ToeJam & Earl Review by: EirinnA jammin good time
Toejam & Earl is a classic Genesis game that puts you, a funk lovin' teenage alien, in the midst of "the most insane planet in the galaxy: planet Earth" on a search for the pieces to your Highly funky, ultra cool, righteous rapmaster rocketship. You must navigate through 25 levels, finding pieces of your rocketship, and locating the elevator that will take you to your next destination. This one is, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of 16 bit gaming that the 90's offered us. It enjoyed quite a bit of success, especially considering that Sega and even the developers never tried to push it. Indeed, a game of this caliber cannot be kept a secret for long, true greatness always shines through. And though it was shown no love by it's own, word got around, and Toejam & Earl became a rather popular title that enjoyed two sequels, one on the Sega Genesis (Toejam & Earl: Panic on Funkatron) and one on the XBox (ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth). In this one, you will guide the funky dudes around 25 levels of pure insanity, with crazy areas populated with even crazier Earthlings, including crazy dentists, women chasing them with shopping carts, and Ice cream truck drivers who seem to have gotten their driver's licsense as a prize in the bottom of their cereal box, along with many other enemies. You can use various "Presents" by pressing the B button to open a present menu, and A to use them, or C to switch to "Drop" then A to drop a bad present. You also have a map that can be brought up by pressing the C button, from there, you can press the A or B button to view your progress with rebuilding the ship. So now that you know some of what to expect, do you think you're up to rebuilding that rocketship of yours and getting back to planet Funkatron? Well let's see what exactly you'll find on this galactic journey of yours.
Toejam & Earl takes you through one beautifully illustrated level after another, and they all feel unique to this game. I've not found another game with landscapes and scenery quite like this, which is incredible to say the least. Graphics like these are one thing that it was sad to lose when we transitioned from 16 bits to 32 and up. No Lifelike 3D scenery can top these vibrant, tooney landscapes for brilliance. Each sprite is well made, and pretty good quality, along with being well animated. The terrain is creative and almost childlike in it's fantasy depictions. I could go on about what genius was at work in the creation of such unique and lively landscapes, but I will spare the reader the trouble of sitting through all of that. Let's move along with it. The background, while not in play most of the time due to the nearly top down view of the action, is gorgeous as well. It's a simple backdrop of purple stars filling the pitch black skies like diamonds. I love looking at them. And the wide variety of sprites (I can count 20 from memory, excluding the many inhabitants of Funkatron at the end of the game) never once feel copied or even similar in design, with each displaying a unique design and color scheme. No small feat for a 16 bit title from '91. The most unattractive thing about the graphics would have to be the sand, which unfortunately fills some of the later levels. The problem being it looks more like cheese than sand, as well as the rocketship pieces. I'll never forget hearing my dad and brother play this one when we first brought it home. On their first encounter with a rocketship piece, the infamous words were spoken:
Brother: "What is that thing?"
Dad: "Looks like a giant Cheeto!". Classic. Still, these two details aren't a big issue, and certainly do nothing to detract from the gameplay. In fact, it might have detracted from the childlike vibrancy and design of the levels if they had colored that yellow sand a more natural shade. The water is the next thing I have to mention. It's very well illustrated, and brightly colored, both of which accentuate the game's fun graphics approach perfectly. Finally, the colors: they're incredible! Such bright colors, and they are very well chosen as well. They never clash, but rather highlight one another. This was an incredible piece of work here, and is by far, the best use of colors I've ever seen in a game of any gen. The artwork here is surreal in color and design, and it fits the game style and mood to a T, creating a great environment that is somehow, believable, despite the fantasy and zaniness of it all.
If it's possible for anything in the 16 bit era to top the graphics found in Toejam & Earl, it's the audio in it. With only seven tracks that somehow never get old despite being spread out over 25 levels, Toejam & Earl is bursting with high quality audio. I was blown away to find that there were only seven tracks, despite it having a "jam out" mode (beat mixer) that displayed six of the seven tunes, it wasn't until I downloaded the full music list from the game (yes, I downloaded it. It's that good) that I learned there were only seven tracks. In any case, what it may lack in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. This is undeniably the best bit of 16 bit music that was ever produced, with the possible exception of it's sequel, and is probably my favorite in-game musical accompaniment from any system. I can promise you this: you'll go around with these tunes stuck in your head for quite some time. As I've said before, I went for about nine years without gaming, and these tunes still stuck with me. As for the sound effects, they're delightfully reminiscent of their era, and have an overall high quality. The laughs, "Youches" and snores, along with all of the other sounds, are very clear, and above the standard of the time.
