The original ToeJam & Earl game, released on the Sega Megadrive back in 1991, was something of a sleeper hit back in the day.
Playing as two of the most lovable console mascots of the generation, two hip-happenin’ aliens from the planet Funkotron, you’re tasked with obtaining the pieces of your wrecked spaceship which crash landed on earth so that you can rebuild and make your way home. On the strength and popularity of the game a sequel was made, a sequel which became ToeJam & Earl: Panic In Funkotron.
Now for the purists and die hard fans of the original game, Panic In Funkotron came as something of a disappointment. Gone was the heavy influence of Rogue-like gameplay and emphasis on exploration across a 3/4 perspective world. Due to discussion from Sega recommending to create something more popular for the time, this game became a 2D side-scrolling platformer, now set on the duo’s home planet of Funkotron. Its certainly understandable that at the time people who were fans of the original were upset, as the contrast between the two games is so different, the only thing that really ties them together are the characters and the soundtrack. However, my first experience with this game was without any prior knowledge of the debut ToeJam & Earl game, and without having preconceptions about what this game should be I can definitely say that ToeJam & Earl: Panic In Funkotron is one of the games I enjoy most on the Sega Megadrive.
The game follows right where the previous game ended, with ToeJam and Earl returning home after repairing their crashed ship on earth. What they didn’t realise however is that on their return, several humans stowed away on their ship and are now running amok across Funkotron. Your objective in this game is to round up all of the humans and return them to Earth by containing them within tiny glass jars. This quirky premise is one of the most enjoyable aspects to the game, and a lot of humour is derived from this, both in the actual act of having to throw glass jars at old people and children, but also in the satirical representation of how wild, hyperactive and disorderly the human being may seem to an alien from another planet.
The game also creates a really fun atmosphere through its poppy visuals and vibrant array of colour which makes you believe that you’re on a planet called Funkotron. The soundtrack too really adds to this, by not only focusing on strong melodies as was the norm for a lot of game soundtracks during this era, but providing something that genuinely had a lot of groove. Translating the music through live instrumentation gives you songs that wouldn’t go amiss on records from some of the funk greats of the 60s and 70s like Herbie Hancock or George Clinton.
As I’ve stated the gameplay did opt for a more tried and tested formula that had been done to death during that generation of Video Game. However this shouldn’t deter you from this game as it does still offer a lot of fun through the mechanics. It still manages to employ the exploration vibe of its predecessor, all the while creating an accessible game that someone can pick up and run with. However there are added elements to the game such as Hip-Hop dance battles which rely on a sort of Rhythm game style, and also Trampolining segments that, if executed correctly, can earn you extra points. Its all fun and completely silly and just makes the game all the more enjoyable to play.
The game can also pride itself in having a strong attention to detail in characterization, both on a visual level and in its dialogue. The alien characters are all made unique aesthetically and are given fun, hilarious dialogue which plays on the laid back and hip-hop stereotypes of the early 90s. Juxtaposing this with the almost feral nature of the human characters makes this game very unique and enjoyable and presents a nice element of social commentary to it, something you may not necessarily expect from a game about Hip-Hop aliens.
So overall Panic In Funkotron, although a sharp contrast from its debut which made the characters mascots for the generation, still has a lot to offer players through its humour and fun-filled atmosphere. Its a game that I do find myself returning to every once in a while just so I can enjoy that world and those characters. There’s something nice about just being able to click in a cartridge and just have fun for an hour without any need for an engrossing storyline or overly complex gameplay. Its something that has been lost somewhat over the years, but something I can always rely on when returning to this game.
By James Burch