Last month, the world was gifted with ToeJam and Earl: Back In the Groove. The game was funded by a $500,000 Kickstarter campaign with help from Adult Swim, and comes out roughly 28 years after the first game in the franchise was released. To celebrate the release of the new title, let’s take a look back at the original, a game once described as a, “daringly misanthropic commentary on Earthly life.”
It’s hard to know where to begin when discussing the game. Do you mention that the characters are alien rappers from the planet Funkotron? Or that the soundtrack was inspired by jazz and funk legend Herbie Hancock? Or the fact that the entire concept for the game was conceived by Greg Johnson on a beach in Hawaii? Greg Johnson had previously worked on games like Star Control and Starflight, and he teamed up with programmer Mark Voorsanger to create ToeJam and Earl.
Your mission in the game is collect the scattered pieces of your spacecraft, which has crashed on the planet Earth. ToeJam describes their situation, ““We were cruisin’ in our rocket, thumpin’ out a funky beat, when big Earl said he’d like a shot in the driver’s seat … You should never let Earl drive. Yo, so here we are, chillin’ out on the most insane planet in the galaxy, planet Earth! Thanks to Earl … All we have to do now, is find the 10 pieces of our rocketship and we can jet outta here. No problem.” To find the parts of the ship, you move between various floating islands connected by elevators. As you search out the missing parts of your ship, you encounter enemies like giant hamsters, heavily armed chickens, attack nerds, killer bees, evil dentists, and more. Not every Earth inhabitant was evil. For instance, there was that guy in the carrot suit. He was actually pretty nice. You could find gifts on each level which served as power ups. Those power ups provided your only means of attack: tomatoes. If you found tomatoes you could throw them at your enemies.
Playing in two player mode had an added feature. When the players were together, they appeared on a single screen. However, they could separate to search in different areas. Doing so changed the camera to a split screen view. Playing the two player mode also opened up certain jokes and dialogue between the characters which couldn’t be heard in single player.
The game was a massive hit for the Sega Genesis system. It was surreal and utterly bizarre, unlike anything else on the market. Nearly 30 years have passed since its release, yet ToeJam and Earl still seems fresh. Funky fresh. Did I say that right? Is that how the hip people say these things?