ToeJam & Earl Are Getting Their Groove Back

An Iconic Duo

Perhaps undervalued, probably underrated, and definitely underappreciated, ToeJam & Earl deserve a seat at the table of iconic video game duos. When I think of other predominant pairs, these two belong alongside the likes of Mario and Luigi, Sonic and Tails, Donkey Kong and Diddy, Master Chief and Cortona, Banjo and Kazooie, Jak and Daxter, and Ellie and Joel. These two Funkotronians have the charisma, style, synergy, and dance moves to back up this claim. 

A Brief History
Nothing Like The Original

First released in 1991 on the Sega Genesis, ToeJam & Earl remains one of my favorite games of all time. Developed by Mark Voorsanger and Greg Johnson, the game was, in some ways, groundbreaking. 

TJ&E is a two-player dynamic split-screen cooperative adventure game which had plenty to explore. It opened up with both aliens crashing their spaceship into several pieces that scattered across Earth. 

The two traverse levels of increasing difficulty in search of the spaceship pieces to eventually escape the planet and head home. Easy, right?

The catch is the “Earthlings” are a little more (or perhaps a little less, depending on who you ask) treacherous than the real world counterparts.

 Earthlings range from a little devil and a giant hamster in a ball to a crazy dentist and a herd of nerds. Some of the sillier enemies include a monster disguised as a mailbox, a flock of military grade chickens armed with a tomato canon, and an interpretation of the boogieman. 

Disclaimer: I’m not crazy or on drugs, these are all in the game. If you have never treated yourself to this game, now is the time. 

Of course, to combat all of this evil, the two can find literal presents scattered across the levels. These presents contain power-ups which level the playing field. Among the presents you’ll find are running shoes, a tomato slingshot (for those pesky chickens), wings, and an inner tube.

Add in a promotional system which will you have climbing from a Weiner to a Funklord, the ability to randomize the levels for essential replayability, the fact that junk food is good for you (while the opposite is true for healthy food), and a groovy soundtrack, and this game becomes a one-of-a-kind experience.


A Forced Sequel

After the great reception of the first game, Sega made the logical next step. They told the two to make a sequel that expanded on everything the first offered in terms of uniqueness and gameplay to created a bigger and better game morphed the game into a side-scrolling platformer because side-scrolling platformers were IN! 

See every non-hedgehog animal running and jumping while collecting shiny objects. Seriously, who remembers Bubsy?

Now, that’s not to say ToeJam & Earl 2: Panic on Funkotron was not a good game. Though the developers didn’t want to make this genre, they still put their hearts into it. The result was a carry over of the lore from the first game.  Comedy, style, and uniqueness all were preserved. 

The story opens up with the realization that some Earthlings were stashed in ToeJam & Earl’s spaceship. Now on the loose, they start terrorizing Funkotron, ToeJam & Earl’s home planet. The objective is to send them back where they came from. 

Again, the game was well received but never quite captured the original indescribable experience. 

Surprisingly, there is a group that thinks it is better than the original. GamesRadar ranked it the 10th best Genesis game ever while not ranking the first at all. 

To me, changing the soul or genre of a franchise is a risky move. I much prefer the first release to the sequel.


The Xbox Version Nobody Knew About

In 2002, a third game was released, ToeJam & Earl III – Mission to Earth. In this Xbox game, the two are joined by Latisha as they trek back to Earth. 

Their mission is to retrieve the twelve stolen Sacred Albums of Funk. This plot was originally the direction the second game was headed before the switch of genre.

I have to be honest, I only rented this game. While in a video game rental store and noticed the familiar duo and had to give it a try. I say that because I don’t remember any type of build up or advertising for the game’s release. 

To its credit, the game attempted to recapture the magic of the first as it provided a 3D world to explore. As for how good the game was, it’s hard to put my finger on what held it back. 

It was warmly received, but was missing the IT-factor. Turns out the executives once again pressured the team to deviate from their original vision. 

A Kick Start In The Right Direction

Because of the vital randomized level feature from the first game, I never was too upset that the sequels didn’t truly build on the first’s greatness. Via emulators and ROMs, I would always be able to boot up and have a three-hour session with my favorite aliens. 

And then… it happened.

I can’t quite remember how I got here but in late 2015, fate lead me to a Kickstarter campaign for ToeJam & Earl: Back In The Groove

After watching the intro video featuring Greg Johnson describing his mission to make a true successor to the 1991 classic, I reached for my wallet. This time, backed by crowdsourcing, he would not be shackled into decisions about the game which he was not comfortable making. 

I knew this was the best, and probably last, shot ToeJam & Earl had at a NextGen story. With over half a million dollars pledged from nearly 9000 backers, I clearly was not alone. 

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait… I Hope

I wish I could tell you just how many times this game has been delayed. At one point the game was scheduled to be released in 2017. 

I believe taking your time to develop a solid game is better than rushing out an unfinished game. However, seeing as how we are in the second month of 2019, my patience has definitely been tested. 

I am excited to announce that, earlier this week, a release date of March 1, 2019, was finally announced! 

Big Shoes To Fill

I had a hectic summer and missed out on the closed beta that ran from July 5 – 19, 2018. Because I wasn’t able to play it myself, I have purposely avoided opinions and videos of gameplay. This way,t my anticipation would not be altered. 

Judging from the screenshots, this game is set to deliver for the fans who have been looking for a legitimate successor to ToeJam & Earl. 

Stay tuned for a full review and reaction by the end of March!


Have you played any of the TJ&E games? Which one is your favorite? Will you be picking up the newest release? Leave a comment below!

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