If you mention the Genesis to anybody who's familiar with it, odds are the first thing people are going to think of is Sonic. That's understandable, of course, but Sonic's far, far from the only mascot that Sega's had over the years. Take a look at poor Alex Kidd, for example. If there's one franchise that's endured through the love of its fans, though, it's ToeJam & Earl. Sure, it might not have the spin-offs or the fancy ports of Sonic the Hedgehog, but in a time before the blue hedgehog, it was probably one of the most radical games you'd find on the Genesis.
Greg Johnson, one of the designers behind the classic space sims Starflight and Star Control, and Mark Voorsanger, one of the designers behind Night Trap, among other things, went to work on 1991 designing characters and concepts for a game influenced by games like Rogue and Nethack. The two were both heavily influenced by games such as Rogue and Nethack. While their game would keep the random nature, it would also move beyond the simple text graphics and the methodical, turn-based nature of the genre. Forming a company called, simply enough, Johnson Voorsanger Productions, the two went on to create their first game all by themselves. Sega published the game, their American branch making plans to make the alien duo their official mascots. Of course, that whole Sonic thing stopped those plans, but Johnson and Voorsanger went on to create a few more games, including the children's art program Orly's Draw-A-Story. Unforunately, after the third T&E title, the creators disbanded, with Greg Johnson going on to form his own development studio, HumaNature Studios, who have currently not released any games.
ToeJam & Earl are two peaceful, hip-hop loving aliens from the planet Funkotron. ToeJam's the red, three-legged red alien, while Earl's the big orange guy in the polka-dot shorts. While cruising out one day in their spaceship, the Righteous Rapmaster Rocketship, Earl ends up taking the wheel. And then proceeds to promptly crashland on. Given that Earth is full of quicksand, gaping pits, and people who want them dead, ToeJam & Earl's goal is to escape from Earth as soon as possible. The problem is that their rocketship ended up breaking into ten pieces on impact, and the only way off the planet is through finding them all. When you start up a game, you can either play as ToeJam, Earl, or both at once. ToeJam has an advantage in speed, although he's lacking in health. Earl, on the other hand, has more maximum health, but he's slower than ToeJam.
Whatever you decide, your ultimate goal is to find the ten scattered rocketship pieces scattered across the 25 "floors" of the planet. Once you've find all ten, that's it, you've won. While the game won't tell you where they are, it will let you know if there's one on your current level, which helps cut down on your wandering. There can be times, however, when the game will make you play through several floors before it'll even give you one rocket piece, which can be a pain. You've also got a map you can bring up whenever, which will show you where you have and haven't been yet. Once you're ready to leave a floor, just look for the elevator and hop inside, while enjoying one of the funky beats it plays.
While you're collecting the rocketship pieces, however, you also have to deal with Earth's terrain. Roads increase your speed, while quicksand will suck you into it, eventually vastly hurting your movement speed. There's also water, which not only drains your health while you're in it, but is more than likely full of sharks. It's possible to swim through it to reach other areas, but you'll probably want something to make it easier. Even more potentially dangerous than the water, however, is the gaping void that surrounds every floor above the first. While falling off the edge won't hurt you, it will send you to the floor below you, possibly even more than one if there's nothing below you on the next floor, as well.
The landmasses themselves can be randomly generated each time you play, if you so choose, which means that you'll be different with different level layouts every time you boot up the game. If you prefer, however, you can play with standardized levels, but that's not nearly as fun. If you play with randomized maps, however, you do run a risk of ending up with levels that have things you need stuck in some out of the way place you'll need special items to get to, which can be a huge pain if you don't happen to have any.
Even worse are the various Earth creatures who are out for your blood. At first, you'll mostly have to deal with minor threats like fat devils and giant hamsters. None all the enemies are immediately harmful, either, like the hula dancers who use their feminine wiles to force you to dance in place. The further you get, however, the weirder and more dangerous the enemies get. There's evil dentists who let off maniacal laughter every time they drill you, boogey men who turn invisible just before going in to strike, and the most dangerous of all, a fat guy on a lawnmower. The problem with the game is that since you don't get any invincibility time, a lot of enemies can juggle you into oblivion, stealing one of your precious lives. For the most part, there's no real way to dispatch the Earthlings, so you'll want to keep your distance from them as much as you can.
