It might be hard for younger gamers to believe, but ToeJam and Earl used to be bona fide celebrities. The mismatched duo never quite reached the heights of, say, the Sonic the Hedgehog crew, but every Sega Genesis owner (and every jealous wanna-be) knew their names. The pair of laid-back aliens from the planet Funkotron fit right in with the stars of early Nicktoons like Ren and Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life, and almost every player of a certain age has fond memories of guiding ToeJam and Earl through surreal landscapes, collecting pieces of their wrecked spaceship and helping them find a way home.
In later years, ToeJam and Earl has become a cult classic, mostly remembered for its jazz-infused hip-hop soundtrack and unapologetically weird atmosphere. However, the game itself is worth another look, too. Underneath ToeJam and Earl’s stylish aesthetics and goofy humor lies a remarkably modern adventure-platformer. While ToeJam and Earl wasn’t the first 16-bit game to embrace cooperative gameplay, the game was definitely designed to be enjoyed with a friend. ToeJam and Earl’s dynamic split-screen display was ahead of its time, and the game was crammed full of funny dialogue that would only sound when two people were playing at once.
ToeJam and Earl was also strangely prophetic, as one of the first major console games to truly embrace the procedurally-generated worlds that are all the rage these days, thanks to indie titles like FTL and Rogue Legacy. It seems like a perfect time for a comeback, and the gaming community agrees. Just a few weeks ago, and ToeJam and Earl creator Greg Johnson put ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove up on Kickstarter; yesterday, with under two days left to go, the game hit its $400,000 goal, assuring that the two funky aliens will return to charm a new generation of gamers.
As revealed in the initial Kickstarter pitch and reiterated in a funktastic trailer, ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove returns to the first game’s rogue-like gameplay, giving gamers a series of procedurally generated floating islands to explore, and bringing back all the wacky Earthlings that plagued ToeJam and Earl the first time around. Environments will be built in 3D, while characters are hand-drawn sprites, allowing players to zoom in and out dynamically while still preserving the game’s wacky charm. Thanks to Kickstarters backers’ generosity, old-school fans have a few other treats to look forward to, as well: unlocked stretch goals include the “Hyperfunk Zone” from ToeJam and Earl 2, as well as old-school skins that return ToeJam and Earl to their original Genesis likenesses.
Despite increasing skepticism from consumers, Kickstarter remains an excellent forum for developers and fans to connect over old-school revivals. Keiji Inafune used Kickstarter to fund Mighty No. 9, a sequel-in-all-but-name to his popular Mega Man series. Similarly, Obsidian Entertainment recently released the Kickstarter-funded Pillars of Eternity, which evokes old-school RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Planetscape: Torment, while Wing Commander-creator Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen is currently the most crowdfunded project of all time.