FINALLY! It seems like I have been waiting for this game for years. And I have since the Kickstarter launched on February 25, 2015, a little bit over four years ago. The game is out. I absolutely adore the ToeJam & Earl from 1991 and Back in the Groove feels exactly like that. If you are nostalgic for that game you will probably like Back in the Groove. I don’t think the game is going to make many new fans though. You wander around Earth looking for ship parts to rebuild your ship and fly back home to Funkotron. Oh and you open random presents you find on the ground in order to power up and make your travels easier. And then you ride elevators to go between levels. It sounds ridiculous because it is.
Let’s get into the review.
TL,DR: At the end, as per usual.
I guess spoilers. Although I’m not entirely sure how I could spoil this game. Story is not the main focus and the game has very little story.
ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove looks exactly like I remember ToeJam and Earl looking from whenever I played that game. The game does look great with lots of bright colors and curious characters and enemies.
I do think what’s happening on screen is too busy. The are tons of enemies and buildings taking up screen real estate. As I mentioned, the colors are great but when so many of them are on the screen at the same time everything tends to blend and look awful.
The game adheres to the style of the original. Goofy colors paired with funny character models. Everything goes together in that all of the colors clash. I recognize that doesn’t make any sensem, but that’s just kind of how it is.
I do think the present menu is obnoxious. The menu is right in your and forces you to focus on what your doing in that menu alone. You can still see the game in the background but it doesn’t matter because the game pauses. The menu is too big.
Actually, now that I think about, I felt like the majority of things in the game are too big compared to the maps. The earthlings and characters take up too much space compared to the size of the maps.
The sound is disappointing overall. There is one memorable song, just like the original, and the in-game sound itself can be turned off without losing much. I remember being enthralled with the sound on the Sega Genesis but something is missing here. It couldn’t very well be the same exact sound, something is just not ringing true.
For such a small game, I did find some annoying issues with the technical aspects. First, whenever I rode in the elevator, up or down, there were dropped frames and hitches, which seemed to happen on every ride.
And sometimes when I would eventually get run over by something or run into something I would freeze for just a half second and couldn’t move.
Even If I intentionally interacted with something there was a noticeable pause between button input and screen output. I feel like I’ve been trained to expect instant feedback from games so if there is a delay, I can see the delay. But, that isn’t new. Playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES felt great because of that feedback. There was no delay in the gameplay so I don’t think its weird to expect a 2019 to have immediate feedback.
Gameplay revolves around the broken up Earth in the form of levels shaped like continents just floating in space. Then you ride elevators to get to the next level all while looking for broken up ship parts.
You open what seems to be presents, usually unknown in name, to power up for short periods of time. You open the presents to hopefully make it easier to find the ship parts. Presents can be offensive weapons, like tomatoes, to shoot Earthlings. You shoot them to stay safe. Or you can find hi-tops which are fast running shoes. Or Icarus Wings to fly across the maps and cover ground without worrying about running into Earthlings.
Or there are bad presents, that you don’t know are bad until you open that style of present, like rocket skates, that change the directional button inputs, so left is up and down is right for example. Or the present contains a rain cloud that sometimes strikes with lightning and gets rid of your health.
The gameplay is chaotic and random. And still tons of fun. But, I found a significant lack of interesting presents. Most were tomatoes or high tops and didn’t alter gameplay that much. The original game on Sega Genesis was chaotic and the presents were seemingly always random. You never knew what was going to happen. I never felt that sense of uncertainty with this game.
The maps feel alot smaller than the original so the game takes less time and doesn’t really inspire adventure or using presents a ton. I would have loved some larger maps with greater present variety.
If you really care about the “story” don’t read the next paragraph. I’m going to layout the story since I feel like you need to know before you can understand the absurdity of the game.
You fly past Earth in a spaceship, but then you both get pulled into a blackhole. Both the ship and Earth are broken apart. You have crashed on Earth, your ship pieces scattered to the wind. You have to find the ship pieces and fly back to your home planet Funkotron.
The game is slightly less fun than I expected. The original game was tons of fun and could be replayed endlessly. I feel like I could eventually get tired of this game. In fact, I played through twice and thought that was enough. You should absolutely play this game if you played the original or if you can play with some who played the original and can share some of the memories with you. And definitely don’t play it solo. ToeJam and Earl is meant to be played with two players and is a great game to watch others play in the same room.
Fun nostalgic experience that deserves to be played by fans of the series or people who wan’t a fun couch co-op experience they can play in an evening.
Are you playing ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove!? Are you enjoying it?
Thanks for reading.