TOEJAM & EARL – BACK IN THE GROOVE [Review]: Presents!

Michelle “Magdalene” Kisner

ToeJam & Earl is a game franchise that encapsulates the ‘90s in the best kind of way, with its colorful hip-hop inspired aesthetic and its super funky soundtrack. Initially there were three games made: ToeJam & Earl (1991) on Sega Genesis, ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron (1993) also on Sega Genesis, and ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth (2002) on Xbox. With each iteration, the games dabbled in new styles—the original game was a 2D ¾ isometric perspective roguelike, the second game was a 2D sidescrolling platformer, and the third game was the first full 3D game in the series.

In the age of the Kickstarter no franchise is ever fully dead, and so after raising 500,000 dollars a new game was created: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. HumanNature Studios  (which is owned by the original creator Greg Johnson) published the game and the rest is history!

The gameplay is similar to the first game, with the characters exploring an overhead perspective map in search of some missing space ship parts. With twenty-five levels in all, you can either play in a “fixed” world where each level plays out in the same way, or in a procedurally generated version where each level is random. The player chooses from nine playable characters and the goal is to find the elevator in each level to get to the next one all while avoiding enemies (and finding ship parts). Along the way the player can find various Presents which once open have various effects both good and bad on the player and the world around them.

Least someone has it.

There are some light RPG elements as well with gaining XP and leveling up stats. The gameplay revolves around randomness and luck so every run the player makes will be totally different. That can be frustrating at times but it keeps one on their….toes. Every once in a while the gameplay is broken up by minigames, and — while nice to have — they are very simplistic and don’t add much. An average run will take between 3-4 hours, but it’s infinitely replayable due to the procedural generation.

You can either play the game solo or co-op with up to four players at a time. There is online and couch co-op available which is always nice to see, so you can relive your memories of actually going to your buddy’s house to play the game together if you so desire.

Back in the Groove thankfully keeps the 2D graphic roots, offering a high-res comic book style makeover. The character designs are quirky, and there are a ton of nods to iconic ‘90s graphic design that will tickle the nostalgia center of your brain. I did find the game to “hitch” every now and again, but it was nothing game breaking and mostly when there was a ton of stuff going on at the same time on screen. That funky, funky, music is back and will have you grooving in your seat.

Fans of the original game will find a lot to love here as all the elements that made it fun are back (with lots of new things as well). ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove was worth the wait! 4/5 Groovy Bibles.

-Michelle Kisner

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