STAFF REVIEW of ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove! (Xbox One)

Thursday, April 4, 2019.
by John Elliott

ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove! Box art ToeJam and Earl, back in the day, was a game I didn’t get too much hands-on play because I had to get my Sega Genesis gaming in through friends, as I was a proud owner of a SNES and that garnered most of my focus. However, I did hear a lot of positive things about ToeJam and Earl, and with that in mind I figured 28 years later was a good time to experience a different dynamic duo.

ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove starts off with setting the story with the titular duo, along with their friends Lewanda and Latisha, are off on a cruise with a “borrowed” spaceship that they don’t fully know how to control. This results in an accident near Earth, which results with ToeJam & Earl creating a black hole that sucked up the planet and regurgitated it into a complete mess. Did I mention that their spaceship also got sucked up into the black hole? With that, the only way for everyone to return home is to explore the newly spewed out Earth for the needed ship parts to reconstruct the ship.

The pieces of Earth that you explore are flat pieces of land floating through space, along with that there are scattered humans all over to hinder your exploration of the bits of Earth. At first when jumping in, I was expecting a bit more complicated gameplay, but at it’s core it is pretty simple. First, avoid the humans at all costs as they just get in your way. Second, explore each level, fully collecting all the presents and ultimately spaceship parts that you can find. Thirdly, HORDE all the presents and your money. In the earlier levels, you can get away with some skillful maneuvers to get around all the humans, but later on you are going to need the presents that you collect. Inside the presents are powerful powerups that you are going to need to utilize in later stages to progress.

The powerups include slingshots to launch tomatoes at your human bothers, gas clouds to scatter enemies, disguises to bypass humans altogether and wings that help you fly from one side of the level to the other, avoiding any contact at all with the pesky human beings. The money collection comes into play because it is what you use to check what’s inside your presents so you can lock in what you’re going to be able to use, otherwise it is completely random which can be a huge pain in later levels.

Doing a bit of research on the game beforehand, I did learn that this edition of ToeJam and Earl incorporates stats for characters, with their starting stats all being a bit different than the others as well. These stats determine speed, health, present skill, search skill, inventory size and your luck. These will level up as you continue through the game making it a bit easier with each level you gain.

All of these aspects make up for a decent gameplay experience, however, unless you use all the tools you have at your disposal, you may rage quit at the later levels. Although the game appears to be simple, it gets chaotic, overwhelming and just darn frustrating if you’re not prepared for it. This frustration extends into multiplayer, as I thought it would make the game a bit easier with more hands in the pot, but it actually made it a bit harder because of how the camera worked. When each character spreads out it expands the camera view very wide, making it sometimes difficult to see what you were doing and forces you to stick together to make sure everything was zoomed in properly. With that one downfall it did unfortunately ruin the co-op experience of the game for me. However, if that one issue doesn’t bother you then you will be able to couch co-op along with playing with friends online as well.

On the presentation side of the game I was warped back to the 90’s from the very first frames of the opening cut scene, and it perpetuates throughout the whole game within the look and sounds of the experience. The backwards ball caps that ToeJam and Earl wear, the makeup styling on Lewanda and Latisha and even how they talk all bring you back to that good ole 90’s nostalgia feel. It makes me miss the 90’s a little bit, but at the same time it makes me wonder how the fashion industry survived. All of the music has deep bass rhythms playing in the background that reminds you of Seinfeld, and we get visited by Saved by the Bell vibes with squiggly lines plastered just about everywhere they could put them. The colour schemes are vibrant and the in your face art style brings everything to the perfect “fruit gushers” explosion of 90’s goodness.

I enjoyed my first foray into ToeJam & Earl and really enjoyed the childhood memories that it brought out. It’s a solid title for a single player playthrough but the multiplayer may not be for everyone, which is unfortunate because it’s great to see a couch co-op title spread itself into an online experience. Fans of the series will definitely and should buy!

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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