We have fond memories of the original Sega Mega Drive game Toejam and Earl. It was a co-op game in an age where they were few and far between, playing with our friends and siblings as kids back in the 90s and again in the noughties as a nostalgia throwback. It’s been 28 years since the first game came out, but it’s been ported to so many platforms that it’s always been with us. Although it spawned a couple of sequels, the original team behind it wanted to self-publish their own vision of what the true sequel should be. With the help of their fans, including some here at Starburst, it got Kickstarted.
Like the original, the concept of Back In The Groove is a simple one. It's an isometric exploration game where you wander around each level trying to find pieces of your spaceship. The levels are filled with in-game items known as presents. You can only carry a certain amount and, like a real present, the contents of each one are a mystery until you open it (or pay a giant carrot man to identify it). The presents consist of helpful items such as wings to enable you to fly or tomatoes to kill enemies with, as well as hindrances like an instant death named Total Bummer. Like the D&D 20 die roll minigame, opening a present can often be a gamble.
The world is plagued with earthlings, some good like a Wizard who heals you, and many bad like the Ice Cream Van constantly trying to run you over, or the mail box monster. These earthlings are easily the most interesting part of the game, each one bringing a bit of humour and randomness to the world.
The game includes a 10-level tutorial, and a fixed world playthrough, a randomly generated one, and a harder mode. There are numerous game achievements and unlockable hats and characters like my girl, Earl's mum. The game can be played with two people locally or four online. The lack of four-player local is really a big disappointment though.
Unfortunately, BITG probably should have been left back in the 90s. Its lack of new ideas brings Toejam & Earl kicking and screaming into 2019 where both they and their tiresome gameplay clearly don’t belong. We wanted to love it, but sadly barely like it.
TOEJAM & EARL: BACK IN THE GROOVE / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: HUMANATURE STUDIOS / PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW