Growing up, I was part of the Nintendo Master Race, the kids who were fully addicted to the NES, back when it still held a 90% market share of the recently resurrected video game industry. There were a few kids in my circle of friends and acquaintances who owned Sega products, but for the most part the dominant discussion on the playground and the majority of games played all lived in Nintendo’s sphere of influence.
That dominance made Sega a very interesting company. Instead of trying to go head to head with Nintendo on all fronts, their underdog status gave them the ability to get very creative and odd in the games they were green-lighting, and thus – Toejam and Earl were born.
Originally released in 91 on the Genesis, the game starred two alien hip-hop stars, stuck on Earth and trying to find the pieces of their destroyed spaceship to get home. Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove is a soft reboot of that original title, with the same basic plot points and gameplay.
As I never played the game in my childhood, I wanted to get hands on to see what the ongoing nostalgia for the title was about, and I can see why this would have been a hit when first released. Roguelike, odd character designs, a killer soundtrack, and bright visuals – this was pretty unique for consoles when originally launched. Today – it certainly feels like a throwback. While I don’t think the game is badly done – it feels incredibly retro for me, and not in a great way. With the recent resurgence of retro inspired or nuevo-retro titles, this feels like far too much of a recreation instead of an evolution with the aesthetics of the original.
I played on Xbox, and I feel like playing on a tv is a detriment. I feel like this could be a great addition for your Switch library, as the bite sized level design and no stress story beats make it completely pick up and go-able. Still, the visuals and soundtrack were instantly compelling enough for my children to come into the room to see what I was playing this time, and they both were fascinated by everything going on. While this might not be MY cup of tea, both kids were instantly onboard.
The graphics really pop right off the screen, with an amazingly full color spectrum. I remember watching Nicktoons after school in the 90’s, and this seems to have that same saturated Rocko’s Modern Life type palette, in full HD beauty. The exploration and non-scary or demanding enemies, and the tomato throwing as a weapon were sufficiently stress free enough that by the 2nd level both kids were no longer concerned with the bad guys, and were far more interested in presents and spaceship parts. They also were instant Team Toejam, as they found him to be the coolest of the two, and very funny when he fell off an edge.
Recalling my college days, where music heavy games were played with a room full of people just casually watching – think Parappa the Rappa and Rez – this could easily slot into those lazy Sunday afternoons. These days, my own personal preference is for far more of a plot and story intensive narrative, so it’s a miss for me, but my kids still have those Sundays of leisure and relaxation – and are still asking me about playing it two weeks later.
If you’re trying to recapture that childhood feeling, with better graphics – Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove is going to do it’s damnest to provide. If a casual game that still feels like an early 90’s experimental rogue title isn’t your cup of tea – there’s not much here to try to convince you.