Man, Toejam & Earl for the Genesis is one of my most nostalgic games! A buddy and I used to play it a lot when we were kids. Now, you’d already know that if you’d read my post, Top Ten Things I’m Ashamed of as a Gamer. If you’d read that, you’d know I’m ashamed I’ve never actually beaten this game. Well, it turns out people I know actually read what I write, and one of my closest friends since junior high texted me to let me know how much bullshit me not beating TJ&E was. He demanded I stop crying on the internet and come over so we could beat this shit. Of course I obliged. It’s not everyday two dudes can get together, sit down, and cuss at a 20-plus-year-old video game while his pregnant wife barfs in the bathroom all night.
Our goal was simple: Beat Toejam & Earl with enough time left to grab some food before WWE TLC! Because there ain’t nothing like gaining a long-overdue victory over a video game and then eating greasy, fast-food meat while watching grown men pretend fight!
LET’S GET FUNKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Game: Toejam & Earl
Console: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive
Developer: Johnson Voorsanger Productions
Release Year: 1991
Wow. It’s hard not to be a little embarrassed after watching that commercial. I mean, I grew up in an era when that was legitimately what was marketed as “Cool.” There’s nothing ironic going on there; my generation actually thought that was awesome. It makes me sad that some of my readers didn’t grow up during this time and therefore don’t fully understand this concept of “Cool.” So, to put you young ‘uns in the proper mood and to enhance your reading experience, please enjoy this 10-hour extended cut of “Toejam Jammin’,” my favorite track from the game. It should make you feel right at home in the ’90s.
There. Now it’s stuck in your head FOREVER!
As you’ve probably gathered, Toejam & Earl‘s tone and aesthetic are trying to capitalize on the Urban Black Culture trend that was so hip and fresh at the time. That would explain why I kept having flashbacks of In Living Color as I played.
Despite being in the target demographic, I’m pretty sure Homey didn’t play this.
And speaking of the ’90s, boy is this game from the ’90s! Just look at the backgrounds when you transition from one level to the other. It’s like the guy who did the intro to Saved By the Bell got drunk and put the graphics in this game by accident:
In the ’90s, random shapes and paint splashes were everywhere!
Other than being incredibly ’90s, Toejam & Earl can also be described as a co-op rougelike where you play as a couple of aliens (funky, as they are described) who’ve crash landed on Earth and now must quest to find the missing pieces of their ship so they can return home. And by “quest” I mean “walk around aimlessly while a bunch of weird crap happens around them.” Also, said weird crap is out to kill them, even the Devil!
After he busts a move, of course. The music is just that funky!
If you don’t know, a rougelike is a game that randomly generates its levels. The term is mostly associated with dungeon crawlers like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Shiren the Wander, and Izuna: The Unemployed Ninja. So every time you play it’s a different experience. TJ&E‘s dungeon is apparently the planet Earth, and you “ascend floors” by finding a magic elevator. Yeah, because fuck logic at this point. What? You thought you could just sit down and play a Genesis game from the ’90s about “Cool” characters without sacrificing a few brain cells? Oh, to be as innocent and ignorant of the world as you…
I’m surprised so many of us actually survived the ’90s.
So yeah, TJ&E is a little odd. First off, what the hell’s up with Earth? It’s just a bunch of floating islands in space. Did Toejam & Earl crash so hard they shattered the planet? If they did, the denizens don’t seem to mind. There are guys violently mowing grass and ladies pushing shopping carts and screaming at her kids to shut up. Pretty normal stuff going on here despite the world exploding. There are also gaggles of nerds that trample you, a sadistic dentist, and hula dancers whose dancing is so powerful it moves even the funkiest of aliens against their own volition. Everything is either fine, or they all lost their minds during the cataclysmic explosion.
Who gives a shit about apocalypses when you’re this fresh?
Whatever is going on in these people’s heads, it at least makes sense that they’re on Earth. The rest of the enemies seem like the programmers just grabbed a bunch of random sprites and threw them in the game. Of course there’s the aforementioned devil, but then you have a platoon of chickens with tomato mortars, killer mailboxes, mole people, and giant hamsters in giant hamster balls. Also, Santa Claus with a jet pack. He’s not an enemy; I just thought you’d like to know.
