ToeJam & Earl Got Their Groove Back!

ToeJam & Earl made their highly anticipated return this past Friday, March 1. By March 2, I had completed a run of the game. While there have been two iterations of sequels since the 1991 classic, a worthy heir to the throne was still desired. 

I am happy to report that Back in the Groove delivered. The game is bigger, better, and deeper in all ways that I had hoped, and in some ways I wasn’t expecting.

This review will be based on my playthrough with my fiancée and some exploring of the game’s modes and menus. 

A Story With A Weird Plot (Black) Hole

While the reasons the dynamic duo keep finding themselves back on Earth are questionable at best, truthfully, who cares! At least this time around we know a black hole button (and a washing machine??) is the reason Earth is in a series of broken levels. Just let it go. I’m sure you have several questions, comments, and concerns about this premise. The gameplay is what really matters!

Friends And Family Invited

After the intro cinematic, you are presented with a character selection screen. Two things are apparent right away.

  1. It’s no longer just ToeJam & Earl on this adventure. Now you can select from the two in the spaceship with you, Lewanda and Latisha. You can also select from old school ToeJam & Earl. There are also three characters unlocks. I’m hoping they add additional characters as DLC in the future. 
  2. Each character has unique stats! More on this later.

Character Select

Ramp Up The Difficulty

After selecting your character, you are given the option of difficulty level – Normal, Easy Farty, and Toddler. Keep in mind there is also a locked Hard Mode and a Tutorial World for newcomers or those that want a guided approach to all the new features. 

In hindsight, I probably should have checked this mode out.

Stats Matter

The character selection screen also presented six stats for each character, a special ability and starting presents.

The stats are Speed, Life Bar Size, Present Skill, Search Skill, Inventory Size and Luck. Speed, Life Bar and Inventory size should be self-explanatory. If you are like me and didn’t bother reading the game manual screens before playing you had to figure out the others. 

Present Skill and Search Skill allude to how effective a present is and how well your character finds items around the map, respectively. Luck is what you’d expect. There are various events that rely on luck being in your favor. 

As you progress and rank your way from a Wiener to the coveted Funklord, your stats will increase. Beware of aliens riding around in UFOs though. One will scramble your stats and the other will demote you! And here I was thinking all aliens get along.

The special abilities explain their utility and add variability amongst the characters and overall replayability to the game. 

For example, Earl can eat anything while Old School Earl gets more use out of sushi and rootbeer. Such a glutton Earl is.

Stats

Searching For Presents Is Up To You

Rather than only finding presents and food lying on the ground, Back in the Groove added the ability to search everything. Bushes, trees, houses, if it’s not an enemy it can likely be searched. 

Doing so will uncover a hidden surprise. It can be a helpful present or burger that refills your life. Alternatively, it can be cabbage, an enemy or a random bowling ball. 

This explicit mechanic really adds to the explorative nature of the game. No longer is uncovering all the hidden blocks on the map enough to survive. With the ability to lose presents, life, and progress much easier than before, scavenging for goodies is crucial.

And Santa has returned, jetpack and all, with presents ready to be stolen.

Catching Santa

The Presents Managed To Get Wackier

The presents are what have always made this game so unique. Opening a gift that can either grants temporary power-ups and misfortunes or food can change your chance of success in a heartbeat. 

Old classics like hi-tops, spring shoes, rocket skates, and togetherness all make a return but the new presents steal the show. There are too many to list right now but here’s a couple of notable ones. 

In a flurry of opening random unknown gifts (labeled as “???”), she opened up the Here I Am present. As the name implies, a giant neon sign appears above your head making loud noises that will attract all Earthlings in the vicinity to your location. I had a good laugh as I realized what was happening. 

The other was the Amp 5. After opening this, it switched five presents in my inventory from ‘normal’ to ‘amped’. Amped presents not only last longer but are also more effective. 

For example, amped hi-tops will increase your speed and the length in which you can use them. The game also introduces broken presents which can be fixed.

Present Unlock

I Got Enemies, Got A Lotta Enemies

Imagine a ToeJam & Earl game where a sweet little girl and not the boogeyman is the most devious enemy. Well, here we are.

It was as early as either level four or five when we first encountered a boogeyman. While he was a pain, he was no longer as sinister. I had other things to worry about. 

The Little Devil is faster than before and a newly added Construction Worker, Texting Person, and Segway Guard were seemingly everywhere. One of my favorites, the Danger Chickens, have returned. This time they are more logically shooting eggs out of their canon instead of tomatoes.

It’s not all bad. The Wise Carrot Man has returned. In addition to identifying your presents, he is given the added benefit of promoting you when you accumulate enough XP. Also, King Tut and Ghani Ji provide help in different ways.

But back to that little girl. Towards the end of my playthrough, I searched a house and a little girl popped out. 

Before I could determine if she was friendly or not, she quite literally jumped kicked me in the face. My full, and considerably ranked up, life bar was nearly depleted from the single shot. After visiting the Earthling menu I realized that she has an amped up, possessed version which is faster and more deadly. Can’t wait!

Earthlings

Verdict

There are a handful of aspects I deliberately left off that you can discover on your own or from bigger published reviews. Highlighting the biggest changes and features was my objective. So let’s get to the wrap up. 

A Few Missteps

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is great. This section is mainly nitpicking. But with that said…

  • I have not been able to play online at the time of this writing. In my three attempts, I either was not able to connect or immediately disconnected. I suspect this will be addressed if it’s a widespread issue.
  • The local play also oddly has had laggy moments. Typically between levels but it occasionally happened when things got hectic on screen. I was playing on Playstation 4, but I’m not sure if this is an issue on other platforms.
  • Fixed and Random Worlds are great with the latter providing seemingly limitless replayability with different presents and character skills. However, I still wish we were granted the ability to create our own levels.
Score

Am I biased? Absolutely. The 1991 ToeJam & Earl remains one of my favorite games of all time. Still, this game is great. It is better everywhere it needed to be.

If you don’t already have plans to get the game, you should. It’s an ode to couch multiplayer games with the added online option. If you want to play by yourself the game is certainly fun enough in this light.

Is ToeJam & Earl a perfect game? No. However, it can give you the perfect gaming experience. 

A unique, fun and hilarious few hours with friends next to you or over the net. What else could you want?

9/10

Backer Island
Level 0
Gameplay and Funkotron
What About You?

Had you previously planned on getting ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove or did I convince you? Have you already played the game yet? If so, what do you think? Do you agree that this is a worthy successor? Let us know below in the comments!

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