Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove (PS4)

Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove
Format: PSN (1.85 GB)
Release Date: March 1, 2019
Publisher: HumaNautre Studios
Developer: HumaNautre Studios
Original MSRP: $19.99 (US), £16.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E10+
PEGI: 3
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 615 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
Released exclusively for the SEGA Genesis in 1991, the original ToeJam & Earl became a cult classic and spawned several lesser regarded sequels. The all new ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is a love letter to the original game with some clever updates added in for good measure.

The gameplay in ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is a bit hard to describe. It’s a platformer, a roguelike, an action-adventure title, even RPG-lite this time around, and it’s just wonderfully weird. To avoid the pitfalls of the previous sequels, HumaNature has simply gone back to the gameplay of the original and amped things up a bit, and clearly it’s the right choice.

Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

If, gasp, you’ve never played ToeJam & Earl, you’re in for a treat. This time around, the titular characters, alien rappers from the planet Funkotron, have returned to Earth in a “borrowed” spaceship and just like the original game, they mess things up and crash land. The object of the game is to move through the various levels collecting wayward pieces of your spaceship so you can get back home.

It’s a simple enough premise but it quickly gets complicated by the many Earthling enemies and allies strewn across the levels. To aid your quest you’ll also have power-ups in the form of presents and power hats. The contents of many of the presents are obscured until you open or identify them so it’s a gamble each time you open an unknown present, because they’re not all good.

The Earthlings are generally annoyed that you’ve messed everything up and they’ll damage you if you come into contact with them. Many have returned from the original game along with a new updated set as well including a troll who hurls nasty insults at you from afar, and one texting on a cell phone who will inevitably run into you.

Movement feels much like it did in the original ToeJam & Earl. Sneaking slowly past a sleeping Earthling or dodging an oncoming attack can be very satisfying. Several small diversions like the Hyperfunk Zone, a sweet minigame ripped straight out of ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron, and a short rhythm game à la Rock Band with a fellow Funkotronian help keep things fresh.

Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

There are several different modes and reaching Level 10 in the Fixed World will unlock the Random World while beating the Random will unlock the Hard World. Both Random and Hard are not for the faint of heart, and Hard World can be especially brutal if you’re looking for a real challenge.

You’re no longer limited to using just ToeJam or Earl as you climb the XP ladder from Weiner all the way to Funklord. Latisha, Lewanda, Old Skool ToeJam, Old Skool Earl, Flo, Peabo, and Geek Jam now round out the lineup. Each has their own unique Special Ability and Starter Presents along with upgradeable stats covering Speed, Life Bar, Presents, Detect, Luck, and Inventory.

The additions in ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove fit beautifully and feel perfectly in spirit with the original game. As for any issues, I’ve come across a few minor bugs here and there, but nothing game-breaking so far, and certainly nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a quick patch.

Visuals:
The charm of the ToeJam & Earl series lies in its style, and this game just oozes style. Being so used to the pixel art style of the original game I was a little thrown off by the visuals at first.

Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

My initial gut reaction was disappointment because things looked a little too clean, but after a few minutes, the personalities of the characters began to shine through and I fell right back into the groove, so to speak.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is like a more fully realized version of the original game with more variety and a lot more happening on any given part of the world.

Audio:
The original game was defined by its music and much of it returns here. Fans of the series will delight at the return of classic grooves and feel right at home with the newer funky fresh beats.

The bits of voice acting were another hallmark of the series and HumaNature has done a wonderful job here as well. Each character is unique and all of the original catchphrases are back.

Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

Online/Multiplayer:
It wouldn’t be a ToeJam & Earl without at least including a two player option but the developers have gone the extra mile here. ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove includes both local co-op and up to four player online multiplayer.

Local co-op works beautifully, and just as you could in the original game, you can high five to give health to your partner and exchange presents. Having two people explore the levels also makes things much easier and a lot more fun.

I wasn’t able to find anyone online unfortunately, but the setup appears to be simple and intuitive. When starting a game you can make it available for other players to find and join and rather than relying on voice chat, a series of phrases are available to communicate with other players if you don’t have a mic or don’t want to talk.

Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Review: ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

Conclusion:
It’s risky to take on a beloved property and try to drag it into a modern context but developers have been learning just what made people love these older games in the first place.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove goes the Spyro and Crash Bandicoot route with what feels like a remake but takes it a step further with new characters and gameplay additions that slot seamlessly into place. If your memory is hazy on the original, you may not even notice what’s been added, and that’s quite an accomplishment in itself.

Twenty-eight years later, the gameplay holds up. That’s partly because there’s really nothing else like ToeJam & Earl across the gaming landscape, but also because it scratches a certain itch in a gamer that loves to explore and collect in a funny, funky setting.

Fans of the series will fall in love all over again with the doofus and poindexter of it all, while gamers looking for a quirky, challenging, roguelike, platformer, RPG-lite, action-adventure oddity (a refined group, I’m sure) will love it as well.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 26 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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