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Why ToeJam And Earl Is Awesome

Sega announced today that it’s bringing the first two ToeJam and Earl games to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. If you haven’t played the funky games on the Genesis (or via the Wii’s Virtual Console), you have a gaping hole in your gaming resume. Here’s why.

Let’s start off with a quick recap. ToeJam and Earl was released in 1991 for the Sega Genesis. Two years later, its sequel — ToeJam and Earl: Panic on Funkotron — hit the same platform. The screens from the game look pretty terrible by today’s standards, and Sega’s quickie 16:9 reformatting isn’t helping one bit. Are you even trying anymore, Sega? Couldn’t you at least pick some more appropriate clip art for your background?

At any rate, the first game is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s something that I’d recommend to just about anyone. The sequel? Not so much. That’s all right though, since you can simply grab the first one and pretend that other stuff never happened. If me calling a game one of my all-time favorites isn’t convincing enough, let me break my appeal down into a few bite-sized chunks.

1) It has a fantastic cast

ToeJam and Earl are two stranded aliens from planet Funkotron. They are, as you might guess, funky. ToeJam is a skinny red dude with three legs, and Earl is a bigger fellow with shades. They basically sum up everything you need to know about stereotypical early ‘90s hip-hop culture. They’re not my favorite part of the game, though. The game’s world is filled with bizarre Earthlings that include a guy dressed in a carrot suit, hula dancers, and dentists.  Each has their own style of attack (or purpose), which can completely mess everything up. The woman pushing a shopping cart (complete with squalling child) simply rams into ToeJam and Earl. Those hula dancers lure the pair into dancing along with them — rendering ToeJam and Earl temporarily vulnerable. My personal favorite is the bogeyman, who’s invisible until he pops out, shouting “Boogey boogey boogey,” and knocking our heroes back in fear.

2) It’s one of the best co-op games around

This is the first games I can recall that features a split-screen/shared screen hybrid. When two players are wandering through the game, the presentation shifts depending on their proximity. When ToeJam and Earl are close to one another, they’re both shown on one screen. Separate, and the view instantly splits into two. The game is all about exploration, and I remember how not feeling tethered to my partner made it even better. Plus, you could walk in a circle if you were lazy, making your co-op buddy collect all of your ship parts and find each level’s exit while you slacked off. I would never do this, however. 

3) It has one of the best soundtracks pretty much ever

Open your earholes. You’re welcome.

4) It’s a funked-up roguelike

I played a ton of Rogue on my Amiga 500, and I fell in love with the concept of facing off against a randomly generated world filled with monsters and unidentified loot. I especially liked the sense of using a wand, for instance, and not knowing what its effects would be — positive or negative. ToeJam and Earl has a similar sensibility, only with presents. When you start the game, you don’t have any idea what these items are, because they’re neatly wrapped up. You can either pay to get them identified (from that carrot guy!), or push your luck and simply use the present. Sometimes they’re helpful, like an inflatable decoy that draws enemy attacks. Others aren’t so great, such as a boring book that puts your character to sleep, or the instakill “total bummer.” Every time I sat down with the game, I knew it would be different from the last session. 

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