The gaming community can be a harsh mistress sometimes, especial in regards to sequels. A sequel has to be exactly like the original, that’s why we loved it. But it has to be brand new and innovative, because we’ve already played the original. It’s a delicate balance that borders on the impossible for game developers.
Some franchises manage to pull it off. The Mario series for example is still going strong after all these years. Many franchises however aren’t so lucky, as is the case for Toejam & Earl. Released in 1991 for the Sega Genesis, Toejam & Earl is a surrealist roguelike game following two alien rappers trying to rebuild their space ship after a crash landing on earth. Each level has you controlling one of the aliens as they wander around trying to find a piece to their ship and the elevator to the next level, all while avoiding the hostile inhabitants of earth. It’s an odd but very comical game which very often ranks among the greatest the genesis had to offer. At their height, Toejam & Earl even held secondary mascot status for the genesis alongside Sonic the Hedgehog. Personally, it was, and remains, one of my favorite games for the genesis.
When the sequel came out two years later, it was a drastic departure from the first game. Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron ditched the roguelike gameplay in favor of a traditional side scrolling platformer, choosing to focus on the action rather than the exploration. This change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was definitely a turn off for many of the original game’s fanbase, myself included. I remember seeing screenshots and magazine previews of it when it first came out, and I remember simply not being interested in the sequel at all. As such, I never played it until just now for this review. It’s going to be tough, since I already have quite a negative first impression of this game, but I will try to be impartial and unbiased as I play and review this game.
The story starts where the first left off. Toejam & Earl have returned to their home planet of Funkotron only to find out they had some stowaways on their ship. A news report informs our heroes that the planet Funkotron has been invaded by earthlings, and they know it was Toejam & Earl who brought them there.
Toejam quickly comes up with the plan to find the earthlings and capture them inside trap-o-matic jars. Once they’re all captured, they can be thrown into a rocket, and sent back to earth where they belong. After the intro, you get to choose which of the characters you get to play as. They play nearly identically, but I’ve always played as Earl in the original, so I’ll continue to play as him in the sequel.
No deaths were caused by children
Considering how small their ship was, they managed to bring quite a large group of people back with them. There’s the little girl who kicks you and the baseball kid who throws tomatoes at you. They’re both very basic enemies and not much threat on their own.
No deaths were caused by flying children either
Then flying through the sky with balloons is Nasty Williams. He doesn’t show up very often, and isn’t much trouble when he does.
Poorly planned construction accounted for 2 deaths today
There’s the construction worker with his jackhammer. He is a little bit tricky. If you are standing on the ground, you will be vibrated and take damage, so you need to attack him from the air.
Flash photography claimed the life of 26 Funkotronians
Now we get into the annoying enemies, starting with the Man and Woman tourists. These two are extremely annoying because the flash from their camera can damage you from anywhere on screen. The only away to avoid being blinded by the flash is to cover your eyes, during which time you can’t move or attack. They are easily the most annoying of the enemies.
19 Funkotronians were mauled to death by poodles
Also on the list of annoying enemies are the poodles and the rich lady. The rich lady herself is no threat at all, but the poodles can be quite annoying. They take the fewest jars to capture, needed only 2 jars each, but the fact that they show up in packs and move pretty fast makes them difficult to manage.
Rampaging naked men claimed 7 lives
Moving on we come to some rather strange enemies, like the naked man in a box. He will stand around singing until you attack him, at which point he will usually hide back in his box and run away. He’s not much of a threat, but he is invincible while inside his box, which can make him rather frustrating.
Hit and Run by flying carpet killed 10 fat aliens
Enemies don’t get much stranger than these next two, the insane fairy and the duck. The insane fairy isn’t a threat, more an annoyance as she flies around dropping bags of laughing dust on you. As the name implies, it will cause you to become temporarily immobile with laughter. The duck on the other hand can be quite annoying. It zooms around on its flying carpet and dive bombs you. If you don’t dive for cover, you’ll take quite a bit of damage from its hit and runs. The only thing you can do against it is to throw jars randomly into the air in hopes some hit it before you dive for cover again.
14 lives were lost to the unseen assailants
Finally, we have the highly annoying invisible enemies, the boogie men and the cow ghosts. The boogie men are very common enemies, which is frustrating, because you will regularly walk right into them and not know it until they reveal themselves for the attack. If you know they’re around, the best you can do is blindly throw jars in their general direction and hope you hit something. The Cow ghost is even more frustrating. It will invisibly fly towards you, revealing itself only just before possessing your body. This gives you very little time to react, and is almost guaranteed damage. On the plus side, they can be captured very quickly after your possession.
The actual gameplay has you searching for earthlings and throwing jars at them until they are captured. Thanks to the arrow at the bottom of the screen, it’s not so much “searching” for the earthlings as it is “going” to the earthlings and capturing them.
Now, here is where I would normally start a full synopsis of the game. That’s the style I decided on when I started this site, kind of half way between a review and a let’s play. But I don’t know how I could possibly do that for this game. Most games have themes behind the different levels, each with different enemies and hazards and layouts based on that theme. In this game, the theme is “you’re on an alien planet” and that theme doesn’t change much during any of the 17 levels. This was a problem the first game faced as well, but the first game was significantly shorter. I could beat the first game in around an hour, whereas this game took somewhere in the area of 6 hours to beat.