I hate to keep handing out ratings like these, but depth is one thing I can't fault Toejam & Earl in. It features the option of playing as Toejam (the fastest one), or as Earl (The one with the most health), or both (two player mode) as well as a host of enemies and even some helpful NPC's. Off hand I can think of eleven creative enemies, three helping NPC's (four if you find the infamous secret level), and Santa Claus himself! All enemies, with the exception of Cupid and the hula dancers, deal damage, while the afore mentioned mix up your directional buttons, and woo you into a more or less hypnotic state, leaving you vulnerable to attacks from other enemies (respectively). The four helpful NPC's are The Wizard, who heals you for a buck; the Carrot Man, who identifies unopened presents (which is extremely useful) for two bucks; the opera singer, who "pops" (destroys) all on screen enemies for three bucks; and the guy at the lemonade stand in the secret level, who gives you an extra life. And finally, Santa can be found at various times, digging around in his bag of presents, and if you sneak up on him successfully (hold A while walking and having no items equipped to sneak), he'll drop presents before flying off with his jetpack...yes, Santa with a jetpack. Also available to the player are two modes, "New Game" which amounts to the story mode, and "Jam Out" which is more or less a beat mixer, where you can play one of six tunes that have been stripped to their base, and mix in sounds and beats, while making Toejam or Earl dance. There is also an option to play in a "fixed world" where every level is always exactly the same, or a "random world" which generates random levels, and adds a literally infinite amount of replay value, by constantly giving you new levels to explore. Add to this the wide assortment of items found in the game, in the form of presents. There are something like twenty presents, some good, some bad, and some that can be considered either way. The good presents serve as an aid to get you through the game, and offer a wide range of effects, from flying, to floating in water, to teleporting you, to arming you with an attack, and much more. The bad ones can do things from unleashing enemies, to killing you. And as one final touch of depth, there is a levelling system of sorts, and points that act as exp. Levelling up is known as a "promotion" and it extends your life meter. Points are gained by uncovering map tiles (3 points per tile) and opening presents. The levels are shown by names rather than number, and include (in ascending order) Wiener, Dufus, Poindexter, and several others that I'll leave as a surprise for the player.
As I've already said, I have been playing this game since I was a kid, and here I am, sixteen years later, still
addicted to it. And this is largely due to the Random world option, as it never feels like the same game when you replay it. The game just puts you in an upbeat mood, and keeps you coming back for more. If it can get old, I've yet to reach that point, and I don't see that happening anytime soon. Ask me again in sixteen years.
While there isn't a complicated or extensive story that unfolds as you play, there is a good, solid story, and it's believable enough. Toejam and Earl were cruising around in their rocketship one day, when they hit an asteroid, and crash landed on Earth. Now they must recover all of the pieces to the ship, that are scattered all over the Earth. Simple, but good. In order to see the story, you must wait through four prompts of the words "Toejam &Earl", or go to "Show intro again" from the main menu (after you select the number of players). It's witty, and amusing to watch, which is refreshing with all of the serious games floating around.
A slight challenge.
I personally would rate the difficulty a 5, but I've played this for sixteen years off and on, so of course it isn't too dificult for me. And despite it's simplistic and easy to grasp gameplay, it can be challenging to get through 25 levels of those crazy earthlings and Earth weather, while collecting pieces to your rocketship. But regardless of dificulty, it's a blast.
Okay, in case it isn't obvious, this is my "professional" rating, not my personal rating. Personally
I would rate it a 10/10, but that would be a bit biased of me, so as unfair as it feels, I must settle with a 9.4 here. There really is a great adventure to be had here, and this game is
an incredible experience that you won't forget anytime soon.
Toejam & Earl is an amazing adventure that was brought to us in the early 90's, and still retains a place as one of the all-time greats. This is a game that I recommend to anyone and everyone
, regardless of genre preferences. It's an adventure that everyone should experience at least once, and it's chock full of laughs, beautiful scenery, great music, zaney characters, and plenty of surprises. It's a masterpiece of it's time and any time for that matter. And one thing is fo sure: nobody can accuse it of being unoriginal or stale, as there really is no game quite like it. Tired of copycat games? This may be just what you're looking for. A light hearted, original, and funny game, that shows just how cool retro can be.