The Legacy of ToeJam and Earl

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I love co-op video games much more than competitive ones. Sure, I could play Mario Kart for hours on end. I enjoy a good Mario Party as much as (okay, more than) the next guy. And I loved busting caps with the golden gun back in the Goldeneye days. But the more memorable experiences are the co-op ones (at least when I don’t get too worked about winning them…). Maybe that’s because the really good ones are few and far between.

ToejamMy all-time favorite game is Toejam & Earl. (Sometimes I say it’s Lunar, but it really is Toejam & Earl. I swear.) I have fond memories of playing this game through all hours of the night with my cousin during the summer, and I still have the complete cartridge, box, manual set, even though I don’t have a console to play it on. I remember renting the game once and totally falling in love with it. We looked for it everywhere, and my mom asked some random person at Sears of all places if they had it. The woman said she thought she’d seen the game somewhere and found it in some random drawer. I’ve never parted with it since.

Anyway, let’s get off that nostalgia train. Despite my fond fond memories for this title, I have replayed it on the Wii Virtual Console in recent years, and it still holds up. There’s something about it that’s charming and addictive, and revolutionary for its time, in the sense that no game has captured the same co-op experience for me personally. Toejam and Earl still hits all the high marks of what I consider the perfect co-op title.

1. Split-screen. It’s great to be able to go off and explore on your own, if you like, only to go running like hell for your partner when things start to heat up.

2. Friendly fire is rare. It’s hard to hurt your partner in TJ&E. Maybe that’s because of the general gentle nature of the game (effective weapons are difficult to acquire). But there are few “Oh my effing god, you just killed ME!” moments.

3. Strategy. Careful resource management (and a heaping helping of luck) is key to winning TJ&E. Strategizing over money, presents, and when to open them adds to the cooperative nature.

No co-op game I’ve played yet has met each of these three requirements with a four-star rating. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is great fun, but really hampered by being squeezed together on one screen.

One game that benefitted from the lack of split screen was Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, for Gamecube. However the GBA requirement limited the amount of people you could pull together for that game, and I think I only played it with two characters max. Being pack mule for half the game isn’t fun.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii/U both have the lack of split-screen problem (although I think split screen would not benefit this game), and the chaos that ensues all but ensures that you’re going to accidentally kill your partner(s) multiple times.

dkcr1My favorite co-op game is recent memory is Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii). It lacked split-screen, and platformers generally lack strategy, but it was just a lot of fun platforming enhanced by playing with a friend. The levels were very pretty, too, although I wish there were more of the “silhouette” style levels that were really eye-popping.

LoZ: Four Swords could have been an excellent Wii U game, if there was more than one gamepad involved. Perhaps the next portable Zelda will have a wi-fi version of the game.

The Simpsons Game was a total failure, and I have nothing else to say about the crappy gameplay, horrible camera, and general lack of fun pervading this piece of garbage that had a lot of promise for a licensed title.

I’m sure there are more co-op games, good and bad, I’ve played, but I can’t think of any right now.

Curious as to what the guys behind TJ&E were up to, I was startled to discover that the TJ&E III website from 2004 is still up. And unchanged. I’m one of the eleven people who enjoyed TJ&E III. The tone was off at times, and the addition of combat took away the fun survival element, but it was still the closest thing to the original anyone had done in a decade.

According to this Edge Online article one of the guys behind TJ&E is working on a new DS game. I hope it’s co-op.

I have Trine 2 to play after I finish NSMBU, and I just cannot wait for Ron Gilbert’s (another favorite of mine) The Cave. It’s like a multiplayer Maniac Mansion with a twist. Yes, please, I’ll take two.

Does anyone have a good co-op game to recommend?

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2 thoughts on “The Legacy of ToeJam and Earl

  1. Funny thing to catch up with someone who likes TJ&E the same way I do. Reading your entry had filled me with a lot of nostalgia and also I found out we have a few points in common about this game experiences.
    It was the very first game I rented for my Genesis. At that time, I only had Sonic the Hedgehog for the console, and when my brother and I went to the video store I rented TJ&E and he rented Chiki Chiki Boys. I picked up the game ’cause I’ve seen some strategies in a local videogame magazine, which was a compilation of the Fixed World maps… so I was curious about how the game looked like. (After all, pictures of the maps didn’t show any of the games charming graphics nor the real look of the screenplay either)
    As you said, it was love at first sight. It’s something about the revolutionary gameplay it has, or something like that… but yeah, it’s my favourite game from all time. Never ever have played another co-op game with the same feeling as this one, and I also bought the game (a long time after renting it several times and having a shock when I finally decided to bought it and it was no longer available… luckily they got a new copy a few years later) with full gamebox and manuals (in portuguese! xD) even if I no longer have a Genesis were I can play it, I still have it in my bookshelf.
    I’m also curious about TJ&E3, but I couldn’t manage myself to get an XBOX nor an emulator to try it out, even if there are tons of complaints about the game itself, after playing the two great games on Genesis as ahuge fan I’d love to play the third one a lil’ bit.
    So, anyway, thanks a lot for this amazing entry, it’s really inspiring to read something as great as this, I really enjoyed it and as I said it was nostalgic.
    I’m sharing my Boogieman fanart with you =) Hope you like it!

    http://nekoiichi.deviantart.com/art/20120502-Let-s-Boogie-Boogie-299598906?q=gallery%3Anekoiichi%2F40591953&qo=114

    Serge “Nekoiichi” Gómez

    • Sergio,

      It’s so exciting to hear from a fellow TJ&E lifetime fan! I’d love to see the Portuguese game manual. The manual was a big factor in my love for the game. It has so much zany humor in it.

      That’s awesome that you still have the game, even though you don’t have a Genesis. I still have TJ&E 1 and 2, and Lunar 1 & 2 for the Sega CD, although I actually lost the Lunar 2 Game disc… I have the box and manual. Those were great manuals, too.

      You should definitely try out TJ&E III sometime if you ever can. Even though they made ToeJam and Earl into a bad imitation of hip-hop culture, it’s still a lot of fun to explore the environments in 3D. Some of the humor is kind of funny in a cheesy way.

      Thanks for sharing your boogie man art! I love it! Sometimes I still say “BOOGIE BOOGIE BOOGIE!” even though none of my friends know what I’m talking about. That was another great thing about the game: the voice samples. I remember sneaking past a sleeping dentist once… and ToeJam sneezed or burped or something, waking the dentist up. Ah, memories.

      Thanks for commenting. stay funky!

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