Back in the early 90’s Sega was looking for hip new characters to help with the battle against Nintendo. Enter the funky ToeJam and Earl, the hippest aliens in the universe. After getting stranded on Earth, ToeJam and Earl need to repair their ship and get back home to their planet of Funkotron. After the first title found success a sequel was made that took place on the hip planet of Funkotron. Another sequel in the ToeJam and Earl franchise appeared years later on the original Xbox but after that, the aliens funky future seemed pretty dim. But, a Kickstarter campaign, from ToeJam and Earl creator Greg Johnson, has gifted the funky fresh aliens another lease on life in the form of ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove!
ToeJam and his buddy Earl are taking a joy ride to earth to impress some lady friends Lewanda and Latisha. In an attempt to further impress the ladies Earl accidentally generates a black hole which sucks in Earth and the aliens! Now it is up to the aliens to reassemble their destroyed ship and return to the planet Funkotron.
ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove is essentially a reboot of the ToeJam and Earl franchise. Gameplay is handled in a top-down isometric view and levels are randomly generated just like in the original Genesis title. Well, the levels are randomly generated after you beat your first playthrough that is. Your first playthrough is done on a fixed world to help you get a handle on the basic gameplay. Unlike most games these days ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove is a very methodical game which may be off-putting for some. It isn’t about quick action sequences and fights instead, the core gameplay boils down to the exploration of the remains of Earth.
The remnants of Earth are now scattered around the voids of space. Travel between the different levels happens through the use of elevators which drive our aliens insane with there dull music. Each level contains numerous Earthlings that players will need to avoid as they search for pieces of their ship. Earthlings will attempt to chase you down and contact with them results in damage. As you progress through the levels more powerful versions of enemies appear that can result in one hit kills like the massive ice cream trucks or the deceptively powerful girl holding her teddy bear! Not all Earthlings are so bad though as some will help you defeat the nastier inhabitants.
ToeJam and Earl being down with the funky beats are lovers and not fighters so they have no attack abilities. Instead, evasion, sneaking, outright running away or finding a sympathetic Earthling are your first go to’s in an encounter. There are also numerous presents lying around the world which are used to employ powerups to aid in the search for your ship pieces. Powerups can include slingshots which allow you to attack Earthlings with tomatoes to crazy rocket-powered skate shoes! Be careful though as presents can also contain hidden dangers due to them being unknown items when you first pick them up. Some presents can change what your current presents are and others can outright kill you! There are thankfully presents and Earthlings that will help you identify unknown presents so you shouldn’t ever have to randomly use one.
New to ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove is the inclusion of a basic RPG level system. As you reveal sections of the map, find items, and rebuild your ship you gain XP. Once you have enough XP you track down the Wiseman who will grant you your level up. Each level up will give you a roulette wheel spin to randomly increase 3 of your characters stats. Stat increases can consist of larger life bars, increased search skill, faster movement speed, bigger inventory, more luck and increased present proficiency. These level ups aren’t dramatic game changers but their effects can be felt throughout your playthrough.
Speaking of characters, when you first load up the game you have 6 characters to choose from including ToeJam, Earl, Latisha, Lewanda and old skool versions of Toejam and Earl. Completing a playthrough allows you to unlock one additional character with 9 total being in the game which is great for multiplayer. Multiplayer has always been a staple of the ToeJam and Earl franchise and thankfully in Back in the Groove still delivers! In fact, it delivers even more than any entry in the franchise to date. A full four-player couch co-op mode is included in the game and a full online co-op mode is also included. Definitely grab some friends to tackle the game with because solo mode can be a slight drag after a few levels.
ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove is a gorgeous game! Levels are 3D with wonderful stylized art. All characters are done as sprites and it looks so great in motion. There is also a ton of use of bright colors which looks great compared to most contemporary games.
I hope you love funky tunes cuz ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove provides them in bulk! Nearly 30 tracks are included here and each sounds better than the last! The opening cutscene is also fully voiced and it sounds nostalgically 90’s.
Due to the procedurally generated levels and co-op modes, players can get hours of entertainment out of ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove.
What It Could Have Done Better
Single player was my biggest disappointment when it came to ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove. I could barely finish my playthrough when playing solo. By the end of the game I was just rushing through to find ship parts. Multiplayer is just that much better.
ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove has been a great trip down memory lane to the day I would play the original with my best friend. It retains all of the core elements that made the franchise fun to play while bringing it up to modern standards. Many might not enjoy the focus on exploration but for those that do you will enjoy what is on offer. If you are in the market for a nostalgia trip back to the 90’s or just looking for a great co-op game look no further than ToeJam and Earl Back in the Groove!