Your main defense comes in the form of presents, which work the same way that potions, scrolls, and wands would in a more traditional roguelike. Presents can do all sorts of things, like giving you sneakers that let you run at super speed, tomatoes you can toss at enemies to destroy them, a pair of wings, and all sorts of other good things. Since you can't usually see what's in them before using them, however, it's just as likely you'll get something terrible. You could get a rain cloud that follows you around and zaps you, a school book that makes you fall asleep right where you're standing, or even a present that just kills you instantly. There's also cash lying around that you can use for goods and services, as well as food, in both 'good' and 'bad' varieties.
There's also the occasional good Earthling wandering around, although these guys are sadly a lot harder to find than the bad ones. They'll usually ask for some of your cash in exchange for a useful service, which is generally worth it. Wizards will heal you, the guy in the carrot suit (He has his reasons, apparently) will identify your presents, and the fat opera lady will serve as a bodyguard for you. You can also use your cash on mailboxes to have presents delivered straight to you. That is, if it isn't actually a horrible monster that'll come alive and murder you. This game is not a game that wants you to succeed.
If this is all starting to sound like Nethack by way of Earthworm Jim, that's not really a bad comparison. There's not nearly as much combat as most roguelikes, since the tomato power-ups aren't all that common, and the focus is more on exploration. However, you're still wandering around a randomly generated environment, and picking up and using different items to see what they do. There's even an experience system, where get points every time you explore one "square" of the map or open a present. Every time you hit a certain score, you rank up, lengthening your health bar and possibly earning yourself an extra life. Your rank on the status bar will increase, too, starting from "Weiner", before moving to "Poindexter" and "Dude", before finally hitting the prestigious rank of "Funklord". There is also perma-death, in a sense, since there's no way to save the game, and no continues if you run out of lives.
While it's perfectly possible to play the game by yourself, the co-op mode is where the game really shines. ToeJam & Earl are free to split apart and do their own thing, and if they get too far away from each other, the game will go into a split-screen view, coming back together if they meet up again. If they walk into each other, they'll high-five and trade some health, and if a player ends up running out of lives, their ghost can ask to borrow a life from the other player to come back into the game. There's also a few other benefits to the co-op as well, like listening to ToeJam & Earl's silly conversations while they're sharing an elevator.
The actual game is full of this kind of zaniness throughout, and everything mentioned before is hardly covering it. The sense of humor is almost something like Earthworm Jim in nature, where the game will throw so much goofy stuff at you that the evil dentists start to look ordinary. All the characters look appropriately goofy, and even the lowliest of enemies have some nice touches of personality to them, like the way they'll fall asleep when nobody's around. The odd sense of humor is helped by all the digitized sound effects they've thrown in, like the way characters yell out "MONEY!" every time they pick up cash. If you're into the hip hop that plays throughout the game, you can also mess around in the game's "Jam Out" mode, which basically functions as the sound test.
There are a few things that make the game less enjoyable, however. For one thing, the game can drag on a while, and it doesn't help that for the most part, you'll be looking at nothing but a lot of green, some blue, and the occasional field of quicksand. Since there's no way to save your game, you're never allowed to take a break, either, unless you happen to be using an emulator. Not that you're likely to finish the game your first time through, given the difficulty curve. Given how rough the enemies get, you're likely to end up losing your lives faster than you can actually gain them. If you manage to preserve and find all ten parts, however, you get to wander around the surface of Funkotron and talk to the inhabitants, which is a pretty cool reward.
Overall, ToeJam & Earl is probably one of the most creative games on the Genesis, on a system where the only real competition is Fatal Labyrinth. It's not only a much less cynical game, (We're talking a game where your gold determines what kind of funeral you get) but a much more fun one as well. The more action oriented style of gameplay makes it stand out, as well as the innovative co-op mode. It could have really used a save game feature, but if you can handle the slog, it's definitely a game to seek out on one of its many, many ports.
