Developer/Publisher: HumaNature Studios || Overall: 9.0/10
ToeJam & Earl are back from the 90’s with ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. I never played the original as a kid, but it was always something I had heard about, read about, and “wanted” to play. It wasn’t because anything about the game itself sounded good, it was just because there was a character named ToeJam, and that sounded funny.
Back in the Groove is literally a play-by-play remake of the original for modern platforms, with updated art, music, and gameplay. I’m not entirely sure of the angle here, but they have Macauly Culkin listed as an executive producer, and they make it seem like he was some sort of a consultant on the title. I guess it just comes across as “more 90’s” in the end for the marketing, though Culkin has been marketing himself significantly more on the internet recently, so it just feels like a part of that campaign instead.
Anyway, back to the game. It is really a lot of fun! The general feeling is like playing through an old kids animated TV show with all sorts of goofy cartoony power-ups, emphasis on junk food eating, crazy-looking funny enemies/allies, and a great soundtrack. The entire package is very satisfying.
The goal is to collect all of the ship parts that are missing through a myriad of levels while dodging enemies and other hazards. The game is sort of roguelike in a sense, but most of the power-ups are temporary in nature. Power-ups are found in wrapped boxes, also known as “presents,” which often have to be identified. If you want to gamble, you can open it without identifying and see what you get. Not every present is good, but even the good ones might not be needed at the time you use it, so they could be wasted. Opening presents nets you experience points which you use to level up your permanent stats. There are also presents that modify other presents, so planning out when you use them is very important to maximize the efficiency of buffs.
I wouldn’t say the game is very difficult, but it can be challenging if you run into a streak of bad luck. Things will chase you and hurt you, and you will often not have much to counter enemies other than running away. There are things to do to get rid of them, but again this relies on the luck aspect of the current run you’re on. There are nine different characters to play with that have their own unique buffs, so you can modify your game experience significantly depending on who you play with. There is also multiplayer, which allows for other people to hop into your games randomly or by invite. This kind of modifies the flow of the game, but there’s usually enough presents to go around regardless. You also have to wait for everyone to go into the elevator (the way you get to the next level) before it works.
ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is an excellent remake, as it holds very true to the original; I can finally say I played ToeJam & Earl. I suppose you could say that was on my tertiary bucket list. Now I can die a little happier, as I sit here eating saltine crackers over a trash can because the crumbs get everywhere.