Although it's hardly considered one of Sega's best-selling games, ToeJam & Earl has still ranked along the lines of a cult classic. First released on the Sega Genesis over 20 (!) years ago, the game focused on a pair of hip-hop loving aliens who find themselves crash-landed on Earth, after their ship collides with an asteroid – due to Earl's reckless driving.
What followed was an adventure across numerous randomly generated levels, with players controlling either ToeJam or Earl – or both, if you had a friend – as they searched for ship parts, played around with gadgets, unwrapped presents (some even robbed from Santa) and avoided pesky humans.
The game became a cult hit for years, followed by the release of a side-scrolling sequel two years later, ToeJam & Earl In Panic On Funkotron. The plot had flipped completely around for part two, as humans were now invading the aliens' home planet, having stowed away on their ship for repairs. Like the original, the sequel developed a huge fan base, and it, along with the first ToeJam, was released for the Wii Virtual Console service years later.
But we haven't seen much of the duo since then, outside of a 3D sequel on the Xbox console that wasn't as well received as Sega was hoping. Thankfully, they're getting a second chance to make a first impression, as both ToeJam & Earl and its follow-up, Panic On Funkotron, will be getting a re-release on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network the first week of November. Feeling nostalgic, we decided to look back at the two games to see what made them so magical.
With the original ToeJam, it's all about exploration. With randomly generated levels, no two things were the same, so you often had to look around for the best items, like rocket shoes and springs that would enable you to jump to greater heights. After doing so, you simply find the elevator to move up to the next level, where you attempt to track down a much-needed ship part.
ToeJam & Earl is set up in a split-screen format, so you can see what both the aliens are up to at the same time. (In single player mode, the bottom half of the screen is spaced out.) This was one of the first games to truly adopt co-op play, as you have to work together in order to sufficiently find all your ship parts.
However, the quest isn't easy, mainly because of the various humans you run into. Sure, you can ambush Santa with no problem, but there are other dangerous types that can easily pose a problem, from a giant hamster in a roller ball to a group of ducks hauling around a tomato cannon to a gorgeous hula girl who can easily distract you from your mission. There's no way to really attack most of these folks, so it's best just to avoid them.
Along with the single player campaign, ToeJam & Earl also contains a Jam Mode, where you can play along with music from the game, along with various effects, ranging from stuff you'd hear in a Saturday morning cartoon ("MEEP MEEP!") to voice samples. It really is a lot of fun, and all these features should be included in the digital re-release.
Panic On Funkotron plays much differently than the first game. You can still explore for items by looking in bushes and under manholes, but the main goal now involves capturing all the pesky humans and sending them back to Earth. How? With the use of magic jars. Lob enough of them and the people get trapped inside for easy travel. Be warned, though – some are trickier than others, like a naked dude at a podium who can easily preach your ear off.
The sequel gives you a variety of things to do in the side-scrolling format, such as bounce around in the air to collect gifts, swim around underwater, search for hidden buttons, enter HyperFunk Zones to run for more prizes (just watch out for doorways that will suck you back out) and jamming with your alien buddies through quick-time button presses. It's a little more limited, but still entertaining.
While the presentation for both ToeJam & Earl and Panic On Funkotron aren't being touched up for high definition, the original Genesis visuals and sound are still quite good, even in this age of gaming. And there's some new technical goodies being thrown in, including Achievements/Trophies to earn, as well as online co-op, so you can play alongside a friend without them needing to be in the same room.
While some video game characters have lost their luster over the years, we can't help but think ToeJam & Earl are still fresh enough to fit right in with today's gaming scene. And who dares resist the awesome Jam Mode? Not us. "BOOGIE BOOGIE BOOGIE BOOGIE!"
Look for ToeJam & Earl Vintage Collection on PlayStation Network on November 6th for $4.99 for each game, and on Xbox Live November 7th as a package for 800 Microsoft points.