I’ve noticed throughout my years of internetting that a lot of people have a soft, cushy spot in their heart, in the exact shape of ToeJam and Earl
for the Sega Genesis. I’ve also noticed that there is no room in these hearts for its sequel, ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron
. And I say BACK OFF. Having been one of my favorite games of the Genesis days, and a game I still play with relative frequency (most recently last week), I am here to let you all know that it is just as good as the original…just different.
The main reason people talk so much smack is that this game is nothing like the awesome original. The first game, released in 1991, featured some very unique gameplay. Randomly generated levels from a top-down viewpoint, funky powerups (rocket skates, Icarus wings, hell yeah.), funny characters, and a fun soundtrack all helped compliment this bizarre Genesis classic. In it, you play as ToeJam and Earl, two aliens from Funkotron that crash land on Earth. All you’ve got to do is avoid the wild Earthlings, grab the ten pieces of your destroyed ship, and head home. To progress through the levels, you must use presents that you find scattered throughout the randomly generated levels, avoid the Earthlings (the only form of combat was through a temporary powerup of tomatoes), grab your ship part, and head up an elevator to the next level. The experience was different every time, even in terms of how many levels you play, as some levels did not feature a ship piece. Plus, it featured two player co-op for the entire experience! It was (and still is) fresh, original, and extraordinarily fun.
The sequel came along two years later (1928, I think. I don’t know. What’s 1991 + 2? Forget it, I’ll figure it out myself), and it was a drastic departure. A side-scrolling action-platformer, this game was nothing like the original. And people today look back on it and scoff. It did take away a lot of what made the original so amazing, but at the same time it was still its own experience and extremely fun and enjoyable in its own right.
Upon returning to Funkotron, ToeJam and Earl discover that many Earthlings managed to stow away on their ship. And the presence of the Earthlings has made the great Funkopotomus, Lamont, lose his, and in return the planet’s, funk. ToeJam and Earl made this mess, they must clean it up: bottle up all the Earthlings and send them back where they came from!
A truly fun, funny, and bizarre story, it is told through a series of 2D levels packed with secrets, great dialogue, and one of my all-time favorite video game soundtracks. Allow me to break down why this game is awesome:
1. It’s super 90s.
Everything from the attitude to the dialogue to the music to the way the characters dress to the friggin’ font, this game screams 90s. Now I may be one who hates decade-specific nostalgia (suck it, VH1), but I’ll be damned if this game doesn’t make me want to return to 1993. Everything’s so laid back, so cool, so Generation X. The color palette especially just gives off that 90s vibe.
2. The soundtrack is funk-tastic.
The soundtrack is just amazing. A very funky, fresh street sound that makes it feel more like you are just hanging out in these levels than rushing through. It’s all very relaxed, but it’s so goddamn catchy that I kind of want to start a ToeJam and Earl cover band. There’s even an eight-song mini-soundtrack featuring full jazz/funk versions of a majority of the game’s tracks. And yes, I listen to it rather frequently. Check out my personal favorite, Lewanda’s Love:
3. The co-op is a blast, especially for a 2D sidescroller
ToeJam and Earl are best friends on an adventure, and playing this game with a friend enforces that even further. Featuring two player co-op (player one is ToeJam, player two is Earl), you and a pal can plow through the whole game together, bottling up Earthlings and sending them back to Ol' Blue and Green. Now, a lot of 2D sidescrollers mess up the co-op (Sonic 2, I am performing a full on death stare in your direction), but ToeJam and Earl 2 does it right. If one of you goes too far or tries to go back, you get smushed up against the side of the screen. You’ve got to stay on screen together, and it works. And if you somehow lose your buddy, just press start and you’ll magically appear with your chum.
There’s a few really great little things that make me love the game’s co-op. One is the bubbles. There are bubbles you can stand on top of and ride to otherwise unreachable areas throughout the game, where you need to keep your balance or slide off. With another player, he gets on your shoulders, and you both need to maintain your balances at the same time. Chaotic fun. There’s also a way to share health. If one of you is running low, you can hit up your buddy and both can press down at the same time. The result? A HIGH FIVE
that evens out both partners’ health. A HIGH FIVE.
And my favorite bit: at random moments throughout the game, ToeJam and Earl will have very brief conversations. Nothing special, but just a reminder that these two are just hanging out, having a good old fashioned adventure. For example:
Earl: “I have to go to the bathroom.”
ToeJam: “I thought I told you to go before we left.”
Again, nothing special, but it appearing at completely random times really just makes the experience that much better.
4. The game is funny and has a great personality.
I don’t mean it has a great personality in that it’s fat and ugly but you’d still bang it because it’s cool, I mean the game has its own identity and personality to it. The writing is awesome. Little interactions between characters, such as ringing someone’s doorbell or encountering one of the many NPCs that litter the game environments (a rarity for a lot of sidescrollers), show that both characters have a definite personality and that Funkotron is alive and well with an array of interesting individuals.
And the Earthlings are a great satire of our own society. There’s a fat rich woman with annoying and vicious poodles that bite you, a buff asshole on a jackhammer that prevents you from moving, a yuppie that takes pictures of you with a blinding and debilitating flash, and THE BOOGEYMAN. A little purple dude that comes in and out of visibility, yelling “HEAP BOOGEY BOOGEY BOOGEY” and scaring the hell out of you, draining some health. Then there’s the nude man in a cardboard box that slings mud at you, the annoying bratty children, the duck on a magic carpet, some little shit floating on balloons and shooting spitballs at you, a fairy that throws laughing dust at you, and a douchebag cow ghost that possesses you and makes you moo. I mean, what the hell is NOT to love about these enemies?
5. It’s just a really good time.
It may not have randomly generated levels, or too many interesting power-ups, but this is a hell of an experience. The level design is outstanding, as the levels are filled with enough secrets to fill up 50 copies of LocoRoco, fighting enemies never gets too frustrating, and there’s even a dancing/memorization mini-game to take part in. But let us not forget the…
6. HYPERFUNK ZONE!
Yes, the greatest bonus stage ever. I want to retire there. Crazy colors, funky patterns, presents galore, you turn into squiggles, and it yells HYPERFUNK ZONE whenever you enter it.
So I suppose I’ll shut up now. For everyone that gave this game a hard time when it came out, or rolls their eyes at how this game isn’t the original with better graphics, go download this bad boy on the Virtual Console. Or not download the ROM. I won’t not tell…no one… … ?
Seriously, play ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron
. Give it one more shot. It’s a really fun game and does not deserve all the hatred. Now it’s time to go pack my bags, I’m off to the HYPERFUNK ZONE!