Developer : JVP (now Toejam & Earl Productions -
Publisher : Sega Enterprises Ltd.
Platform : Sega Mega Drive / Genesis
Year : 1991
Rating : *****

Toejam & Earl is one of those rare games that is truly unlike any other. Designed by Greg Johnson (Starflight) and programmed by Mark Voorsanger (Demon Attack), TJ&E must be played by two players to be appreciated fully. It was one of the earliest Sega Genesis releases from Sega's US division, and in terms of gameplay and design it remains one of the best titles ever released on that (or indeed any) format.

The game's intro describes how two aliens from the planet Funkotron (Toejam and Earl) manage to crash their rocket ship on Earth, and then have to search the planet (which is inexplicably represented as a stack of 25 flat, swiss-cheesed levels floating in space) for the ten parts of their ship while encountering the bizarre denizens of Earth.

On each level you need to locate a piece of your ship (if there is one) and the exit elevator. You can fall off levels (landing on the one below) if you're not careful, or if you're pushed off by earthlings. Practically every element of the levels is randomly generated, from the terrain to the selection of enemies and items, meaning that the game never becomes predictable. (There is a pointless 'Fixed World' mode which is theoretically more structured, but is much less fun.) The emphasis is not on reflexes and combat, but on resourcefulness and exploration.

The two characters can split up (utilising a splitscreen mode) to explore a level more quickly, but if they stick together they both receive the effect of any opened presents, and they have to exit to a new level together. (They can also perform a high five to aggregate their energy.) As you explore the levels you collect presents (see below), food and money and have to use these resources to deal with the natives (most- but not all- of which are hostile).

Collected presents are stored in an inventory brought up by pressing 'B'. Presents with the same wrapping paper have the same contents, so as you progress you can identify presents before you open them. However opening a randomiser present changes every present in the game, and effectively puts you back at square one. When a present is opened it has immediate effect, and may help or hinder the player (or sometimes do both).

Money can be given to non-hostile Earthlings to get back energy, have them identify presents, purchase more presents or kill all the enemies nearby. Food, depending on type, can add or subtract energy.

The gameplay is extremely fun, due to the many situations where teamwork is needed. The game is highly unpredictable, thanks to the massive range of presents and earthlings to be discovered, some of which can completely turn the game on its head. Just about every action in the game is accompanied by a humourous animation or sound sample, and the two aliens make constant remarks on their situation. It takes ages to see all of the little features and gags that are occasionally triggered.

On completing the game, players are treated to a lengthy, interactive ending sequence. The soundtrack is excellent too, with the obligatory sound test extended into a cool Jam Out! segment. The game was apparently very popular in rental (it can be completed in one sitting- once you know how to play). This description of the game really only scratches the surface, and I encourage the reader to play the game (with a friend!) either on the original hardware or a decent emulator (such as Gens).

TJ & Earl appeared again in Ready Aim Tomatoes (a shooting gallery game) and Panic on Funkotron (the graphically lavish yet somewhat less playable sequel). There is supposed to be a Toejam & Earl III on the cards (in fact a Dreamcast version was shown at a trade show), but at present it is unclear as to what format(s) it will eventually be released for. Update: as of April 2002, Toejam & Earl III is coming out on the Xbox this Autumn, with other formats to follow (at least they'd better follow).

Everyone loves Presents

Here is a complete list of the presents that you can collect during the game. Some are rarer than others. There is also, of course, the Mystery Present, which can contain any of the above. The 'Bonus Hi-Tops' are the same as the 'Super Hi-Tops', except that you have them from the start of the game.

The whole series

This is a list of all the TJ&E games there have been so far. Toejam & Earl also cameo'ed in Art Alive!, Sega of America's answer to Mario Paint.
Bonus bit of trivia : Both Greg Johnson and Mark Voorsanger worked on Star Control and Star Control 2 (games which acheive similar levels of coolness).

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