Even if a sequel is increasingly unlikely, Sega still remembered the game to make a port for the "Sega Vintage Collection". This is mostly a straight port of the original game, which a few extras added on to it. The biggest draw would have to be the online co-op, although you've also got now standard features like leaderboards and achievements, along with replays and save states. The graphics don't seem to have any sort of filter put over them, which means that the screen sides are taken up by borders while you play. The version you can get on Steam, sadly, is lacking all of those features, so it's not much more than an emulator with a ROM.
At the end of the original game, ToeJam & Earl managed to rebuild their rocket ship and return to their home planet on Funkotron. The bad news is that a thousand earthlings or so managed to stow away in their two-seater ship, and now the earthlings running all over the planet. Even worse, the Funkapotumus, the leader of Funkotron and source of all funk, has gone into hiding, draining the funk and color from the planet. ToeJam & Earl take it upon themselves to fix the mess, mostly so they don't end up getting in trouble.
While the original game was a roguelike of sorts, the sequel is actually a platformer. It's a pretty big shift in genres, but it makes a nice change of what would have basically been an expansion pack to the original game. There's a lot more variety than the original game had to offer, even if you can expect to see the same things every time you play. While the randomization is gone entirely, it does help the sequel feel a little tighter in design, which makes up for it. The game still has a bit of a laid-back feel to it, so while there's a decent amount of fighting involved, the focus still feels like it's more about exploring and finding secrets. You've got the option of playing as ToeJam, Earl, or both at the same time, if you've got a friend around. The splitscreen feature from the original game doesn't return, however, so both players will basically be bound together by the screen. There's also a "Lil' Kids Mode", which makes it impossible to die, but ends the game about a third of the way into the game.
The game itself is split into fifteen stages, with each one having the goal of finding and capturing every earthling. The arrow on your HUD will lead to the nearest earthling, and once you find them, all you have to do is chuck jars at them until they get trapped inside one, and then walk over to pick them up. Repeat this until you've captured every earthling, throw them into the rocket at the end of the stage, and exit the level. By getting catapulted into space and somehow landing safely in the next level. Of course, the earthlings will fight back, and you'll have to deal with threats like small children, cow spirits, construction workers, and naked guys who sit in cardboard boxes and sing opera. Sure, why not.
There are still presents floating around you can pick up, but their contents are no longer random. Funk is the most common powerup they'll give you, and it lets you teleport short distances and through certain walls. You can also use it to scan the area near you, which will reveal hidden items and earthlings. Coins can be spent to activate various things, and points which go towards extra lives. There are also super jars, which make it much easier to capture earthlings. There's also two special items that can be activated at any time, although they come in limited supply. The panic button makes your character run around throwing jars all over the screen for a few moments, while the funk vacuum sucks in every earthling on the screen and jars them up for you. There are absolutely no "bad" presents at all, which definitely makes the game a lot easier.
The levels are full of stuff to mess with, a lot of which will give you points that'll go towards valuable extra lives. Occasionally, you'll come across another citizen of Funkotron, who you can give coins to get into a simple rhythm game. You hit the A, B, and C buttons in time with their pattern, and the better you do, the more items you'll earn from it. There are also bushes and trees to search, some of which will drop presents, some which hide earthlings, and some of which drop bowling balls and trash cans on your head if you don't dodge out of the way. Coin meters and buttons can send you to different places or make different things appear. There are bubbles to balance on to get to new places, and spongy fungus that you can bounce on. There are even a few times when you'll perform on this fungus for a series of judges, and you can earn a lot of points if you're good at it. There are also a few underwater areas you can swim around in to find extra stuff, although you still have to keep oxygen in mind.
Since you're back on your home planet, there are a lot of your fellow aliens hanging around. Some will give hints about secret areas, some will drop bits and pieces about the plot, and some are just there to chat with. Some of them stay at home where you can ring their doorbell, and if you're feeling cruel, you can keep ringing their doorbell until they start screaming your name at you. Certain secret areas will lead to an area called "Trixie's Rendezvous", where a vision named Trixie will give you a special power that will last until the end of the level ,like unlimited coins. There are also twelve of the Funkopotumus's favorite things scattered in hidden areas throughout the game, and finding all of these will lead to a longer ending and a huge point bonus at the end of the game.
