Our Review of ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

Firmly in the pocket.

While this review you are about to read has nothing to do with the game I am about to mention, it will make a point. That point is as follows: I have a firm conviction that Mega Man 3 is the Blue Bomber’s finest outing to date. I believe that wholeheartedly because it is a game that encapsulated childhood friendships forged in the throws of conquering a game together. I believe this so religiously because of a thing called nostalgia.

I have talked at length on GameSpace about the dangers of playing on nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong: I am not against celebrating the past, I just believe that it is far better to appreciate the context of those experiences rather than venerate them into myth. What I mean by that is simply this: there are things in our past that seem far better than they actually were because of the fond memories associated with them, much like my opening statement. 

But what if it was possible to capture the essence of a nostalgic experience without the deification? Is it possible to encapsulate the way something was, simply by presenting it with unapologetic integrity to its origins? Series creator Greg Johnson seemed to believe so. This is our review of ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove on Nintendo Switch.

If you are not familiar with the series, ToeJam & Earl debuted twenty-eight years ago on the SEGA Genesis. In an era of mascots with bad attitudes, enter ToeJam and Earl. In case you are wondering which is which, ToeJam looks like a sentient Twizzler-crab with Flava Flav-rivaling bling and three legs while Earl favors an anthropomorphic slug in JNCO jeans and Oakley shades. 

These two laid back aliens from planet Funkotron are just out joy riding and trying to fit in with the urban culture of planet Earth in the 1990s. This isometric adventure took you through randomly generated levels to put their spaceship, the Rapmaster Rocketship, back together. Accompanied by a funk and hip-hop inspired soundtrack, baggy pants, and a cast of misfits, it is a snapshot of the era.

Fast-forward those twenty-eight years and the boys are back for another ride. Traveling back to Earth to show off to their lady friends, ToeJam and Earl once again find themselves with a busted ship and a strong need to get back to Funkotron. You will still collect presents which contain items to use as you progress from level to level in search of your ships parts.

There are multiple game mode, including a tutorial to help you get accustomed to how ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove plays. Some of these game modes have a fixed pattern of levels, while others are randomly generated. As you navigate these levels, you will encounter a host of friendly and not-so-friendly earthlings… along with the stuff of their nightmares! 

Rife with more current pop culture memes and sophomoric humor, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is unapologetically similar to the original. It makes no pretense or attempt to adhere to the expirations of modern games. Instead, it cherry picks the conveniences that it wants to play with. For example, where the 1991 game had two player couch co-op, this release can be played across the internet. The trade off with this convenience is that it means players cannot pause the game and the game keeps rolling even if you have the presents menu opened. 

As contentious as this may be and nostalgia goggles off, it works. Its rudimentary gameplay is just as laid back as its heroes and I didn’t mind it one bit. As I encountered the enemies like the Paul Blart-esque Segway riders and the allies like Ghandi, I found my both laughing at the absurdity of it all while appreciating just how well it celebrated is heritage. It plays like a classic video game that has matured with the technology without forcing itself into a new medium. 

If you are looking to take a trip back to 1991, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove can be found on the Nintendo Store for $19.99 USD. 

Note: Our copy was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by PR.

Capturing the essence of the 1991 classic, HumaNature Studios hits all of the right notes with ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. With nine playable characters, light RPG progression, online co-operative gameplay, and a whole lot of funk, the latest entry into the ToeJam & Earl franchise rests solidly in the pocket where it is meant to be.
  • Faithfully captures the essence of 1991 classic
  • Local and online co-op
  • Funky soundtrack
  • Multiple game modes
  • Unlockable characters with unique attributes
  • No pausing
  • Presents are extremely difficult to use on the fly
Written by
Born in the heyday of mullets and the El Camino to a tech-foward family, Damien (a.k.a. Dame, PastorDame) quickly embraced the reality that “normal” is just a setting on a dryer. Damien is a pastor by trade and loves talking with anyone who is interested about life, God, and video games (in no particular order) - so, much so, that he and fellow MMORPG/GameSpace writer Matt Keith (Nexfury) create a podcast dedicated to that conversation. At the end of the day, Damien is a guy who loves his wife, his Mini Schnoodle, and crafting gourmet bowls of Mac N’ Cheese.

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