As many of you may be aware of after more than a year of tickling the keys for Nintendeal, I definitely feel like I occupy the spot of resident vintage games enthusiast. So when Andrew and I heard about this re-imagining of ToeJam and Earl, entitled “Back in the Groove!” we immediately reached out to the developer HumanNature Studios with the hope of covering the game. We’re going to dive into the game below in detail, but the short line is: this game is quirky, weird, rad, and surprisingly addicting.
The gameplay is reworking of the original ToeJam and Earl for Sega Genesis, which is currently on the Switch as part of the Sega Genesis Classics Collection. You take control of one of the titular characters (the current version has more options), and search through levels attempting to reassemble your starship to escape a crash-landing.
The levels appear in an isometric view, and you wander through each area collecting power ups, avoiding obstacles, finding secrets and attempting to not fall back down to the previous island. Each character controls differently, and has different stats, which can, of course, be leveled up. As you progress, you can unlock more of the team, which significantly adds to the replayability. That’s a good thing, since this game is a little short.
The levels can randomly generate or not, according to preference, and the game has definitely refined the searching and exploring of the game to a high degree above the original. It’s polished, direct, and accessible, and in my opinion, the best ToeJam and Earl game in the series.
Back in the Groove!, overall, looks amazing, but it sometimes runs aground graphically. Weird pop-ins, some glitchy graphics on loading screens appear here and there. Generally it doesn’t detract from the experience, but for a game that appears as graphically simple as this, it’s a slight mark against it.
The world is colorful, full of weird characters and zany power ups and obstacles. The entire thing reeks of the 1990’s in a good way, when things were edgy, no one knew what was coming, and attitude ruled the day. The visual style of Back in the Groove really captures and recreates that feeling, perhaps even better than the original did in it’s time.
Here’s where the game was make-or-break for me. The original had some seriously great music, and this reinvention does not disappoint. It’s funky, layered, full of sass, and fits the visual style and that ‘90s oeuvre perfectly. Maybe too perfectly, but we’ll address that in the conclusion.
I was transported back to summer’s at my cousins, where we’d just pop in the original ToeJam and read comics to the soundtrack, playing for a few minutes here and there to sometimes change the track by getting to a new level. So when I saw the dev included a jukebox, I jumped for funky joy.
ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove! is an extremely well executed, ridiculous nostalgia trip. It’s gorgeous, has great tunes, and the weird wacky gameplay of the series, yet refined to a new level of polish. However, aside from the aforementioned saunter down memory lane, is this a good game to dive into for the modern player? I’m going to say yes, with that same caveat I often place in my arcade reviews. If the 90s has a mystique to you, if you yearn for ‘tude, neon, and spiky hair… er, protuberances (aliens, what are you going to do?), then absolutely check this out. What it’s not is a great, new game. What is it, then? It’s a loving homage to one of the quirkiest, most interesting games on the quintessential “90s” game console, and for most of us, that’s far more than enough.
Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.
Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.
Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!
Plays: All of them games. Seriously.