ToeJam and Earl: Back In The Groove – The Review

Realise it’s all pointless with ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove

…And don’t even think about this game on a hangover

BY MATT TIERNAN

Review Summary

 Name:

TOEJAME AND EARL: BACK IN THE GROOVE

Publisher:

WordPress Plugin

Price:

£14.99 on Steam, PS4

Summary:

Frustrating as fuck. A joy to turn off. I came away with my eyes crossed and ears ringing. Do not even dare to think about the game when you have a hangover.

Rating:

Frustrating as fuck. A joy to turn off. I came away with my eyes crossed and ears ringing. Do not even dare to think about the game when you have a hangover.

Right, so the general premise is this: ToeJam and Earl were flying through space when their ship was blown up. Now they have to find the various pieces of the ship scattered around simple isometric levels before finding the elevator to take them to the next higher level. Repeat process until all ship pieces are found. Game over.

In the meantime, you use presents (random skills or weird effects) while trying to avoid enemies. These range from smacking a bit of health off you, stealing your presents, or knocking you back to a lower level. There’s a couple of mini-games, like the Hyperfunk Zones which are side-scrolling epilepsy-inducing diversions, and the Dance Battles, which are simple rhythm games which offer a momentary distraction.

Smack in the Groom

The core gameplay is moving around the level and finding shit. Not “shit” as in general stuff, I mean “shit” as in useless crap. Some cash maybe, which can be used to buy… presents. Presents, which can be used to… well, do anything from burping through to rocket skates which launch you off the level so you have to start over again. There’s also NPCs which are occasionally useful, protecting you from enemies or healing you up, however most are just annoying – getting in the way or slowing you down.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe – the entire game seems designed to slow you the fuck down. You can learn which presents to use to skip over a few seconds of tedium, but mostly the things you encounter in levels will just drag out the paper-thin gameplay long enough for the vibrant colours and funky sounds to get boring.

Then there’s the loading screens, and oh boy does the game love its loading screens. Every time you go in an elevator, every time you start a Hyperfunk Zone, every time you have to quit and restart to fix one of the glitches, you’ll be treated to a flashy but boring loading sequence showing an elevator having a fit. Even the “cheesy fun” dialogue between the lead characters just feels tired and forced, to distract you from watching that elevator bounce about for the upteenth time.

The game can be played co-op with a friend, but that just brings a whole host of annoyance along with it. The way the screen splits when you move away from each other is distracting and regularly led to one player falling off the screen. The presents which should help the other player “heal friend” tend to only work half the time. Being too close to each other while trying to interact with objects in the environment forces a painfully-long “high five” animation. Even when you aren’t near the other player, trying to interact with some objects is a hit-and-miss, as your character decides to walk over to a different object and piss around with that instead.

Flack in the Hooves

To top it all off, bugs keep holding back progress, although given how confusing the whole game is, you spend a while doubting  whether some things are bugs or just intentional annoyance. The bugs include:

  • the elevators which let you travel between levels sometimes disappear completely and cannot be brought back. Requires a game restart to fix this one

  • controls can glitch out, so you cannot use the “search” or “present” buttons… until you restart the game

  • sound drops out occasionally, which is jarring for a game with such an emphasis on funky beats and effects

  • in co-op, one player going through a door (e.g. into a hyperfunk zone) at the same time as the other player enters an elevator completely breaks the game. Both players can lose control, and the game forgets which level you are on – so you’re walking around level 10 but the game is showing the map for level 12

Frankly, it’s a fucking mess.

Confusing to even barely understand what is happening. Some of that appears to be intentional – hey, what will happen when we use this present? – but that’s only a small part of the brain-frying mess you land yourself in.

Crack in the Soothe

While some elements provide brief moments of fun – like the first time you try a dance battle, or using a mystery present that cause you to sneeze enemies off the map – but these are drowned in the seas of piss that the game otherwise expects you to sail through.

The game requires no skill, has no substantial progression, and almost no sense of purpose. The design appears to be “let’s cram as many throwback references and stupid animations in as possible”. When they realised the game should actually have some sort of game to play, they concocted the bare minimum to structure the disparate shards of 90s humour into a sellable product.

You earn player experience which fractionally boost your stats (how fast you walk, how many presents you can carry) but none of that seems to make the blindest bit of difference. You also earn dance experience which does… nothing at all, as far as I can tell. It’s just there, as a token of how many times you tapped the right buttons in the rhythm game. 

The game requires no skill, has no substantial progression, and almost no sense of purpose. The design appears to be “let’s cram as many throwback references and stupid animations in as possible”.

The one upside to the game – it encouraged me to go back and replay Panic on Funkatron. That is a GAME. It can be played, enjoyed and even with almost thirty years of aging, it still shits all over Back in the Groove.

THE CONCLUSION

Utterly fucking horrific. From the start menu, to the loading screens, through to the half-arsed “gameplay” this is an experience I would rather not repeat.

0.5/5

The Good Stuff:
  • ​There’s humour and nostalgic fun buried in the game
  • The mini-games were enjoyable the first time (certainly not the 20th time).
  • The credits / Kickstarter – thanks screen is nicely done
The Bad Stuff:
  • ​Pretty much everything else
  • ​The lack of gameplay, challenge, progression and variety
  • The bugs which hampered progress in an already-tedious game

TOEJAM AND EARL: BACK IN THE GROOVE

The game requires no skill, has no substantial progression, and almost no sense of purpose. The design appears to be “let’s cram as many throwback references and stupid animations in as possible”. When they realised the game should actually have some sort of game to play, they concocted the bare minimum to structure the disparate shards of 90s humour into a sellable product.

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Matt Tiernan

Makes, plays and reviews games. Posts crap on the internet and reviews things for Coaching for Geeks.

My site is http://eclecticapp.xyz
Matt Tiernan
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