A company as old as Sega is bound to have more than a few franchises they can resurrect when sales are slow, or originality is scarce. But who would have thought that Sega would use both hands when reaching into their bag of classics?
From Panzer Dragoon to Shinobi, Sega’s 2002 E3 line-up looked more like a blast from the past, than the next generation. They proudly paraded sequel after sequel, all with the sole purpose of bringing back memories of my youth. And while I freely admit I enjoyed most of the games they showed off, I did come away with the feeling that somewhere between the death of the Dreamcast and now, Sega has managed to lose their edge and originality.
ToeJam & Earl III is a perfect example. It’s a game that has nothing technically wrong with it … yet it manages to feel old, and somewhat stale. Based on a 1990’s Genesis game, Sega manages to make this third installment just as much fun as the original. This, however, ends up being something of a double-edged sword.
ToeJam & Earl are about the funkiest animated characters since George Clinton. ToeJam is a three-legged scrawny dude that thinks he’s a little more fly than he actually is, and Earl is a slow, fat blob of an alien who a little looks like a larger, not to mention orange, SpongeBob (of SpongeBob SquarePants). Each of these two characters are packed full of personality, and are a riot to watch. They have unique sayings, and interact with their surroundings in completely different ways.
There is also a new character, Latisha, who brings some much-needed attitude to this installment. She is something of an acquired taste, and most of my friends were completely annoyed by her comments. But I like her; I found that she had the funniest comments, and the best voice acting.
Thankfully you don’t have to play as only one character, you can choose at almost any time which of the three characters you want to control. The characters are different, but only in non-essential ways. ToeJam, for example, may be a little faster, while Earl can’t jump as high, and has a longer life gauge. This way you can still enjoy the game without worrying that you have chosen the wrong character for the mission.
The tasks haven’t changed all that much since the original ToeJam & Earl on the Sega Genesis. You have been sent down to Earth to convert the non-believers to the power of the funk. With each Earthling you convert you get a certain amount of points, get enough and you’ll reach another rank, or in other words, level up. This is no Final Fantasy, but it’s nice to see little things like this implemented in action games.
The missions themselves don’t change all that much throughout the game, most of them have you delivering items, unlocking special gifts, and converting Earthlings. Every so often you’ll run across one of the 12 missing records from the Funkopotumus’ personal funk vinyl collection. Not only is this your main missions, but it also allows you to change the background music.
Surprisingly the audio was one of the most noticeable problems with the game. The music never stands out, and the dialogue is only funny for a certain amount of time. It would have been nice if Sega had gone to the trouble of licensing real funk songs for the soundtrack, perhaps a little P Funk All Stars. Between levels the aliens three lay down some beats, but none of them are entertaining in the least. The music certainly could be worse, but in this day and age, it should have been a lot better.
However, it is worth noting that at the beginning of every stage a gospel choir will sing you your mission. This is both entertaining and extremely well done. This, in fact, was probably the highlight of the audio for me.
ToeJam & Earl III was originally announced for the Dreamcast, however, due to circumstances not even funky aliens can control, the game ended up on the Xbox, and it shows. The graphics are truly wonderful, filled with small bits of humor, fantastic animation, and some extremely well done cinema cut-scenes. The designers have created one of the most intriguing examples of Earth you’re bound to see, complete with just about every climate and location around this great world.
What would Earth be without diverse people all living together? There are cowboys, chefs, dentists, animals, nasty little girls, yetis, Santa’s elves, ghosts of cows, and even a man in a big carrot costume. There are more than thirty different Earthlings, and some of them need to be seen to be believed. Perhaps on purpose, ToeJam & Earl paints a picture of Earth that is scarier than anything on any other planets. You’ll never know whom you’ll have to convert next, which is one of the best features of the game.
The problems start when you try managing your inventory. Since each level has you picking up dozens of items, you’ll usually have quite a list of gifts before you know it. They are all show in one long line, which is both a little confusing, and really hard to navigate. There is no way of manually changing the list, and so you must cycle through the entire list looking for what you want to use. This get even worse when enemies randomize your gifts and make you have to identify them again. This is challenging, but it’s also frustrating.
Looking past the inventory issues, you’ll find quite a number of gifts. These individually wrapped presents contain some of the strangest items I have ever seen. Everything from Icarus Wings that make you fly, to organic food to give you all your life back, to decoys, so the Earthlings won’t chase you. These work like power-ups, and can be a lot of fun, but also tend to get bogged down by the unfriendly inventory set up.
Even though the game offers extremely simple controls, they work very nicely for this type of game. The game isn’t like most 3D games, as there are no platforms, and not a lot of jumping challenges. This lends itself to a more exploration friendly experience, like the original ToeJam & Earl all those years back. The control could have used a little more depth, but I can honestly say I never died due to bad control.
After long, though, the game becomes excruciatingly dull. The humor begins to wear off, the locations don’t seem nearly as inventive, and the story really doesn’t go anywhere. This is caused, in large part, by missions that are essentially the same sort of thing over and over.
The game does offer more than thirty levels, many of them change from day to night, and it can be played in order, or at random. Each level is unlocked by collecting a certain amount of keys, hidden throughout the game in various missions and areas. The world itself is broken into several different worlds, including a Water World, a Desert World, a Urban area, and more. Sega has done a wonderful job of making each of these worlds look and feel completely different.
If you grow tired of completing these tasks on your own, you can drag another player into the mix. Thanks to a two-player mode, ToeJam & Earl allows for your friend to be witness to the power of the funk. Generally this mode is split screen, but if the characters are close enough to each other the game will go full screen. This effect works surprisingly well, and believe it or not, the two-player game is a lot more fun than playing solo.
With the use of the Xbox Live, Sega will feature new content to prolong your adventure. Downloadable content is something new for a console, and is dealt with extremely well. Besides having a couple of new levels for you to play, the update includes three new characters that are variations of the three currently available. It’s yet to be seen if Sega will continue to support the game with new features, but there are a number of things I wouldn’t mind seeing added.
ToeJam & Earl III isn’t for everybody, and I have a feeling that more than a few people are going to completely miss the humor of this game. But if you remember the original, and want to get that bad taste from the second game out of your mouth, you should definitely look at this. It’s not perfect, and you may lose interest mid way through, but it’s unlike anything you already own, I guarantee that.
What happens when you take a couple of funky aliens, send them to Earth, and let them mix with humans? Sounds like a bad sitcom, but itâ€™s a game, and the results are slightly less enjoyable than you might think.