Nostalgia is both very real and very profitable. You get a lot of sly nods in today’s media that keep anyone over the age of 25 feeling like they’re still being catered to – even when they’re not. Occasionally though, things are not so much nostalgic as they are literally what you remember them being. ToeJam and Earl: Back In The Groove! is one of these games, not so much a knowing nod or a wink to what the games used to be, but almost an exact replica.
For those who don’t know, ToeJam and Earl is a game that was a roguelike game that became a platformer and is now back to being a roguelike. I say roguelike, it’s not quite the right word for it but it sort of fits so…
Anyway, in this game – much like in the first – your spaceship crashes and you have to collect all of the parts from a 90s-inspired idea of a wacky world. You have to go from level-to-level collecting ship parts until you are done. Along the way you find presents. The presents are your items but can also be trapped. They allow you to spring around on boots, appraise a different present, or get sick. It’s an entertaining enough system that has you consider if it’s worth opening the present at all. You might like the idea of spring boots but open them on a level where the path is incredibly thin and you’re probably going to fall back down to an earlier one.
To get from one level to the next you take lifts. These are harmless to begin with, but as you progress you’ll find monster lifts which will take you down a level and also make you sick. This goes from being a mild inconvenience to the single most annoying thing ever in a matter of levels. The trouble is it doesn’t make the game harder, just that it makes things take longer. The worlds you play through are randomly generated at the beginning of the game, not on a level-by-level basis. So, while you do have to redo a level, you already know it’s just treading over old ground again.
The levels are littered with earthlings who are also hazardous. From hula dancers who force you to join in, to opera singers who sing at you, the worlds are filled with annoying people. Most are hardly worth noticing, but the hula dancers will quickly become your worst enemies. There are ducks with mortars too, that’s kind of cute. It makes you wonder how they got the mortar though, or how they use it… I have questions.
The visuals are pretty, and the music is brilliant, but ToeJam and Earl: Back In The Groove! is the same game it was nearly three decades ago. This is fine I suppose, but it feels like more could have been done. It’s an enjoyable experience with friends, but a bit dull on your own. The whole experience is just a bit lackluster when compared to games of today. I’d love to see the series take some wild turns and try out new things. It’s a shame that this isn’t what happened.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by HumaNature Studios