ToeJam and Earl (Mega Drive) Review

What’s this? An older game review that ISN’T a scrolling beat ‘em up?! I know! Feels like forever, though funnily enough me and my friend played this childhood classic at the same time we played the older Streets of Rage games (they were all on the same digital collection, so why not?) so this review and its screenshots have been sitting on my PC’s hard drive for the better part of a year… Oh well! Let’s take a look at the other MegaDrive game that along with Sonic 2 and Streets of Rage II always comes to my mind when someone mentions the console…

Background:

Any screenshot from this game will be so confusing to people who never played it before…

ToeJam and Earl was released in the US October 1991 and in PAL territories the following month. Japan would get it March 1992.

It was followed by a sequel I never got on with, as it became a rather standard 2D platformer, and then had two more modern games that tried to emulate this game’s style that I have yet to play… Which is odd when you think about how much I love this one…

Gameplay:

Earl heads towards Santa rather than save his friend from suffocation.

It’s really hard to describe the gameplay of ToeJam and Earl. You play as one of the two titular characters as you move up from one randomly generated floating cluster of islands to another trying to find parts of your ship. Find all 10 ship pieces and you win! It’s that simple… apart from everything else. Each “floor” has you having to find a lift to take you to the next one, and a ship part is by no means guaranteed to be on each floor (in fact it isn’t more often than it is, unless your random world is extremely lucky) Another random factor is the presents you find across the playthrough. You have no idea what’s in each one until you open it, and it can be food for health, an extra life, some tomatoes to throw or slingshot at your enemies, maybe some wings or spring shoes to make travelling over the floating islands easier… but it could also be bad food that hurts you, or a “Total Bummer” which flat out kills you. It can also be a “randomiser” which re-randomises your presents so you go back to not knowing what any of them are! It’s always good fun. Throw in a very… very weird set of enemies to fight (or avoid, mostly) and it’s one of those games where no two playthroughs are ever the same.

The multiplayer is great as well. When you get a certain way away from each other the screen turns into a split-screen, and then goes back to full screen when you meet back up. If one player opens a present with the other player on the screen they both get whatever positive or negative effect happens, otherwise it’s just the player that opens it. While only one player has to collect the ship piece, both have to be in the lift to go to the next stage, the only exception is if one player falls off the edge and lands on the previous level (that’s a thing, by the way!) then they can take the lift to go back up to the stage they were previously on, but the other player would’ve been stuck in the lift waiting for the other to reach them before they can head to the next level. It’s one of my all-time favourite multiplayer games.

The only other thing to mention is how it’s the most late 80s/early 90s thing that ever existed. Surfer lingo, bright neon backgrounds with pointless swirls and symbols, all that jazz. It was intentionally poking fun at the culture of the time, which means that it’s full of the culture of the time! It was the world I grew up in so it’s extremely nostalgic for me, but I can imagine is a bit much for those born later…

Graphics and Sound:

If you’ve played this game before I know exactly what tune has now just entered your head…

Graphics are basic, but given the random nature of the game that makes sense. The artstyle is good cartoony fun.

The soundtrack though? It’s amazing. It’s all extremely catchy funk tracks that will forever be stuck in your head. The overworld music and the tune that plays while the lift is travelling between floors are legendary… to me and I can immediately bring them to my head if needed. The few voice clips are funny too, hearing stuff like “Wow! Alright!” and “Money!” is always fun, and the cupid enemy’s “La-lala!” and the Bogeyman’s “Bogey-bogey-bogey!” being particularly memorable, both because of panic due to either soon-to-be-reversed controls or getting hit by an enemy that was previous invisible, respectively.

Story:

The crazy map is further revealed! … How do Earthlings live on these islands, anyway?

ToeJam and Earl are from the planet Funkatron and crash on Earth, which is a tiny island surround by ocean (and one other island full of hoola girls, if you know your secrets!), then countless “floors” of islands floating in space somehow and in order to get back home they need to reassemble their ship. That’s it! Simple but effective in terms of giving you a reason to play this randomly generated insanity.

Thoughts Then:

The excitement of opening a present is like the … well, the excitement of opening a present, but with less paper left afterwards?

In case you couldn’t tell already, this was a major hit with me at the time. Be it with friends or family few things were as fun as a multiplayer session on ToeJam and Earl. Single player is so-so, but man does the game ever come alive with another person in the room…

Thoughts Now:

Bollocks. I mean, erm, Bummer, I guess?

Now? Pretty much the same! It’s still a great laugh with a friend or family member sitting next to you, but in single player it’s just “good for a bit”. Can’t recommend it enough!

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