ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove review | A bogus journey

This retro revival’s nineties jams aren’t quite as funky in 2019. Our review of ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove…


It’s fair to assume that most of the folks who funded ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove on Kickstarter were fans of the original. The pair’s first outing in over 16 years is somewhere between a reboot and a remake, one that looks and plays an awful lot like the original Mega Drive game. It’s a roguelike about slacker aliens exploring a bong-ripped vision of Earth for the missing parts of their spaceship, with a heavy focus on chilled vibes and a nineties cartoon aesthetic.

As in the first game, you wander between floors – either the fixed levels designed for the game or randomly generated ones, once you unlock that option – searching for ship parts. You also need to collect presents, which are imbued with random, occasionally vital power-ups, and money, which can be spent on presents, healing and the other various advantages offered by the idiosyncratic NPCs who wander through each level. Meanwhile, you’ll be beset by ‘Earthlings’, which take on various forms – there’s a devil that chases you, a ‘Man in Black’ who can rip away your presents, a man who can run you down with his lawnmower, and many more. You can only fight back if you’ve just opened one of the game’s very few combat-oriented presents, so expect to spend a lot of time running away.

Despite all the quirkiness, there’s not much real variety to ToeJam and Earl’s latest adventure. On some floors, you’ll need the right presents to reach the missing ship piece, or even the elevator up to the next floor; but you often don’t know what presents contain until you open them, which leads to a lot of guesswork.

If a level is split between multiple islands, for instance, you’ll need wings, spring boots or a teleporter to jump between them. You can level up and get faster, luckier and stronger as you go, but because presents are all temporary, there are no lasting changes to your ‘build’ that change how you play the game. The game’s sense of challenge comes more from the tedium of needing to explore each level thoroughly than any roadblocks you face, and your expeditions can start to feel like unending fetch quests.

You can play the whole game in two-player couch co-op, which is perhaps the best way to play it. This is a ‘hangout’ game more than something to be taken seriously, although if neither of you have much nostalgia for the Mega Drive, it likely won’t last long. The updated visual style and soundtrack maintain the spirit of the original game, but the game’s slavish recreation of that old nineties gameplay means that it feels stuck in the past. Back in the Groove is a game designed very specifically for fans, who will probably enjoy its focus on nostalgia, at least for a few hours. It’s just a shame that there isn’t a more interesting game underneath all that old-school fan service.


Even though the game’s numerous enemies don’t force you to change your strategy, there are some great, strange designs in here. The rabid fan that chases you begging for attention, the hula girl who makes you dance… and then it gets weirder, like the squadron of birds who fire eggs at you from a cannon.


A groovy throwback for series fans, but beyond aesthetics, it’s all a bit dull.


Genre: Roguelike
Format: Switch (tested)/PS4/XBO/PC
Developer: HumaNature Studios
Publisher: HumaNature Studios
Price: £16.99
Release: Out now

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