Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: SEGA Vintage Collection: ToeJam & Earl

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Electronic Theatre ImageThe tales of ToeJam & Earl’s immense misfortune at the hands of a rogue hedgehog stretch far-and-wide, with many gamers well versed in the could-have-beens for SEGA one-time leading light. However, that the impost on ToeJam & Earl changed from ‘defining’ to ‘also ran’ is perhaps partly responsible for the legacy of the 16-bit wonder, for without it’s cult status it would surely not be granted the same level of grace in the modern era that it was twenty years ago.

That’s not to say ToeJam & Earl isn’t still enjoyable – it remains a unique slice of relaxing gameplay design – but without the nostalgia factor there’s no denying that modern hardware would allow SEGA to create a very different, more expansive and deeper in every respect. But maybe it’s the shallow nature of ToeJam & Earl that makes it the intangibly Electronic Theatre Imagecaptivating experience that it always has been, able to absorb hours of the players’ time in the blink of an eye.

The basic premise of ToeJam & Earl is to help the stranded aliens make their way home by collecting lost pieces of their broken space ship. In order to do this the player(s) must make their way through expanding levels of bizarre humans and randomly assorted power-ups. Selecting either the randomly generated or fixed worlds and able to play solo or as a two-player partnership (locally or online), players must search each level for an elevator to take them to the next n the hope that it may contain a ship piece. However, it’s wholly possible (and quite likely to happen several times during the duration of a single playthrough) that players will fall from the edge of a level, demanding that they make their way back to the elevator and retreading familiar ground.

Enemies are difficult to defeat and power-ups offer a variety of bizarre effects, such as the speedy Super Hitops and the Rose Bushes which can prick enemies and cause them to ‘pop,’ and this is part of the charm of the world in which Electronic Theatre ImageToeJam and Earl exist. An eccentric design where every representation of real life if heightened to it’s utmost extreme and nothing needs to make any real sense, ToeJam & Earl is the perfect blend of alternative gameplay, nonsense premise and enviable soundtrack design.

Sadly, the second title included in the brand new digital package is significantly less successful. While the all encompassing originality of the debut title demanded that the sequel be something entirely different, what SEGA delivered was a far more traditional experience. a 2D platform videogame in the era in which the genre became formalised as the leading gameplay archetype, ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron shows some spark of ingenuity, but it’s overshadowed by a feeling of being hemmed-in now just as it was in the 1990s.

The key innovation in ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron is that of the enemy placement. There are many types of enemies you’ll come across throughout the course of the videogame, but it’s the humans that are most important. Placed almost randomly throughout the linear levels, defeating the humans is not only key to getting a high score but Electronic Theatre Imagealso progressing to the next level, but they’ll not take kindly to your presence and attempt to escape. This demands that the player be vigilant, keeping a watchful eye on the red glow of their human detection meter as they go about their general platform gaming activities.

Playable both online and in local play, ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron keeps the co-operative spirit of the original well and truly alive. The visual quality however, doesn’t quite stand up to the same scrutiny. Much of the charm and eccentric middle class humour is lost in the transition to HD; while ToeJam & Earl manages to keep it’s head above water simply by being unique, ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron isn’t extended the same courtesy and as such looks decidedly more dated than it’s predecessor.

A hugely convincing package for the asking price, ToeJam & Earl’s double dose of retro gaming trades on nostalgia. Newcomers may decide it too difficult to find reason to invest the hours that ToeJam & Earl demands when there are so many big titles launching in the same period, but for fans of the original titles there simply is no better way to play. Online and local gameplay, North American and European versions of each release and Achievements/Trophies included in the videogame, ToeJam & Earl is the same retro experience playing on better form than ever before.

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