Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove (Switch)

Time to get funky.

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 03/13/2019 06:15 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Fun gameplay; great sense of humor; fun bonus modes; catchy music
Poison Mushroom for...
Enemies can be really frustrating; some fans might think it plays too close to the original

The early days of Sega Genesis were quirky to say the least. Eager to climb out of Nintendo’s shadow, the company released a number of unique titles that set Sega apart from the competition. Perhaps one of the most unique offerings on Genesis was ToeJam & Earl. The cult classic title featured a pair of aliens exploring an isometric version of Earth filled with bizarre enemies. Unfortunately, the game’s two sequels strayed from what made the original game so popular, and weren’t as well-received, as a result. Thanks to the efforts of creator Greg Johnson and HumaNature Studios, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove returns the franchise to its roots, after more than a decade in limbo.

In a lot of ways, Back in the Groove feels like a faster-paced remake of the original game. Once more, Earl has managed to destroy a spaceship, forcing the pair to explore Earth in search of its 10 scattered pieces. In order to locate them, ToeJam and Earl must traverse a series of Fixed or Randomized islands connected by elevators. Exploring each island and unlocking parts of the map earns our heroes XP, which translates to things like faster walking speed or a longer life bar, both of which are highly necessary to rebuild the Rapmaster Rocket Ship.

Of course, finding each part isn’t so easy. ToeJam and Earl have to avoid a number of obnoxious “Earthlings” along the way. Returning enemies such as cupids and mesmerizing hula dancers are joined by lots of new foes, such as rabid fanboys and trolls that literally hurl expletives. For the most part, enemies in the original game were a fairly minor nuisance, but those in Back in the Groove can be quite tough, particularly in later levels. Some will doggedly pursue our heroes, attempting to drain their life bar, or knock them from one island down to the previous one below it. If players lose all their lives, all progress is lost and they’ll have to start over from the game’s first island. While the game’s enemies can be very frustrating, their designs and mannerisms provide a good deal of the game’s humor; it’s hard to deny the delightful absurdity of an ice cream truck of doom, even when it is trying to run you over.

Not all Earthlings are bad. As in the original game, there are a number of helpful humans on Earth: Gandhi Ji stops enemies in their tracks, making them feel at peace, while the Wiseman will identify presents for a meager $2 each. In ToeJam & Earl, players had to find out the hard way whether or not a human would be antagonistic, but Back in the Groove distinguishes helpful humans with a sparkly glow. It’s a minor improvement, but a welcome one.

ToeJam and Earl have no offensive abilities, but they can use presents found throughout each island to help them on their quest. Players will find presents liberally scattered throughout, but their abilities can be a mixed bag. While the Wiseman does appear on each level, it’s not always convenient to have presents identified, which means sometimes you have to leave it to luck and open each one blindly. More often than not, presents are helpful, such as those that can make you invisible to foes, or allow you to swim indefinitely. Other times, they either have a negative effect, or prove to be more trouble than they’re worth. As a result of this, I would end up with a ton of presents in tow at times, but I would often choose to try my best to explore each island without actually using them.

Back in the Groove is the fourth entry in the ToeJam & Earl series, following two sequels that greatly strayed from the mechanics of the original game. Though the new game mostly adheres to the mechanics of the original, it does bring in elements from those later follow-ups. Mission to Earth’s Latisha returns as a playable character, but the most notable inclusion is a pair of modes from Panic on Funkotron. Hyper Funk Zone is a bonus mode where ToeJam and Earl race through a psychedelic track to find presents and other extras. Jam Out sessions also return, which are short, rhythm based diversions. These two modes earn players presents, XP or money. Both are minor distractions, but they manage to keep the gameplay feeling fresh, while providing a nice respite from the game’s annoying Earthlings.

Outside of the Jam Sessions, music plays a big role in the game. There are a lot of great tracks in Back in the Groove, and it really serves to complement the entire package. Cody Wright’s soundtrack is appropriately funky, and should leave fans of the original more than happy. The rest of the game’s sounds are equally strong, with the Earthlings providing quite a bit of entertainment, when they aren’t pushing you down to previously explored levels. My personal favorite is the shark that hums a variation on the Jaws theme to himself as he swims through the water.

When ToeJam & Earl originally released on Sega Genesis, it was kind of the perfect game at the perfect time for the perfect console. The title’s quirky style spoke to a generation reared on MTV, making it an ideal match for the audience Sega was targeting. Back in the Groove comes at a time when both MTV and Sega are far less relevant than they once were, but ToeJam and Earl and their world remain endearing, regardless. The game isn’t a radical departure from the Genesis original, but nearly 30 years have passed since that title released, making this new iteration more than welcome. With new opponents, a faster experience and great bonus modes from Panic on Funkotron, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is the quintessential experience for nostalgic fans, or those experiencing the franchise for the very first time.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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