Nine long years it took me to beat this game. Nine long years of walkthroughs, FAQs, Game Genie, and secret lemonade stands. Nine long years of asking friends for help. Nine long years of sleepless nights spent in front of the glowing television screen. Nine long years of frustration. Finally, I have beaten this game.
“But Paul!” you exclaim, in utter disbelief. “You’re the Editor-in-Chief of GameCola! A real professional! How could it possibly take you so long to beat this game?!”
“This is not your typical game,” I respond, the worlds lingering in space for several moments. “This game requires patience, and offers little in reward. This game causes frustration, and will oft leave you in tears. This game is quite depressing, and is one of my favorite games of all time. This…” I pause, and your eyes beg for me to continue. “This…is ToeJam & Earl.”
A goofy 16-bit cutscene lays down the story as we begin a new game of ToeJam & Earl. Both aliens from the planet Funkatron, the lanky ToeJam and the portly Earl were cruis’n through space in their highly funky, ultra cool Righteous Rapmaster Rocketship when Earl caused the spacecraft to strike an asteroid and crash-land onto Earth’s surface. Upon impact, the ship shattered into ten pieces, scattered all throughout this bogus planet. Conveniently, each piece landed atop twin marble pedestals adorned with an illuminated purple sign, causing them to be quite visible as our intergalactic funk lords go about retrieving them. This is what TJ&E (as we happenin’ hipsters call them) spend the game doing—traveling via elevator throughout the apparent twenty-five levels of Earth locating the lost pieces of their ship so they can piece it together and jet back to Funkatron.
Suffice it to say, the game would be kinda sucky if all you did was prance about the dandelions gathering up your fins and megawatt speakers and whatnot, so thankfully this Earth is teeming with aliens who want nothing more than to both poke and prod TJ&E. You’ve got devils, moles, evil dentists, “nerd herds”, angry bald men with lawnmowers, chickens with tomato-firing cannons, etc., all of whom are either trying to snuff out our bodacious protagonists or push them off the edge of the world.
The latter is this title’s greatest source of frustration, because falling off the edge means going back to the previous level, making your way back to the elevator, getting back into the elevator, heading back up to the level from which you fell, and starting back at the beginning of that level. It’s not uncommon for you to fall down three or four levels at a time, thus going through that tedious process three or four times. The weaker gamers among us will probably hit their little sisters with a Genesis controller; those strong like me will work through this frustration and enjoy the challenge.
Suffice to say as well TJ&E aren’t totally by themselves in their excellent adventure. In addition to “good” earthlings (Vikings, man-carrots, etc.), this planet Earth is a cornucopia of powerups in the form of festively wrapped presents. These presents include Icarus wings, tomato slingshots, and doors, and are quite helpful in avoiding and/or defeating the earthling assholes. Of course, some presents, such as instant death, are not so helpful, and as the presents aren’t initially identified; there’s somewhat of a risk factor involved in the opening of them. The vaguely loose nature of the controls, despite their being simple to learn, adds to the established frustration of this hunting/gathering process, but not enough to hinder your enjoyment a whole heck of a lot.
TJ&E is a two-player game with a single-player mode. As in, single-player isn’t the main focus of this game. It was just thrown in to supplement that of dual gamers. When playing with a partner, the screen is split in half, unless you’re both in the relative same area. Then you both share a screen, and additionally, you share any presents opened. If near death, you can high-five your partner and steal his health, or if dead, you can appear as a ghost and steal his life.
TJ&E surpasses countless other Genesis titles in both sound and graphic quality. The pastel environments all end up looking the same, but a pleasant same it is. Characters, both enemy and friendly, are all quirkily animated, adding to decidedly goofy atmosphere that this game successfully strides for. Music is among the type that you’ll rip from the ROM and create a soundtrack of; the faux hip hop beats and catchy jingles will infect your ears for years.
TJ&E will keep you playing for years, with the random level generation (which, incidentally, creates an almost “loading time” between levels, quite bizarre for a cartridge-based game) and presents whose contents are inconsistent making every time through a new experience. The two-player mode is just awesome for a pair of intrepid adventurers, and single player is great if you’re home alone on a Saturday night, waiting for that phone call that just never comes. Word. If you have a dab of patience and can handle a bit o’ frustration, I guarantee that ToeJam & Earl will be one of the most fun games that you’ll ever have played. Just don’t open any presents marked “tomato rain”.