Move over, Hanukkah! Christmas just got radder!
But the worst by far is the tornado. That bastard will sweep you off your feet and carry you away as if he were a daring young desperado and you a dainty southern belle. Sure, it doesn’t hurt and is a little thrilling, but 90% of the time it’s going to end with him dropping your naïve ass off a cliff. Hmm… that analogy didn’t pan out the way I thought it would. I really need to watch more Westerns.
Get that tornado out of there! It’s uncomfortably close to becoming a Sci-Fi movie!
Tornadoes dropping you off cliffs especially sucks in co-op mode because then you have to wait there while your stupid partner does the “Climb of Shame” back to you. On the plus side, it gives you plenty of time to talk shit.
HURRY UP! I could have banged your mom TWICE by now!!!
As you can see above, the screen splits when you’re not together. This blows because your visibility is halved and you can’t see your buddy’s rank at the bottom of the screen. It’s impossible to tell if his rank is Wiener or Peanut, and that’s important trash-talking ammunition. So what’s the importance of rank other than to rub it in your friends’ faces when you outrank them? I’ve no idea. All I know is everyone starts as Wiener, and you rank up as you reveal more of the game’s map. Sometimes you get an extra life when you rank up, but mostly it’s pointless, as far as I could tell. I guess I could have done some research, but I was content with having a false sense of superiority.
Another fun aspect of TJ&E are the presents. There are a ton of presents strewn throughout the levels (presumably dropped by Jetpack Santa), and each present does something different, though you don’t know what they’ll do until you open them. This can be really funny in co-op because you could get in a sticky situation and open up a present to get some bitchin’ spring shoes to aid in your escape, or you can open up a present and kill each other. Literally. You can open up a present and get shocked to death. It’s kind of morbid, considering Jetpack Santa must have intended to give these presents to children. I suppose even Jetpack Santa lost his mind during the Catastrophic Alien Crash of ’91. It’s all pretty melancholy, not even being able to trust a present from Jetpack Santa… but there could be rocket skates inside!
Man, these were totally worth killing Earl!
The presents’ unknown, random effects combined with the game’s rougelike level structure keep things entertaining and fresh… for about an hour. Yeah… even with a friend this game got old pretty quick. Despite being in co-op, it’s still just a bunch of walking. I feel bad for my other friend that was watching us; I’m sure he would have rather been watching anything else, even NASCAR. There is some combat to break up the monotony of walking, but throwing tomatoes and growing rosebushes to fight isn’t as fun as it sounds, and getting these things doesn’t happen very often.
My buddy and I seriously had every intention of beating this game, but after playing it for a couple of hours we were pretty drained. It wasn’t until I died that we decided to cheat (for the record, he died first and stole a life, the bastard.) He put in the code to get all the ship pieces but one. Then, he got the final piece, and we all sighed in relief as we watched the ending, which is just more freaking walking! It’s not terrible, but only because I knew it was finally over!
My friend walked to the end where Toejam & Earl’s families were waiting. This was depressing because I had died as Toejam, and now here’s Earl alone with Toejam’s family. How’s he going to break the news to the family? Are they going to blame Earl for their loss? Will Earl blame himself?
Darkest ending ever, Sega.
And that’s TJ&E. It obviously hasn’t aged very well. I remember it being way more fun as a kid. That’s not to say I didn’t like the game. I just wish there were more to it. But it’s not all bad: the music’s a definite highlight, its creativity and imagination is great, and its sense of humor is unforgettable. You’ll absolutely have a blast playing TJ&E with a like-minded friend. Just don’t expect that fun to last more than an hour or so, and expect it to last even less if you’re going it alone. Regardless, you’ll at the very least appreciate the game and easily be wooed by its charm.
Thanks for Your Playing! And a special thanks to my buddy for stepping up and allowing me to cross something off my Shame List! How do you guys feel about Toejam & Earl? You ever replay a game you loved as a kid only to be disappointed with it when you got older? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time, stay funky!