Review: Sega Vintage Collection: ToeJam & Earl

The most happenin’ aliens in the solar system are back to show you the definition of “funk,” with a little bit of style and a whole lot of attitude. The question remains, is this world capable of handling what the ToeJam & Earl Vintage Collection has to offer? Are we too cool to deal with these fools? Should we put the 16-bit days to rest? Hit that jump to revitalize your funk, punk!

In today’s dark, grey, “realistic” world of video games, it’s hard to remember what the world was like when video games were colorful, fun, and made zero sense. The ToeJam & Earl series demonstrates that video games do not need to have anything more than a simple plot to be entertaining to the point of forgetting the plot all together.

This Vintage Collection includes both the original ToeJam & Earl and its sequel, ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron. The first game is a difficult one to describe as many have claimed it to be everything from a dungeon crawler to a puzzle game, to even a rogue-like RPG. The best way to describe it to newcomers in my opinion is a top-down exploration game where you use items to defeat enemies while trying to find pieces of your crash-landed space shuttle… with FUNK.

ToeJam & Earl is an interesting game, and hard to compare to anything of today’s video game standards. The ability to play the game in widescreen is immediately incredible, although I did find one of the wallpapers outside of widescreen useful as it has a picture of each item you can use in the game. I remembered quickly getting bored with ToeJam & Earl as a kid, because I was used to the speedy gameplay of Sonic, or non-stop action of Streets of Rage back then. Currently, however, I am much more patient as a gamer and found myself continually saying, “OK just one more level,” even with the newly added save function. When I jumped into a random online match with a stranger across the world we found ourselves reaching level 19 before getting fed up with having to repeat levels. When I say we repeated levels, I’m referring to the most annoying thing about ToeJam & Earl: the ability to fall off each level, and then having to traverse the previous map to find the elevator (your mode of level progression, because that’s how Earth operates). It’s a taxing matter, but nothing these radical aliens can’t handle.

What I found odd at first was that my screen still went into split-screen mode while playing online, but soon found this to be an asset as we could communicate with each other without even using headsets to chat. The split-screen also proved useful as your counterpart would know if you had fallen off a level, or if you were simply waiting in the elevator to progress.

ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron is a straight-forward platformer with a funky twist: you have to catch all the earthlings who terrorized you in the previous game by throwing jars at them. The game lends itself well to a widescreen TV with large sprites, and colorful characters and landscapes a plenty. The fact that this game takes place on an alien planet allowed the designers to use whatever color palate they could imagine. I would even go as far as to say digital arcade games of today should take a note out of the 16-bit days. Too many re-imaginings of games such as Rocket Knight Adventure or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time try to fit too much on the screen, or take the camera too far away from your character for the purpose of showing off the ADHD of their game environment.

ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron is a wonderfully crafted game with an easy-going style that even your mom may enjoy. My mom loved the game to the point of actually completing it back in the 90s.

“It’s really laid-back and nothing fast-paced… like walkin’ around with your friends. It has likable characters and the name alone is funny.” –Scott’s Mom, 2012

Thanks, Mom. Lovable characters aside, Panic on Funkotron is a beautiful game and has well-crafted paralaxing foregrounds and backgrounds, which I only recently noticed when repeating levels, but subtlety does speak worlds about a game’s art direction. Aside from so many pinks and purples, the game has a colorful cast that makes you stop and look at each one of ToeJam and Earl’s friends even if you don’t need to discuss the plot with them.

Bringing these games to widescreen HD TVs was a bold move on Sega’s part as both games come from the pixilated age where games were not capable of showing much texture without the pre-rendered “3D” found in later games such as Vectorman or Clayfighter. Without turning on the Smoothing effect, both games are very pixilated and blocky, but this doesn’t take away from the games at all as the vibrant colors still shine better than anything. I honestly think Panic on Funkotron looks better without the Smoothing feature, because this feature actually adds more shading to the pixels and in turn makes the game seem a bit dim or darker than originally intended.

In previous Sega Vintage Collections, M2 added extra game modes labeled as “Trials,” and this one is no different. ToeJam & Earl has an enjoyable Rocket Skate Rhapsody where you begin a unique level wearing the rocket skates and must grab 10 rocket ship pieces as quickly as possible. This is a fun mode for the first few times, but would have much more replay value if random levels were generated each time instead of playing on only one level. The other Trials for TJ&E are simply timed versions of the main game with either “random” or “fixed” world as your options. I will admit I found it interesting to watch some of the replays on the leaderboards, but I could never sit down and commit to breaking my own record multiple times in the main game of ToeJam & Earl, as the replays are only saved for non-stop playthroughs.

Panic on Funkotron has a more varied selection of Trials. The most addictive Trial is the Funky Runner, where you simply try for the best time-attack of the Hyper Funk Zone – the bonus level in Panic. I found myself playing this multiple times in a row after watching some replays of people with ridiculous skill. The other Trials in Panic include an underwater time trial, whose existence confuses me as no one I have ever met enjoys playing the water portion much less enjoys it enough to play just that portion repeatedly. The last Trial takes place in the Caverns of Coolness level. In the Caverns, you attempt to catch all the earthlings with unlimited super jars as quickly as possible, which is pretty fun if you don’t feel like committing to the full game for a long period of time.

One new feature that may go unnoticed by many is the aptly named Jukebox. You have access to the majority of both games’ soundtracks and can combine the lists to create your own playlist while within this mode. With games like ToeJam & Earl and Panic on Funkotron, the music really does make the game and its atmosphere memorable. The music in both games is catchy enough that you will be humming the funky bass lines hours after you turn the game off. I actually have my own playlist playing right now while writing this review and honestly wish I could import it to other games or even other external outlets to spread the funk.

The Sega Vintage Collection of ToeJam & Earl will hopefully introduce a new generation to some rather unique games from a different time in video games. Both of these games hold up nicely, but I have a feeling the joy of the first game will be lost to some as it moves as a staggeringly slow pace compared to modern adventures. One thing I noticed about Panic was just how long the game can be if you decide to pursue an ongoing side-quest, as I clocked in at over 8 hours. Both games are meant to be played with a friend preferably on the couch next to you, but they can still be enjoyable over the digital intertubes while in your inner tube avoiding tubular earthlings.

  • I didn’t want to be the one to tell you this Scott, but I think you just got out-reviewed by your mum.

    This is a good review though. It looks to me to be the most silly and fun of the vintage collections so far.

    • Haha, thanks for breaking the news to me, Michael. I was afraid I might get upstaged, but took the plunge anyway.

      And yes, it definitely is the most fun I have had with any of the vintage collections. These games are just so care-free and laid-back as opposed to some games of today that almost feel like a job with ridiculous commitments. And at the asking price, you really can’t go wrong with this if you have a buddy to play with on or offline.

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