ToeJam & Earl seemed like one of those video game brands destined to remain a relic of its time. The funky characters, early hip hop vibe, and dated slang scream ’90s culture. Not only that, it was a cult classic property that only seemed to wane in quality with each release. Still, Genesis fans hold a strong love for the original.
So when ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove was announced, old-school gamers rejoiced. The original creator Greg Johnson was bringing our funky aliens back to their roots. And, believe it or not, it feels right as a 2019 release.
In a totally bogus move, funky fresh aliens ToeJam and Earl accidentally create a black hole when visiting Earth. This sucks them and our planet up, creating 25 randomly generated levels of floating islands. It is up to our hip hop heroes and their friends to collect 10 pieces of their spacecraft to get back home.
Like the 1991 ToeJam & Earl, Back in the Groove is a top-down, dungeon-crawler, roguelike adventure. Despite that description, this is a game which doesn’t perfectly fit into any preconceived box. It truly is its own experience.
Your time in the game is largely made up of exploring levels, shaking down trees, and avoiding enemies. There are hazards to avoid as well as gifts to collect. These gifts can be used to track down the elevator to the next level, give you fast-running high tops, or even alert your presence to enemies. Money can also be collected to purchase gifts or favors from friendly humans.
As you uncover more of the map, you will find other random elements. These include hidden pathways, rhythm minigame dance-offs, and doorways into a sidescrolling funky zone. It’s truly an adventure in the sense that you just don’t know what to expect. If you didn’t grow up with the Genesis title, you may be a bit lost on what to do at first. However, the optional tutorial does a decent job explaining things.
Hangin’ Wit’ Mah Homies
While ToeJam & Earl can be played as a single-player experience, it truly shines in cooperative play. Local couch co-op gives a classic split-screen experience that returning fans will appreciate. It works well too since players can largely go off on their own to cover more of the map. This is one of the more enjoyable co-op experiences you will have on the Nintendo Switch.
Not only that, but there will also be four-player support via a launch-day patch. That’s why it’s good Back in the Groove also boasts a healthy amount of characters to choose from. There are six to start and three more to unlock as you play. Characters have their own stats, giving each one a unique feel. For example, Classic ToeJam is good if you’re like me and want to have a good radius when searching for items.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
It would be a disservice to not mention the unique presentation of ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. The distinctive art style nails the funky vibe of the game as a whole. It’s simultaneously fresh-looking while staying true to the feel of the original title. If there was ever a TV show, this is pretty much how it should look.
The music is a healthy dose of funky jams and hip hop beats as you might expect. There are also some nice audio touches like the occasional muzak when riding the elevator.
After years of relative obscurity, ToeJam & Earl is back in a big way. Back in the Groove likely won’t push the franchise beyond its cult status, but it is a good game that fans both old and new should check out. Pick up and play this one with a friend for the best experience.
A review code was provided by the publisher.
David has been involved in games media since 2012 running his own blog, YouTube channel, being a founding member of RETRO Magazine, and now as host/producer of ARGcast – Another Retro Gaming Podcast. He also dabbles in voiceover and is occasionally a stunt double for Jude Law.