Genre: Platformer Developer: TJ&E Productions Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
ToeJam & Earl is one of the best games on Genesis, hands down. It’s fast and quirky fun and many people consider it one of the best and most addictive games to be released in the magical Genesis year of 1991. It’s the type of game that never seems to get tiresome. When I first heard of TJ&E, I really didn’t like the premise of two funky aliens crashing into Earth but when I took it home, I felt I couldn’t go wrong with this one. Consider me pleasantly surprised at the high level of originality displayed here. Random levels, two cool characters, even hitting people with tomatoes; it’s all fun to do.
The story is campy and silly but fits the game play like a warm glove. ToeJam takes off in his rocket ship and picks up his big rapping friend Earl. They go cruising for chicks (or whatever teenage space aliens do) and while big Earl raps, he grabs the controls to the space ship. He’s so involved in the beat that doesn’t pay attention to where he’s going and crashes. They realize after a while it they have crashes on the forbidden planet; a planet that had no prior knowledge of funk. The pair then set out on a journey to find their missing rocket ship pieces which were now scattered all over the planet. I have to say that this story is really original, and it’s a cool idea. Not too many games could pull off a story as wacky as this one (immediately thinks of Shaq Fu) but I’m glad to report that this story works quite well here.
ToeJam & Earl is for one or two players. It uses a 3/4 perspective and your purpose is to find presents that help you find pieces of the rocket ship. You can choose either one of the funky aliens. First, there’s ToeJam, a red three-legged alien who wears a big gold chain. He is faster than Earl and is considered the smart one. Earl, on the other hand, is a big yellow guy who wears poka-dotted shorts. He has more energy than Earl does and is considered the cool one. Once you choose your character you can play in a fixed world, where everything is the same all the time or in a random world where stages constantly change. There is also have a mode where you can ”Jam” to the music. By pressing the D pad and the other buttons ToeJam and Earl’s bodies will make different beats, and you can also do wacky sounds as well, which are used in-game. This mode is much more fun than your usual Sound Test.
The graphics aren’t bad but they could have been better, as most of the popular titles released that year had better graphics than this. while both ToeJam & Earl are nicely drawn, they are a bit on the small side. I would have liked them to have been a bit larger than they were. Both ToeJam and Earl are highly detailed and there’s a lot of attention to detail, like when ToeJam stands around for too long he adjusts his baseball cap or Earl’s shorts might drop. The backgrounds are basically the same throughout the game actually and there are maybe three different variants. For the most part you play with a black sky in the background with some stars. Occasionally, there are some stages that have water and such. The enemies you face, like the ice cream man, the devil, and the bogey man, are done well and create the intended effect .Overall, the graphics are pretty average, considering when this game came out.
The music in TJ&E is probably its best feature. The soundtrack is just wonderful with a lot of good beats mixed in and fits perfectly with the theme of the game. I would have to say that the music is part funk and part hip hop, which makes sense, given that the two protagonists are rappers (remember, suspension of disbelief, people). The opening song is very hummable and really sticks in your mind and most of the other songs that randomly play on each stage sound great as well. One could ask for better music and it actually softens the blow of the mediocre graphics.
The sound effects, while keeping with the funky atmosphere, range from typical to strange. They’re kind of wacky at times but they go along with the music. The sound is one of the most critically acclaimed part of this game and its impact should not be taken for granted.
One of the most interesting game play aspects is the multitude of items to be found and used. Some have positive effects, like pancakes and pizza, which replenish energy. Others are bad, like fungus and old cabbage. There are presents that work as power ups and some contain good things like super high tops, which let you run very fast, Icarus wings, which let you fly, and rocket shoes which make you move almost too fast to control. Not all presents are benevolent (negative presents?) though. The schoolbook, for example, puts you to sleep, leaving you at the mercy of your enemies. Totally Bogus is another bad present; probably the worst of all. It actually kills you!
You have a map screen, on which you can see explored areas, where the piece of the rocket ship is at, or the location of an elevator to the next level. On each stage there will be a hint as to whether a piece of the rocket ship is there or not. There are also some good Earthlings, like Holy Man, who’ll sell you a full life bar for a buck), Carrot Man, who will identify any present you’re afraid to open for two bucks, and the opera singer who will kill everybody on the screen for three bucks. Using your bucks wisely is a must since there are some purchases that can actually mean the difference between life and death. While the difficulty isn’t all that high although there aren’t any saves or passwords.
The replay value for ToeJam & Earl is very high because of the random worlds. You will never encounter the same world twice, so it’s a different game every time. This game is undeniably fun with two players and can be played for days and beaten countless times, all the while leaving you with the urge to play it some more. I think the random feature of this game is a great idea because it makes the game timeless and allows you to take it off the shelf and play without any patterns or memorization. While random levels may not have worked in other titles, this game is perfect for it.
You won’t be disappointed with TJ&E, though the asking price on eBay might scare some people away. If you can find a copy, I wholeheartedly recommend spending time with the grand masters of funk. Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a move or two.
SCORE: 10 out of 10