Gamers growing up in the early ’90s didn’t often see their favorite hobby reflected in other entertainment. Though it was exciting when Tiny Toons spoofed “Super Plucky-O Bros.” it also rang a bit hollow, as such representations implied games were completely random nonsense parades. Any 12-year old knew otherwise, as Super Mario held a very consistent—if odd—internal logic. Most good video games did, though every so often one featured a pint-sized angel dodging Groucho Marx and buying stolen goods on credit. Contrary to cartoon opinion, these games usually vanished in obscurity. Some gamers, however, really enjoyed the kitchen-sink approach, and if one owned a Genesis, ToeJam & Earl spit the most random of beats.
Pre-Sonic commercials portrayed TJ&E as a kind of hip-hop game, which meant exactly nothing. Though Sega’s marketing department can hardly be blamed, as “two-player satirical roguelike” was an equally nebulous concept to most console gamers. Thus, mainstream youth largely missed out on a uniquely PC experience. Those who took the plunge discovered an odd game indeed, where the titular alien duo gathered presents, threw tomatoes, and flew rocket skates in an attempt to assemble their wrecked ship and return home (to Funkotron, of course). Along the way, Nerd Herds, bees, and the dreaded Bogeyman assembled to thwart their efforts. Every element, naturally, animated in comical ways, set perfectly to a catchpetitive rap soundtrack.
Approved partially due to Sega’s open casting call for Nintendo-style mascots, ToeJam and his homey Earl carried quite a bit of personality. From their silhouettes and genuine demeanor, one knew Earl was the large, silent partner who came alive onstage and ate his weight of junkfood otherwise. ToeJam, then, was the theatrical showman with Napoleon complex, complete with Flavor Flav-style pendant around his neck. But really, the concept sold on the quirky flare of its design and gameplay.
Each element in the game stretched itself into the ludicrous. For example, lucky players might stumble upon Santa, leaving the presents scattered throughout each stage. To properly twist the joke, ol’ Saint Nick would then rocket away on his jetpack. “Earth” in this case meant a series of floating islands rising high into the sky. The Bogeyman announced his presence with a “boogy boogy boogy” that echoed in my head throughout Silent Hill Downpour’s development. Lastly, if equipped players fell back to the very first stage and swam to the south west, bikini babes invited them into a hot tub for a free 1UP. Yeah, TJ&E was weird.
The game did have its faults, namely the abysmally slow movement speed, but it deserves a prop or two for being unique—possibly the most unique title in the Genesis library, which makes ToeJam & Earl’s relative obscurity all the more frustrating. I wish we’d all spun this jam a few more times in our ghetto blasters, as the world could use a few more Bogeyman-filled, multiplayer dungeon crawlers.
Article by Tomm Hulett
GameSpite Journal 12: Toe Jam & Earl