You better get in rhythm ’cause our favorite aliens are back for business with all their beats and groove! ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove is a roguelike adventure game where you play as one of your favorite aliens from the 90’s funky dynamic duo, ToeJam and Earl. But they aren’t alone this time: Latisha, from one its sequences, and Lewanda join the team in a quest to recover the missing parts of their spaceship and go back to Funkotron.
For our younger readers who have no clue what I’m talking about, please sit down because it’s time for a history class: The story of the duo goes back to the remote year of 1991 when our beloved SEGA published the title from Johnson Voorsanger Productions to the amazing SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis (fanboy mode: off). The title was a 2 players coop action game very innovative for its roguelike gameplay approach and much praised for its soundtrack. In 1993 it received a sequence: Toe Jam & Earl 2: Panic on Funkotron for Mega Drive/Genesis. This sequence changed the formula to a platform game, keeping its funky essence. Later, in 2002, the OG Xbox received an exclusive sequence, ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth, a 3D platformer that changed about everything we knew about the game, changing the funk for Hip Hop, on vogue by that time. Except for this last one, the game has been coming back and forth in remasters and collections for Xbox 360, PS3 and PCS, so there’s a chance you have already tried one of them. But now, 17 years later, we finally receive a new adventure and what’s even better, back to its roots! Join our alien friends for a groovy adventure!
What is Good?
- Audio: There’s no way to start this review not talking about the audio department. About its music, to be more specific. I remember how the original game was highly acclaimed by game magazines (our only source of gaming information back in the 90’s). And Back in the Groove kept the tradition: from the moment you start the game, your ears will get in touch with some good old funk music! There’s a good chance younger players have never heard Its beats, so characteristic, before. And from the moment you lunch the game, you get in the groove with them! The sound effects and dubbing work are also very competent, with some good hip hop elements added to the formula.
- Gameplay: The quest of the team consists of searching for the missing parts of their spaceship to fix it and then go back to their planet, Funkotron. To do so, you will explore levels (that work as floors) while searching for them. But this isn’t going to be an easy task: there are many earthlings after you who will run after you at first sight. To deal with them, you must hide, run away or use the gifts you find scattered in scenarios or hidden in trees and brushes. Just be warned: they can either help you (by recovering your health or giving you some temporary special abilities) or harm you (by turning the lights off, expelling your presents or stealing them).
- Defend yourself: You don’t actually fight the earthlings who threaten you, but you use the help of other peaceful earthlings like Gandhi Jhi or the Opera Singer. Or you can always throw some tomatoes you find in gifts. Or, who knows, maybe to sneeze them out of the stage ‘accidentally’. You enemies are some of the most hilarious inhabitants of planet earth you will ever find in a game: prepare to face ice cream trucks, little devils, mall cops (no, not Kevin James’ movie), football players, dentists, internet trolls, cupids and many, many more. A good number of them are from the previous games, but I can’t recall them all from there. They guarantee your quest is not going to be an easy one.
- Graphics: The scenarios and characters are some of the most colorful you’ll see this year (FarCry New Dawn, you have an opponent here!). Enemies and characters have simple, but good animations (though it looks like they are floating over the ground). One good point: there’s no violence at all in its graphics! The earthlings will pursue you, hit you, throw things at you, run over you and do many other things to threaten you, but always in a comic way. Your kids can play along with you without worries.
- Old friends, good music: The nostalgic players will be delighted to see so many characters from the previous game back. Besides Big Earl and Toe Jam, you will find Sharla, Snood, Old Otis, Flarney and many others. Whenever you find one of them at the stage, they will challenge you for a good and old beatbox minigame. Most of them are quite easy to beat, but as you progress, things get more and more interesting. Prepare these fast fingers of yours for a quick jam session!
- Multiplayer: Like in the original game, you can play in split screen with a friend on the same couch. But in this new version, you can also play in 4 players online coop, bringing the mayhem to a new level! As they say: the more players, the better.
- Replayability: If you are a completionist (like me!), ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove will keep you busy for a long time! The game has 4 different difficulty levels (tutorial world, fixed world, random world and the random world in hard mode). From the beginning, only tutorial and the fixed world are available, but you can unlock random mode by playing the fixed mode and random world hard mode by playing the random world. Every time you finish the game you can unlock a new character increasing the total number of characters to 9. But the new difficulty levels and new characters give me few reasons to keep going back for it.
What is Bad?
- Sliding: Like in the original, game, watching your characters walk is a little odd: they always seem to be sliding over the ground, like if their foot doesn’t touch the floor. I’m not sure if it was the developer’s intention to make it exactly like in the original game. But if it wasn’t, this is some ugly bug to see in 2019.
ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove | Score: 80%
Fans of the alien duo, rejoice! The Californian indie studio HumaNature Studios did relieve this classic and deserves all the praise for it! They delivered a classic adventure with all the magic and funk old-school players like me could wish for! If you have never heard about this title, here’s your chance to try a fun and challenging roguelike adventure with your friends, where every run feels unique. And don’t forget to increase the sound volume and let the funky beats rule the house!