On rare occasion there will be a snowy area, because everyone knows slippery ice physics make games better. But even this played much the same as a normal level.
On even rarer occasion you will be in a cave with fire. These are so rare and so similar to the normal play that they barely deserve notice. In either case, the whole level was never themed after either of these. Rather a small section of the level was, leaving the rest of the level to be the usual Funkotron world.
Earl does not have a swimmer’s body, and drowned 7 times.
The only other section worth note is the occasionally underwater sections. Such a great choice by the designers. The only thing people like better than slippery ice physics is underwater physics combined with limited air supply. These sections are present in most of the levels, but few actually required you to enter them. While this is the only actual variation to the gameplay, it is an unwelcome change. Despite the vast variety of underwater life, they serve little more than background as you are unable to interact with them in any way. The only one you can interact with is the unfortunate little purple puffer fish whom you can suck the air out of to restore your own. The layout of these areas is also usually very maze like, designed to trap you underwater until your air runs out. The few times you are forced to experience these areas is after you have already captured all the earthlings, presenting themselves as one last annoyance before you can claim having finished the level.
What this game does have is a huge amount of secret content, both good and bad. First the good, you are free to shake every tree and bush you see to reveal presents and food, as well as earthlings.
There’s also a huge amount of buttons and parking meters scattered around that do anything from revealing hidden items, to teleporting you across the map, or even enter you in a fungus trampoline competition.
Occasional you’ll uncover one of the hidden hyper funk zone entrances. This is a short bonus round where you can collect presents and points. You don’t actually have much control in this area. Your character is forced to run and the only thing you can do is make him intangible so he can pass though walls so they don’t slow you down.
Improper garbage disposal killed 3 Funkotronians
Now for the bad. While you can search every tree and bush, more often than not, they’ll be hiding something that will damage you, such as a bowling ball or a trash can. This is such a high occurrence that there is very little incentive for you to search them.
So… where do I go next?
As for the level design itself, it is plagued with leaps of faith and invisible platforms. This makes any actual planning nearly impossible. So often I would be totally confused as to how to get to where I needed to be, only to find out through random jumping that an invisible platform was there the whole time. That is just horrible level design. The occasional hidden platform to a special reward is a welcome treat, but to make them a key part of the level design is frustrating to say the least. To make matters worse, the level design features far too many instances of falling from high places and needing to backtrack quite a distance. Combined with all the leaps of faith, this makes for very frustrating level design at some points.
Then there is the difficulty that comes from combining the enemies. Each of the enemies has their own technique required to capture them. When certain combinations are on screen at the same time, there’s virtually nothing you can do but be killed by them. One such example is the construction worker and the tourist. These two frequently shared the screen and their combination is controller throwing impossible. As mentioned before, the tourist requires you to cover your eyes, a maneuver achieved by holding down on the d-pad while on the ground. The construction worker on the other hand requires you to stay in the air to avoid his ground shaking attack. Having both of them on screen becomes a lose-lose no matter what you do. Stay on the ground, and you’ll be shaken to death by the construction worker. Jump into the air and you’ll be flashed to death by the tourist. The only thing that made this even tolerable was a combination of my game genie infinite lives and the fact that they don’t recover health between my deaths.
When I finally finished the game, there was no sense of accomplishment. There was hardly even a sense of closure. The game started with a fairly long intro for a genesis game, which properly set up the story without having to refer to the game manual. The ending on the other hand boils down to “Thanks, now let’s dance”. I know I technically got the “bad ending”, but getting the good ending is work for a completionist, not the average player like me. Had I taken the time to complete the optional quest to find all of “Lamont’s favorite things” hidden around the levels, I would have been treated to a longer ending sequence, but the levels were already too repetitive and tedious for me to even consider adding a scavenger hunt into the mix. I’m not a completionist, and this wasn’t the game to convert me.
The concept is original, and the characters are charming, but ultimately what this game lacks is balance. Without the aid of varying themes or an involved storyline, the only signs of progress throughout the game were the increased number of earthlings on screen at once. While this was acceptable for the first few levels, it eventually led to poor combinations that created impossible frustration rather than an enjoyable challenge. Had the game been shorter, the initial charm may have carried it through to the end, but as it is, I lost interest about half way through and simply wanted it to end.
I wanted to like it, and I tried to like it, but in the end there simply wasn’t enough substance to keep me entertained. Sure, there were secret and hidden items everywhere, as well as a whole side quest to find “Lamont’s favorite things” hidden throughout the levels. But for me, these offered little incentive. I’m sad to say it, but this game just didn’t live up to what I wanted from this franchise or even just a platforming game in general.
Score – 5 / 10
Total Deaths – 89
I hope you enjoyed Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron. If you did, like and follow me on Facebook. Also leave your comments, suggestions, and recommendations. If you’re feeling real generous, you can even donate to help me keep the site going. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time.