If you were a kid in the early to mid 90’s undoubtedly you would have either owned or played on a friends SEGA Megadrive / Genesis.
It was on this 16BIT cartridge based console that a few IP’s and franchises found their footing. Sadly some only for the lifetime of the console.
One of the more entertaining was the Toejam and Earl games – with the second release; Toejam & Earl II – Panic in Funkatron being the more standout.
Like an ode to the era, the 1990’s Panic on Funkatron consisted of an overload of catch phrases from the era, the skateboarder look Toejam to the beach ready Earl. Panic in Funkatron fused psychedelic with side scroll gameplay where you as two aliens were trying to rectify a scourge of Earthlings on your planet, Funkatron. Panic in Funkatron was either single player, or for the time, a ground-breaking co-op play for two.
Nearly 30 years later from the second game (wow- 30 years!!) TJ & Earl are back for another 90-esque romp and rampage against those pesky Earthlings in Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove releasing on all consoles and PC, thanks to developers HumaNature Studios.
Dropping the 2D side-scroll format of the vintage cartridge titles Back in the Groove uses floating ‘islands’ with a semi top down view. Keeping true to the originals, Back in the Groove is still 2D, cel-shaded but gameplay has been modified to satisfy gamers of today who demand a lot more in the playability.
With a basic storyline, TJ & Earl are out joyriding with their lady friends; Latisha and Lewanda who they plan on taking on a date to Earth. Deciding to pump the bass to the unsuspecting Earthlings, Earl mistakes the big red ‘Do Not Press’ button with the Mega Sub-Woofer button and manages to create a black hole which swallows up Earth and their space ship (with them inside) spitting all of it out on another side of the Galaxy, in tiered broken islands.
Playing as either TJ or Earl, modern or the 90’s varieties (or both in co-op) you need to find all of the parts to your spaceship (it’s not actually yours – it was ‘borrowed’ from a friend) and of course the islands that you roam about on are loaded with Earthlings and Earth obstacles, from the now fractured planet.
In previous TJ & Earl titles you needed to catch the Earthlings in jars, collect them all up and send them back to their planet. This time round you are on their planet – albeit broken.
Back in the Groove sees TJ & Earl avoiding most Earthlings at all costs – that said, not all Earthlings are bad, some are helpful and will offer up upgrades, items and even protection. From cupids to alluring Hawaiian dancers, houses with grumpy inhabitants, Devils and so much more.
For the most part, Earths bizarre cast of inhabitants are best to be avoided.
Presents were the collectibles back in the day – and on this new title, that is exactly what they are again. But with a difference.
Checking in bushes, shaking trees and chasing Leprechauns aswell as doing certain tasks and even finding hidden paths or areas will net you goodies. Presents will tally up in your inventory and you will need to access your Inventory (which has limited capacity but will upgrade over time as your level up) and you will need to open them and use the skill or item inside.
Not all presents are what they seem and some can explode or have other hazards underneath their bright paper and ribbons. My favourite which was to my own peril was the ‘I Am Here’ which is exactly what you may have already guessed. A loud flashy light sign with equally loud sirens that blare across the land attract every no good Earthling you’re way.
Even finding a Sunflower patch (yeah you can ‘disguise’ yourself as a sunflower – Earthlings are not the brightest creatures) offered no protection.
Money can be found around the floating islands aswell, this can also be gained from completing small tasks – or if you remember, the coin operated meters that eventually lead to a light bedazzled push button.
You can use money with the Earthlings, spending it on other presents or items, fixing broken presents, playing mini-games (in Level) or paying the wise Carrot Man to identify your mystery presents in your Inventory.
Side Levels called the ‘Hyper Funk Zone’ have been recreated loyal to the original games. These are accessed by a door within the Level and are basically a very tricky, fast, time-based warped bonus section where you can collect up as many goodies as you can as the 2D side scroll environment has you running at lightning speed. There are hazards in the ‘Hyper Funk Zone’ and clocks to pick up to extend your time in there.
Further bonuses can be received by completing the ‘Hyper Funk Zone’ Level or by simply lasting the longest that you possibly can.
Each main Level can be played in a bite sized timeframe if you want to only achieve the objective – but it is advisable to explore as much as you can.
Released on Switch, it is the ideal platform for quick playability, that said each Level can be as long as you make it.
Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove is also available on the PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Back in the Groove really does see the two retro-hip aliens from Funkatron getting their groove back in what is now the fourth in game in the franchise.
A definite for those that gamed on the Megadrive / Genesis and for those that missed out on an age defining era of video gaming, they can now get a taste of 2D funk. Definitely the most funtastic game I have played so far this year.
An honourable mention needs to go to the soundtrack too – deep funk just like the old 16BIT days.
Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove is a simple but hell-fun intergalactic addiction and had Macaulay Culkin, a big fan of the originals, as Executive Producer.
Released: March 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Windows 10)
Developer: Humanature Studios
Publisher: Humanature Studios