The Boys Are Back In Town
It all begins on a nice day in outer space as Funkatron residents, Toejam and Earl, decide to “borrow” a spaceship for a joyride to impress their best gals Lewanda and Latisha. Cruising along Earth’s orbit, Earl attempts to turn up the bass on the ship’s subwoofers and accidentally presses the wrong button. This button activates the ship’s Black Hole Generator which pulls in both the ship and the Earth. Now, in order to get off of this weirdly warped version of Earth and return home, our Funkatonian friends need to locate the scattered pieces of their dismantled ship. Thus setting the stage for Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove – a sequel to the long-dormant franchise which was last seen on the original Xbox. Fortunately, this one plays more like a remake/sequel to the very first game on the Sega Genesis.
The goal of each floor is to locate the elevator waiting somewhere on the level in order to ascend to the next area. More importantly, however, if the floor happens to a piece to our heroes’ spaceship then you will need to locate that prior to exiting the floor. Standing between the guys and their decked-out escape vessel is a menagerie of Earth’s most uncool denizens. They will attack you on sight so you’ll have to avoid them by tiptoeing or running past them. With an eclectic variety of personalities ranging from a tourist to a hula dancer, to even a gaggle of cannon-packing geese looking to shut this mother down, things are not going to be easy. Fortunately, this Earthly environment isn’t limited to these terribly tenacious jive turkeys.
Space Scavengin’ And Ship Searchin’
Each level is packed with houses, trees, and bushes that can be shaken to reveal a variety of goods including money and parking meters that can be paid to reveal secrets. If you’d prefer to not shake every object to check for contents then you can use your alien’s search skill to check the area around them for objects that may come bearing gifts. Speaking of gifts, some particularly generous fellow has also littered the landscape with a plethora of wrapped presents ripe for the picking. Similarly to a roguelike game, these presents come in a multitude of varieties offering up a number of effects both good and bad. You may open up a box to reveal a set of wings for flight while another box may open to reveal a siren to alert every bad Earthling to your whereabouts. And, best of all, many of these presents come unidentified so you’ll be rolling the dice on opening them up.
Bustin’ Beats In The Streets
Counter to the aforementioned uncool Earthlings, there are also a number of cool Good Earthling NPCs scattered throughout each level. Identifiable by their sparkly aura, Good Earthlings can help out our heroes in a number of ways. For example, Gandhi J can surround you with an aura of peace that prevents enemies from attacking you. The Wise Carrot Man can either identify mystery presents as well as level up your character if you have gained enough XP from exploring. There are even a few Funkatron residents that you can stumble across and challenge to a button pressing dance mini-game for prize money.
Each of the different aliens that you can select from, of which there nine – six to start and three that are unlockable – come with different stats in various categories such as HP, search range, speed, and luck with opening broken presents. Additionally, they each start with a set of presents and receive their own character perks such as an extended timer for present use or more damage dealt when attacking Earthlings with tomatoes. They all play similarly enough that you will be able to choose whomever you think looks the coolest and enjoy yourself but some perks will definitely prove to be better than others.
It took me a round to adjust to the flow but I eventually came to enjoy the gameplay loop found in this game. Discovering each new type of human proved to be interesting as I anticipated what their behavior would be like. There is also a solid variety of present types to be found so you’ll be discovering new items for quite some time. In fact, there are even 11 secret presents that can be unlocked by catching a winged present that sometimes shows up on stages. There were only two negatives that I felt about this game. First is that I found the game to be rather unchallenging. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it does make the game more accessible to fans. I just felt like I would have been happier if Hard Mode were available from the start or, at least, after the tutorial stage. Secondly, for whatever reason, the developer decided to make the button to use active items the same as the button for talking to good humans and interacting with objects. Unfortunately, this means that you are unable to perform those two tasks while an item such as Rocket Shoes or Icarus Wings are active. It made for quite the annoyance in resulted in me being a bit more hesitant to use my items. Hopefully, this is something that can be fixed in the future with a patch.
For the most part, Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove ran rather smoothly for me as I played the game with the exception of one glitch that I encountered. While walking on one of the stage maps, my avatar fell through the floor and down to the area below. This is something that can happen normally if caused by a bad present or a human knocks you off the edge of the map. In this particular case though, my character would continue to fall through each floor until I decided to start that game session over from scratch. However, during my time with this game, I managed to play through and complete all but the last of the available options: Tutorial, Fixed World, Random World, and Random World –Hard Mode. And during that time, I only managed to encounter this error once. My hope is that this has already been resolved for the game’s official release.
Break It Down Now!
Ultimately, I feel that Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove is a decent remake of the classic Genesis game. The gameplay is a fair bit snappier than the original release and the graphics received a nice improvement to give the game more of a cartoonish vibe. The music, while not remarkable, was good enough to turn up to full volume during each run. Unfortunately, I feel like by the time that the challenge ramps up by unlocking Random World – Hard Mode, you’ll have experienced much of what the game has to offer including having seen the ending screen multiple times. But if your funk fu is still going strong and you are down for just one more party then I’m sure that the wacky unpredictability of each run will keep you going. It’s not a perfect album but even some of the best hip hop tends to be a little dirty, right?
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam; Publisher: HumaNature Studios; Developer: HumaNature Studios; Players: 2; Released: March 1, 2019; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.