of that era.
The duo had further incarnations on later consoles; there was Toejam and Earl Panic on Funkatron released on Sega Genesis and Toejam and Earl 3 Mission to Earth which was released on the original Xbox.
Now, imagine my utmost joy at the news of a new Toejam and Earl game being put into production, being funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and then to get the chance to review the game… Well, I nearly exploded with joy and excitement, the mere thought of playing a game once again that was a huge part of my childhood sent me into overload.
Then the niggling sound of doubt appeared and started to question whether a reboot this long after the original could be the right idea or kind of kills the magic… There’s only one way to see if this was the case, read on and get my thoughts on the game in this review.
Publisher: HumaNature Studios
Platforms: PS4, Steam, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
Available: March 1st, 2019
Price: $19.99 (from Nintendo eShop)
You start off the story with the plucky crew of Toejam, Earl, Lewanda and Latisha in Lamonts ship, the Rapmaster Rocket, that they “borrowed” on their way to Earth, only for Earl to press the Black Hole generator instead of the aux bass boost… you know how it goes, this sees the crew sucked into a washing machine black hole mixing all Earth up into different levels and then spewing the crew out in a puddle of water. Unfortunately, The Rapmaster Rocket didn’t fair too well and smashed into pieces dotted around various parts of Earth; now it’s up to the crew to get all of the ship pieces back and get back to Funkatron, sounds easy right? Well, we shall see.
I am a big fan of the Toejam and Earl games, I spent many hours playing them in my younger years. I enjoyed the crazy and zany gameplay with a different take on the platform genre so I threw myself into this review with great excitement and, to be fair, from the off it didn’t disappoint.
As soon as the game loaded up, I was treated with eye-popping colours and a bumping funky soundtrack. You get to choose from the menu whether you go for the tutorial -a guided tour if you will- through the game with hints and tips on the way, or you can go straight in the main game without any assistance, which is a more authentic feel of the game. For the purposes of the review, I opted for the tutorial first.
You get to choose your character from the whole crew with retro options for both Toejam and Earl, changing the look of both characters to look more like the original games; I opted for old school Earl as a kind of nod to the yesteryear me and off we go. When you come out of the elevator on the first level you are taken around the basics of searching for presents and getting to the next elevator to go to the next level; here is where you start learning to avoid the humans using cover such as sunflowers which can be quite helpful as you get on.
The second level starts the search for the pieces of the broken rocket, you get a handy hint on top of the screen as you get a rocket icon if there is a rocket piece on the level you are on, as not every level contains rocket pieces so that does come in quite handy, saves you wasting time looking for something that’s not there.
As I found out on a few occasions, you need to be careful when you are close to the edges of the levels as you can fall to the level below, meaning you have to find the elevator up again… and speaking of elevators, be careful as there are evil elevators that pop up to trick you from time to time, you’ll notice because the doors turn into evil teeth comping you… The catch is that these take you down a level instead (although if you are quick enough these can be escaped)
As you go through the levels keep an eye out for presents, yes presents, these give you powers and different ways of help, some are definitely more helpful than others. The gassy farter present is awesome and had me in stitches as well as being helpful, as the humans will not come near you when you fart, a bit like real life to be fair.
Like I said before some of the presents can be more of a hindrance such as the rocket shoes, if you’re not careful these will see you flying off the end of the level and down to the previous level below. You find presents by hitting random earthlings such as a gremlin looking character and even Santa Claus, both will drop presents if you can time your hit right! You can also get presents by searching bushes and trees. And here goes another hint; when you press the search button and the bush or tree shakes, then it has pressies inside but be careful though, as the odd bowling ball also lurks in the bushes. Different earthlings are lurking in every level some more difficult to avoid than others such as the hula lady that if you get too close to, she will have you hula dancing along with her, making it kind of difficult to avoid the other earthlings trying to get you.
Dotted around the maps you will find various food items like pizza and ice cream which are basically health packs so when you are running low on health pick up one of the food items you see. Stay clear of the rotten food, if you pick these up you will be sick and therefore lose health.
The gameplay although a bit samey from level to level it never feels that way and you never get bored as there is always something going on. For the main gameplay session I opted for Toejam to mix it up a bit, but I didn’t notice changes in the gameplay, just the different reactions and styles change so it’s not clear if it makes any difference what character you choose to play with. The themes of the levels do change in the main game which is good as you have a frozen landscape to get through, which is tricky as the ice is slippy and difficult to move.
There’s also a sun-soaked desert with sand that you sink into which slows you down all very well thought and played out. The bold colours hit your eyes straight away from the loading screen onwards and they will be flicking all over the screen throughout the game, I never once found myself getting bored as there is always something going on, the whole game is a light-hearted fun funk fest and I loved every second.
Toejam and Earl also has an option for couch co-op, another great nod to the original and in my eyes the best form of co-op. There is no online mode but there doesn’t have to be one…
This is co-op as it should be, get up to 4 mates or family members and get together to play some games. I grabbed my son and we jumped straight into a game, now there’s no difference to the game whether you play solo or co-op as you play through the same story but you have my word here, it is so much more fun with a partner! Finding the different power-ups through present hunting just becomes hilarious and, of course, we both were in hysterics when the belly farter present came to light (I know, I’m such a responsible parent!) but on a slightly more serious note co-op benefits this game greatly as you can cover more ground a lot quicker with two players than you can do alone so finding the missing Rapmaster parts is pretty easy to work.
Another thing that I really enjoyed about the co-op mode was whenever I got close to my partner, both characters chosen interacted with high fives and different funny greetings. All in all, Toejam and Earl is just a great fun game and one I will keep going back to again and again as the story or gameplay never gets boring, so a very big welcome back to the funky legends who are well and truly back in the groove.
Graphics and Sound
Toejam and Earl graphics are great, admittedly it’s not the cinematic level of all the big AAA games out there but… you know what? It doesn’t have to be, it looks great as it is. The game plays from a fixed isometric viewpoint in a mixture of platformer and third person view, and it really works.
Having reviewed this on the Nintendo Switch, I had the chance to try different viewpoints, one handheld and with the Switch cradled; both handled well and looked great, it was a lot of fun to play on the go and looked amazing when plugged into my television with the colours just popping out from everywhere.
The sounds are great from the very start with an awesome soundtrack and hilarious voice acting. It all marries together to make a top-level enjoyable game.
To sum up my thoughts of Toejam and Earl: Back in The Groove (as if you can’t tell…) I absolutely loved the game from start to finish and can’t wait to play it again. Like the originals, Back in The Groove is a whole lot of fun and brings the Toejam and Earl brand to a whole new fan base and long may it continue, a definite addition to your collection, you really won’t regret it.