Our society is very nostalgic. Whether it is the constant remakes and remasters (TV shows, movies, games, music, and other art forms), people love taking a stroll down memory lane with a modern lens. ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is no exception to this and is a relic of the past brought forward using the standards of today’s gaming. But is this game really necessary?
The short answer to that question is yes. However, for the sake of expansion of that analysis, let us now take a stroll down memory lane. When ToeJam & Earl was released on the Sega Genesis way back in 1991, it was lauded for its originality across the board. The funky music, far-out art style, and incredibly unique gameplay design and mechanics took players pleasantly by surprise. Its sequel, ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron (which came out in 1993), disappointed and confused its core audience.
Most felt that it was too drastically different from the first game because of its platforming style. ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth followed almost a decade later, and even though it had more in common with the original entry in the series, was still met with mixed reviews. But the commonality between these three games is their uniqueness across the board. And to this day, there aren’t really any other games that are quite like them.
Which brings us (back?) to present time. ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove was the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, and having achieved that, the developers were able to create the next entry in the series that they really wanted to see. Over the last few months, HumaNature Studios has been showing the game off at various venues that we have attended (here and here), and they are hoping to capture that “ideal memory” from the fanbase.
Just like the original, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is highlighted by a zany cast of playable and non-playable characters, groovy funk music, an isometric view, and its randomly generated world. The story is very comparable to the original, with ToeJam and Earl crash landing on Earth and having to reassemble their ship. Some of the major new features are a slew of playable characters, a level-up system, local co-op, and online play. We were unable to test the online co-op at the time of publishing this review.
Pros: The sound in Back in the Groove is fantastic. The voice acting in the opening scene and during the game are perfectly executed. The music is spot on and has plenty of jams to groove to throughout the adventure. The quirky hand drawn animation is still a trip to look at, and the updated style is a welcome sight. Those who love collecting items and searching every nook and cranny are in for a real treat. The environment is filled with usable presents, money, and secrets that greatly reward thorough explorers. Enemies can be annoying and persistent, but they are still charming. The hula dancer and guy with his eyes glued to his cell phone are a couple of standouts.
Cons: At times, interacting with objects can be frustrating. The best examples of this are the elevator door and attempting to interact with objects that are grouped together. The elevator door feels too narrow (limiting entry points) and doesn’t move smoothly from one world to the next. There’s also times where you will attempt to shake a bush, for example, and end up interacting with a “friendly earthling” who is further away instead.
Another annoyance is the platforming section. It was fun the first couple of times, but doing the same acid-trip “runner” repeatedly becomes annoying fast. Single player feels tedious after a while as well. On the flip side of that though, playing multiplayer creates a lot more variety and laughs.
Final Verdict: All things considered, it’s wonderful that ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove exists. It’s also wonderful for the fans who wanted a true sequel to the original entry in the series and for the developers who were finally able to make that happen.