The siren song that pulled me to the Sega Genesis, and away from the beloved NES, was Sonic The Hedgehog. What made me stay with the system, though, was the general WTFness of ToeJam And Earl.
Back in the day, when most console games followed a typical platforming format, ToeJam And Earl branched out with a fresh concept, more akin to a PC game. While levels were still involved, they had a more open world style that wouldn’t become a console mainstay until years later.
A single-player format is available, but the real joy of the game is playing couch co-op with a friend or sibling.
In this game, the player takes on the role of a member of the titular alien hip-hop duo. ToeJam is a skinny red alien with three legs, not counting his penis, and a backward baseball cap. Earl is a fatass with sunglasses.
The game tasks the player with finding the pieces of ToeJam’s crashed spacecraft (Damn, You Earl!), spread out across 20 levels. Not every level necessarily has a piece, but the player cannot progress to the next level until they find each stage’s elevator, as well.
This simplicity is the game’s strength as it allows the player to carve out their own style of playing. Do you want to rush through it and get to the end as quickly as possible? Do you want to meander around and search every inch of the screen? Are you somewhere in between? There’s no time limit and nothing really driving the player forward, making this one of the ultimate chill-out games.
Boogie Boogie Boogie
Across each level, ToeJam and Earl cross paths with a variety of Earth creatures, ranging from neutral to vicious. Some of them offer aid for money, and some only want to destroy anything that crosses their path.
Like most people you encounter on a daily basis, the humans in the game include hula girls, a guy in a carrot costume, packs of nerds, demons, and the boogeyman. There are also monsters that disguise themselves as mailboxes, as those were fairly prevalent in the early 1990s.
While the game takes place on Earth, it looks a bit different than any place I’ve ever traveled. Most levels consist of chunks of land floating in space connected only be tenuous strips of terra firma. Get too close to the edge, and the player risks falling down to the previous level. This particularly sucks when playing co-op and one player cannot proceed until the other player catches back up to their current level.
To aid the player, presents are scattered about the ground. Keep in mind, the only way to determine what is in the present is to open it or to pay the guy in the carrot costume a couple of bucks to tell you what it is. Because the programmers are assholes, they added in presents that instantly kill you and one that will mix up all the presents you’ve already identified.
The game offers randomly generated worlds, so the limited formula of walking around looking for ship pieces is kept slightly fresher. Overall, this is a game that’s best played once or twice a year, as keeping it in regular rotation will quickly drain its charm.
From Funkmaster To Wiener
The game had a direct sequel on the Genesis, Panic On Funkotron, where instead of taking place on Earth, the new setting is the character’s homeworld. The premise involves the hip-hop duo rounding up rogue earthlings who smuggled themselves to the planet aboard ToeJam And Earl’s ship.
Rather than allowing the player to randomly wander an open world, the game takes place on a standard 2D plane where the characters progress from left to right; although, backtracking is permitted. The players search for earthlings behind bushes and other hiding spots, capturing them in jars to be sent back to Earth.
It’s fine for what it is, but it doesn’t capture the brilliance of the original game.
In the intervening years, the characters would receive two more underwhelming sequels: one for the Xbox in 2002 and a digital download released in spring 2019.
The 2002 sequel, Mission To Earth, introduced a female character, Latisha, but I know very little about this game other than that.
The 2019 version, Back In The Groove, sought to recapture the flavor of the classic game, it received little fanfare and looked more like a bastardized flash version of the original.
Let’s Groove Tonight
If it’s not obvious by now, the only game in the series worth giving a shit about is the first. If you really enjoy that game or just 16-Bit platformers in general, then the Genesis follow-up is worth a shot.
Unfortunately, the original cartridge can be a bit pricey. Luckily, SEGA is finally showing the original some love and releasing it via a couple of different avenues. Both the original and the sequel are available on the fairly recent Sega Genesis Classics, available for all the main current-gen systems, usually around the $20 price mark. The original game is also included on the Sega Genesis Mini that came out last year; however, its sequel is not included.
Although the name may have been sullied by its sequels, the true magnificence of the original still shines through to this day. If you’ve never had the privilege of playing it, please rectify that immediately.