When you are reading about video game reviews you tend to see people complaining about how the reviewer just wanted to complain about the game. With that in mind, I spent far too long writing this review in my head, trying to find the positives. The best I could come away with was “Toejam and Earl shows us just how far video games have come in 30 years.”
Not exactly box quote material.
For the uninitiated, Toejam and Earl was originally released on the Sega Genesis in 1991. Everything about it screamed unique. The art was 2D but the characters moved in a 3D space. The music was heavily inspired by 70’s funk and the levels and loot were completely randomized. As the title would suggest, you could play as either Toejam or Earl. More importantly though, you could play along with a friend. It really was a unique and groundbreaking title in 1991.
I worry though that this game didn’t hit me with the nostalgia bug the way it did other people my age. I played the game as a child, but not often. My neighbor had a Genesis and we played Toejam a handful of times. I enjoyed it, but for me it was just a break from asking him if I could play Sonic the Hedgehog again. I’ve seen some glowing reviews of the new Toejam and Earl. Some from friends whose opinions I trust 99 times out of 100. All of them are 30+ years old and spent significant time with the original game. There’s a good chance I will just never be able to enjoy this the way they would.
Enough exposition. “Back in the Groove” is a modern day carbon copy of the original. 4k graphics, a fully remastered and revitalized soundtrack, and the same gameplay and story that made the original so unique. Toejam and Earl are funky aliens in tank tops and baggy jeans who crash landed on Earth, tearing it apart at the seams and throwing everything into a frenzy. They can leave the Earth and the terrible Earthlings behind if they can only find their 12 spaceship pieces that have scattered about the unique and disconnected lands. How will they travel there, you ask? Why, by finding the flying elevators leading up, of course! Throughout your expedition of each level you’re tasked with shaking trees, seeing what falls out and acting accordingly. Occasionally you’ll receive a present and, once you give $2 to the man in the carrot costume, he’ll assess what’s in the present and let you use it. You may end up with a chance to teleport to the ship piece, springs to make you super jump over gaps, rocket propelled rollers skates or… explosive farts. 1991, am I right?
Throughout these levels are enemies attempting to either kill you or knock you off of the level. If you fall off the edge of the level, you’re simply dropped to the level you were on previously. This isn’t all bad, as sometimes you’ll end up with extra gifts and money for your fall, but regardless, you’ll have to make the trek all the way back to the elevator and back up. There are special rooms throughout that unlock an endless runner style mini game that breaks up the monotony, as well as a rhythm-based mini game that actually wasn’t in the original game. (This was later introduced in the sequel, Toejam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron.) The rhythm game was the highlight of my experience, but here in 2019 I’m a bit of a rhythm game nerd.
“Back in the Groove” certainly isn’t all bad. I didn’t hate my time with it. I just had a hard time finding the fun. It plays a lot, if not nearly identically to the original game in 1991. Unfortunately, video games have come a long way since 1991. I spent time playing this in between missions in The Division 2 and searching out Shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Jumping from those fantastic, well manicured experiences and into the slow moving, poor frame-rate of Back in the Groove was honestly kind of a bummer every time. I can certainly see where the reviews who have praised it are coming from, because if you spent dozens of hours with the original, this must be an incredibly nostalgic trip. Sadly it was nostalgic for me too, but only because I just kept waiting for the chance to turn to my friend and ask “Can we play Sonic now?”