- Toejam & Earl
- ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron
- ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth
- Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove
With the rise of the Dreamcast, work went underway to create a new game in the T&E series, which had fallen to the wayside with the Saturn. While the Dreamcast didn’t survive in time for the game to be finished, the project was moved over to the Xbox. If you look online, you can actually find footage of the Dreamcast version, and it doesn’t actually look all that different from what we got. Also, the game’s subtitle was going to be “All Funked Up” at one point, which while much less generic, would have to be changed for obvious reasons.
Twelve sacred records have been stolen from Funkotron and scattered across Earth, where an evil force known as “The Anti-Funk” is draining the power from them. ToeJam & Earl are sent back to Earth to gather them, along some sassy blue alien girl named Latisha. All three characters have unique traits to them this time around, instead of just emore speed’ or emore health’. Earl can get health back from eating spoiled food, while ToeJam gets a discount for buying stuff from mailboxes, for example. All the characters have a lot more dialogue to them, too, which is good and bad in its own way. When you keep hearing lines like “Hey, a key!” and “Funkify!” time and time again, you might start to miss the days of the Genesis’s sound processors. Still, however, you have to admit that a game where the character selection screen has the characters rapping at you is definitely… unique.
The game structure’s much closer to the first game, with most everything that has introduced with the second game getting removed. You’ve got a bunch of randomly generated levels, populated with presents, earthlings, and the records you’re supposed to be collecting. Instead of the game being split into a linear set of levels, however, you’ve now got a HUB world that leads to other levels. Since every level is now part of its own separate area, falling off a cliff will now just cause a very small amount of damage instead of kicking you to a previous level. The presents are once again kept in an inventory, with certain ones having a chance to backfire on you and do something bad. The rocket skates, for example, will give you extra speed, but if they backfire, they’ll become nearly impossible to actually control.
Most of these levels will be locked until you pick up enough keys to actually open them, however. Once you beat all the levels in one world, you’ll move on to the next set of levels, with such exciting worlds like “Snowy Zone” and “Water Zone” to explore. Every level also has a few extra objectives, as well. These are tasks like finding the hidden vinyl, defeating every earthling, or taking an item from another Funkotron native and bringing it to a certain earthling on the level. Finishing every objective on a level will reward you with a healthy chunk of experience towards a promotion, so it’s generally worth it.
There are still Earthlings who will chase you around and attack you, most of them taken from the first two games. A new feature, though, is that you’re not entirely defenseless from their attacks, like you were in the first game. You can use “Funk-Fu”, a short-range attack, or fire notes out of a boombox your character somehow manages to stow in their pants. You’ll want to keep a good supply of notes because a lot of enemies won’t be harmed by your Funk Fu until you reach a certain rank. Every time you lower an earthling’s health to zero, they become “funkified”, which makes them sprout out an afro and ridiculous disco glasses. Funkified humans are friendly, and will drop money and say silly comments if you speak to them.
The game’s generally a whole lot easier than the original game for quite a few reasons. The fact you can save your game whenever you’d like means that if you end up losing too many lives at once, you can just reload and try again. Not that you’re likely to, since it’s so easy to fill up on food for your inventory and get all your health back. There’s a mode to have the game randomly generate levels for you unlocked by beating the game once, but by then you’ll most likely just be tired of it. The fact that there’s more variety in the level design is nice, but most of the levels are so flat and featureless that it still doesn’t really help much. There are some interesting new features, though, like houses you can go trick or treating at for extra cash. Your alien costume is so good people can’t help but pay you to see it, apparently.
What’s really annoying, however, is that there’s a bigger focus on collecting stuff in the game. It’s not quite as bad as something like one of Rareware’s games, but it does feel a little tacked on. You have to collect keys scattered around the level to open locked levels, which is reasonable. It’s when you have to collect presents on pedestals before you’re actually allowed to use them that gets to be a little excessive. The fact that you can now defend yourself is a nice addition, although even that has its own issues. Your melee attacks just won’t work on a lot of earthlings because you won’t be a high enough rank. The notes you can fire at them will always work, but you’ve got a limited supply of them, they don’t do much damage, and you have to sit and wait for the earthling you’re firing at to get out of their ehurt’ animation before you can hit them again.
Most of the wacky humor is still there with all the weird Earthlings you’ll fight off, with cheerleaders and bad country singers joining the ranks of the enemies from the original game. Since the game’s moved up to a T rating, however, the humor’s been made a little edgier. Probably nothing that you wouldn’t hear on The Simpsons, but when you compare what the original games were like, it is a bit raunchier. There’s actually separate “Naughty” and “Nice” modes for the dialogue, with the former having a lot more off-color comments from the characters and the humans. Yes, many jokes are made about Toejam’s third leg. While it’s nothing particularly shocking, it doesn’t really fit between all the evil country singers and other cartoon wackiness the game typically uses.
