IndieSpotlight: Fall 2018’s ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove (PS4, Xbox, Switch, PC)

One of the underground classics of masterpiece quality and bizarrely unique trappings has been reborn. ToeJam and Earl originally brought hip hop space aliens to the Sega Genesis on a quest to repair their ships after crash-landing on the craziest, most dangerous planet in the universe… Earth! Half of a million dollars was pledged by fans for the rebirth of this retro game franchise in a brand new installment coming to modern formats.

One of the first ever rogue-like games, and perhaps the most unique, ToeJam and Earl was an isometric 16-bit game that had players travelling up “floors” of floating terrain through elevators, scouring each floor for gifts that would be opened and have unknown effects (good or bad) until a player had opened such wrapping in order to identify it the next time around and use them strategically. If you fell off of the many cliffs, or miscalculate a jump while running away frantically from fast and deadly enemies, you’d fall down to the floor beneath. The game featured a wide variety of enemies whose attacks caused disorientation, damage, or the temporary loss of some player abilities. Two players could play at once separately across the world, one as ToeJam and one as Earl. Overall, the game was full of easter-eggs and one of a kind moments.

While perhaps not the most well known Sega Genesis game, this title holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts. The sadly unlovable sequel to the game could perhaps be blamed for the original downfall of the franchise however, as it stripped much of the game’s special presentation and gameplay in favor of a generic side-scrolling title that fell flat. The creators of the franchise have since explained that this was due to publisher constraints. Sega was funding the title so they, of course, got to call all of the shots – and they might not have understood what made the original an excellent game that people of all different types found enjoyable.

ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove will feature 9 playable characters (ToeJam and Earl, Latisha, Lewanda, GeekJam, Peabo, and Earl’s mom, Flo), 4 player co-op, and hand-drawn comic book graphics as it remakes the aspects of the series that made the original ToeJam and Earl so great to begin with. There will be rapping mini-games from both titles as well, but thankfully the main title focuses on reaching different floors, opening strange gifts, and then experiencing the madness that is ToeJam and Earl’s uncommon formula for alien gaming fun.

Gamers have been waiting almost 3 full years since the success of the title’s Kickstarter launched by development studio Humanature Studios who will publish the game on Steam with Adult Swim Games helping ensure release across PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox ONE some time this year (hopefully). It looks like this game should be worth the wait, and we sincerely hope the magical feelings from the original are able to be re-captured. It’s often difficult or impossible to “get the genie back in the bottle” as the industry calls it, but it’s a noble endeavor that Humanature has ventured to make this attempt.

Recently (last week at the time of writing this post) it was announced that Kickstarter backers would finally be getting a closed beta sneak-peek at the title within a couple of weeks as release dates emerging for all consoles seem to land some time in Fall 2018. The game is almost ready for the Nintendo certification process and will hit Sony and Microsoft soon after, according to Greg Johnson, the founder of developer HumaNature Studios.

Although heavily based on the original, Back in the Groove will also feature an advanced mode with procedural generation for different play-through’s each time, Earthlings (for the first time), new demons and other enemies, player character attributes and stats (RPG elements, oh my!), character-specific dialogue, 15 remade songs from the classic as well as 15 new tracks, secret locations and terrain types, “power hats” for permanent upgrades, and of course tons of new and classic “presents” for unexpected and awesome power-up effects both negative and positive. Once you roll the dice and risk it all to find out what a package contains, you can of course try to use these power-ups strategically, but that chaotic start is also part of the fun!

If you haven’t tried out the original, now would be a great time to boot up a Sega Genesis emulator and try it out, just make sure to play the first one and not the soulless sequel! Below are some screenshots, a new trailer, and an original pitch trailer for the project which explains the history of the franchise from the mouths of the creators themselves, but we hope to have much more to share with you soon.




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