The problem is that it feels like the game gives you all this stuff right from the first couple of levels, so you basically see everything the game does pretty early on. It doesn't ever really introduce anything new, it just puts all the elements together in gradually harder combinations as you go. That's not necessarily bad, and the game has a decent difficulty curve. It's just that most platformers tend to introduce new obstacles and challenges as you go, so seeing everything the game can throw at you by stage three is a little disappointing. It does make the game a bit repetitive, although the game's nice enough to give you passwords every second level. No longer do you have to keep your Genesis plugged in overnight to have any chance of beating the game, nor do you have to do it all again if you run out of lives.
Most of the game's difficulty comes more from the exploration part of the game, since there's secrets crammed pretty much anywhere you look in the level. A lot of the secrets, like the hidden objects you need for the best ending, are hidden pretty well, and you only have one chance to find them. On the other hand, since the only thing that can hurt you aside from the earthlings is either drowning or fire, you don't have to be nearly as cautious as you did in the original T&E. The earthlings can be real pains to fight at times, and some of them can and will juggle all your health away if they get you stuck in a corner. This is mostly because the game never gives you any sort of mercy invincibility, so enemies that can hurt you by touch, like the guys with jackhammers, can do major damage very quickly. The good news is that you're expected to be able to fight back this time around, and extra lives are much easier to earn.
You never got to see much of Funkotron in the original game, and the side-scrolling perspective this game takes lets you see a lot more of it. The art style looks like something straight out of Dr. Seuss's books, which gives the game a really unique look to it. Everything looks as weird as alien as it should, from the weird, curvy trees to the spongy pink fungus you can bounce on. This game's even goofier than the original game, since you have things like dead cow spirits that can possess you, forcing you to stand still and moo. Unfortunately, it feels like the game runs out of environments just as quickly as it runs out of unique level features, but the ones that are there look great. The music has the same hip-hop/fuck style to it as the last game, although it suffers a little from that sort of sound a lot of Genesis games made in the US tended to have. The new songs aren't necessarily bad, it's just that something about the old songs just sounded a little better.
Overall, Panic on Funkotron isn't a bad little game, although it's not going to win any contests against the Sonics or the Rocket Knights on the Genesis. It can't really be compared to its prequel since they're entirely different genres, so they're best both measured on their own merits. While it's a little lame to see the randomization go, there's just so much more to see than the original game had to offer that it's still worth it.
Much like the original game, the PSN and XBLA versions offer online co-op and achievements, among other things, while the Steam version isn't much more than a straight emulation.
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. This also makes them friendly to you, which means they'll drop money for you and chat with you if you hit the action button near 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. Apparently, everybody loves your alien costume.
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, and if you go with the former, you'll get a lot more jokes about ToeJam's third leg. Raunchy humor and silliness like evil country singers don't really gel, like the game is trying to appeal to two entirely different demographics at once and failing.
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. Some of the friendly NPCs also make a return, like the old man in a carrot suit. Apparently he still has his reasons, although he won't actually tell you what those reasons are. 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.
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 weird design decision and some cringeworthy attempts at humor that they might as well not have bothered. You can just feel like nearly everything in the game was made by a bunch of corporate suits trying to figure out what they demographic wanted, and not really doing a good job at doing it.
That was the last Sega had to do with ToeJam & Earl, perhaps a bit understandably after the third game. Greg Johnson did early concepts for a ToeJam & Earl DS game, which never got off the ground. ToeJam & Earl were in talks to be in Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing as DLC, but the fact that the series' creators didn't feel that they were being offered enough money for them squashed those plans. As it is, while the sequels weren't up to the standards of the first game, the original Genesis game is a cult classic that still deserves to be enjoyed for the sheer creativity of the whole thing.
Ready, Aim, Tomatoes! (Part of the Menacer 6-game cartridge) - Genesis (1992)
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 - Genesis (1992)
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 - Genesis (1994)
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.
Thanks to derboo for the TJ&E3 screenshots.