It’s not all bad, however, since you’ve got weirdness like an Arnold impersonator who will constantly remind you that the only way to get buffed up is to download the game’s DLC. (Thank goodness this game was before the age of microtransactions.) Some of the friendly NPCs also make a return, like the old man in a carrot suit. (He has his reasons, apparently.) What nearly ruins the game, however, is that before every level, you get a cutscene of a bunch of badly-rendered gospel singers singing about the general objective of the level. These aren’t funny in the slightest, and even though you can skip these scenes, you really have to wonder why they were included in the first place. The way different Earthlings will say different things to each character is pretty cool, even if it leads to lines like “What is up, homie Earl man?”
The graphics haven’t been changed all that much since the transition from the Dreamcast to the Xbox, and it’s pretty obvious to tell. The main characters look pretty good, and they animate smoothly. The earthlings, however, are absolutely hideous, and when you view them close up, they look like something that came out of a N64 game. The levels themselves are fairly bland looking, and the draw distance is a little low, meaning there’s a lot of fog.
There’s a bit of free DLC that was released to Xbox Live. These include three “new” playable characters – GeekJam, Earlbot and Suteki – though they’re really just modifications of the regular three characters. The servers for the original Xbox have long been decommissioned, but these can still be found on the Xbox Exhibition Volume 2 disc.
After such a long wait between the second and third game, Mission to Earth is pretty disappointing. There’s a good game in there, but it’s buried under so many strange design decisions and a few too many poor attempts at humor. The whole thing feels like it was put together by a bunch of suits trying and failing to appeal to every demographic at once, and it really shows.
A prototype of the Dreamcast version of ToeJam & Earl III was leaked out onto the internet in 2013. It’s fully playable (up until about the 10th level or so, at which point it starts to get glitchy), but is still from an early point in development. This is from before they implemented the hub world, collectibles, or any of the objectives. In other words, it’s pretty much just like the Genesis game – explore, find the elevator, and move on. Here, funkifying enemies also only stuns them, rather than turning them good.
The visuals are a little sparse at this point – the released Xbox game isn’t exactly a looker, but the levels are still far more detailed than they are in this pre-release state. Most of the music and sound effects are similar, though. It’s also missing the cutscenes. Altogether, it’s not exactly a revelation – if the game had been released in a state similar to this, it would have been derided for being far too boring, so it makes sense that they made some of the structural changes to the final game, even if they didn’t exactly work in execution.
Mission to Earth was the last of Sega’s involvement with ToeJam & Earl, perhaps a bit understandably after its reception. Greg Johnson did early concepts for a ToeJam & Earl DS game, which never got off the ground. They were planned to be featured in Sega & Sonic All-Stars Racing, but couldn’t come to a licensing agreement.
In 2015, a new game, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove, was funded on Kickstarter. Currently planned for released in 2017, it’s being developed in the style of the first Genesis game, with high resolution 2D sprites over 3D rendered backgrounds.
Ready, Aim, Tomatoes!
ToeJam and Earl have made a few cameo appearances in other Genesis games. In 1992, Sega released a light gun for the Genesis called the Menacer, which was basically their version of a Super Scope. It came packed with a cartridge containing six different games, one of which was this ToeJam & Earl themed shooter.
You use the Menacer to shoot tomatoes at enemies from the original T&E before they get a chance to shoot back at you and drain your health. The goal of each stage is to hit a point target before you hit the end of the level. If you manage to reach the target, you go onto the next level. If not, you get a “Good shooting… NOT!” voice clip, because, hey, it was 1992. The music and enemy sprites are taken from the original game, but the backgrounds are mostly new. It’s decent fun for a few levels, but it gets pretty boring after that.
Art Alive was pretty much Sega’s vastly, vastly inferior answer to Nintendo’s Mario Paint. For one thing, you couldn’t use a mouse. Imagine drawing with MSPaint while using a D-Pad, and you have a good idea of what you’re dealing with. On the bright side, however, there are stamps of Sonic, Tails, ToeJam & Earl that you can place in your picture. So if you want to make the world’s laziest T&E fanart, go for it…
Wacky Worlds Creativity Studio
This is basically the “sequel” to Art Alive, only you place different stamps across a background instead of drawing. ToeJam, Earl, and Tails are stamps you can select and place. There’s not much else to say about this game, except it was one of the very, very few games that supported the Mega Mouse.