ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Review

Richard Walker

A stone-cold SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis classic back in the day, the original ToeJam & Earl was a roguelike adventure (before I even knew what a roguelike was) packed full of '90s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air day-glo colour. Spawning a platforming sequel with Panic in Funkotron and a third game for Xbox named Mission to Earth, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove marks a return to the series' old-school roguelike roots, and it's a ludicrously off-the-wall slice of weirdness. Good weirdness.

Every bit as quirky as the 1991 game where it all started, Back in the Groove sees you once again looking for pieces of your crashed ship, the Rapmaster Rocket, across a range of levels. You can opt for a series of fixed levels or randomly generated ones (although you have to play the fixed ones first to unlock the random levels), but whichever way you choose to play ToeJam & Earl, the objective remains the same.

Fans of the original are guaranteed to get a kick out of Back in the Groove. It's instantly familiar, but in the best possible way, as you languidly stroll around shaking bushes, trees and houses in a bid to find presents. In each gift-wrapped box you'll find a mystery item that's only identified once you use it, and it can be good or bad, adding a sense of jeopardy to proceedings. You could go whizzing off the edge of the map with rocket boots, fart up a storm, unleash a horde of hostile Earthlings (they're all hostile), or summon up a thunderous rain cloud that will zap you.

But then it's equally possible that you might snaffle up some delicious organic power food, get a tomato-chucking slingshot, or receive a demoralising level demotion from 'Dawg' to 'Dufus'. This is where the carrot costumed 'Wiseman' comes into play, as he can identify your present for a couple of bucks, when he's not helping you to level up from Wiener to FunkLord. The Wiseman is but one of ToeJam & Earl's colourful cast of oddballs, which includes the likes of Gandhi, who will protect you from enemies or a rotund opera singer who will pop any Earthlings in her path. It's wonderfully, knowingly nutty.

While interacting with ToeJam & Earl's various bizarre characters, engaging in rhythm action dance challenges, taking trips to Funkotron or the side-scrolling Hyper Funk Zone prove enjoyable, things do start to get a little bit repetitive, finding the ship pieces and the elevator to the next stage. And there is a lack of variation in the visual style of each level beyond sandy deserts or snowy levels with igloos and such. You can also go for a dip in the drink, seek out hidden paths, or pay 10 cents into a parking meter to access red buttons to secret areas.

There's so much going on, with all the secrets to discover and Earthlings milling about the place amid the colourful bouncy stuff, that it doesn't really matter that there's a modicum of repetition. Roguelikes – particularly procedurally-generated ones – often throw up samey environments, but Back in the Groove's funky cartoon art style ensures that the screen is constantly bursting with dazzling life and bold colour. It's hard not to have a silly smirk permanently painted on your face as you dance your way past a singing hula girl. Of course, falling off the edge of a level, being whisked away by an evil elevator or losing a life can quickly wipe that smile away.

Playing in online or local co-op, Back in the Groove is even more fun, as you work together, trading presents, tracking down secrets, and seeking out ship pieces as a team. Split-screen works incredibly well too, seamlessly dividing the screen in two when you split up to explore and snapping back to a single shared screen when you're united. A single run-through to reassemble your smashed up craft can span tens of levels, and you can have multiple runs on the go at once thanks to multiple save slots, if you like.

Anyone who knows and loves the ToeJam & Earl games of yore will instantly fall for Back in the Groove. A nostalgia-tinged blast from the past, it's stuffed to the gills with '90s hip-hop appeal, and boasts a cracking, toe-tappingly funky soundtrack to boot. This is undoubtedly the ToeJam & Earl game that the fans have been wanting for years, brilliantly homaging the original, while freshening things up with enough new stuff to keep you on your toes. As a precursor to the roguelikes of today, ToeJam & Earl also comes full circle with Back in the Groove, providing its own brand of unique and inimitable roguelike mania. And it's funkin' marvellous.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

Bristling with energy and a bright, breezy '90s-inspired style, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove harks back to a simpler time, when life was a little bit funkier. And fun. This is a fun game.

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Slap bass, ludicrously funky hip-hop beats, and that 'whoa!' sound you make at the edge of a level. It's perfect.


Stunning cartoon artwork is hampered somewhat by repetitive environments, but the cornea-searing colour and wacky characters keep things interesting.


An enjoyable roguelike that's equally fun in fixed or random mode, but most enjoyable with a friend in co-op, or even a stranger online.


A nice selection of modes and features to mess around with, Back in the Groove riffs on the classic ToeJam & Earl, delivering a hit of nostalgia with an ample vein of new stuff in the mix.


Back in the Groove's list serves up a good and varied selection of tasks, some of which are nice and creative, much like the game itself.

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