Never Let Earl Drive
It’s a tale as old as time. Three legged, torso-less alien lets his overweight, sunglass wearing, rapper friend steer his Righteous Rapmaster Rocketship. Friend crashes ship on Earth. Both must work to reassemble said ship so that the hip-hop duo can make their way back to their home planet: Funkotron.
Turn It Up To 11
In 1991 this counted as a plot. But plot wasn’t what made Toejam and Earl special. This was a 2-player, exploration game that lavished in the absurd. Let’s take our two heroes. Both are funky, hip-hop loving aliens who are bathed in that audacious, early 90’s color scheme. Check out the game’s intro and turn the volume up, way up.
Each character plays similarly, but a few stat differences set them apart. Toejam moves slightly faster but is able to take less damage, while Earl’s largess slows his movement but allows him to absorb more punishment. You can play as either character by yourself, but the game truly shines in its 2-player cooperative gameplay.
You and a friend can hunt down the 10 missing pieces of your spaceship together. Even though Toejam and Earl crashed on Earth, the environment resembles nothing close to reality. Each stage is an island floating in space and the funky duo must find the elevator that leads up to the next level. Fall off of the island and you land on the previous level where you must replay it. Not every level contains a piece of your spaceship, but they do contain an odd assortment of humans.
One funky ship
Toejam and Earl come across humans that are both benevolent and malicious. You may cross paths with a man in a Wizard suit who will heal you for a buck, or a comically stereotypical Opera Signer whose high notes will clear the screen of all enemies. You can even find a jetpack wearing Santa Claus who will drop presents if you can sneak up and catch him. Not all humans are here to help you though. You better avoid the Lil’ Devil with his probing pitchfork. Worse yet is the flying Cupid whose arrows change your controller inputs (up is right, left is up, etc.). My personal favorite: the Nerd Herd. They are a roaming pack of glasses wearing, pocket-protected death.
Look out! NERDS!
Random and Replayable
In my last column I wrote about how perfectly crafted World 1-1 was in Super Mario Bros. Toejam and Earl has an entirely different approach to game design. Each level of the game is randomly generated, meaning that enemies, items, level layout, and the exit were never the same. This made the game much more replayable. In 1991, when my only income was mowing my grandmother’s lawn for $5 a week, new games were tough to come by. The element of randomness kept the game (funky) fresh each time, so when my snap bracelet wearing neighbor came over to play, it felt like a new experience.
See if you can find this hidden stage below level 1
Playing the game today, it feels a bit slow and plodding and there isn’t much of a story to keep you searching for those missing ship parts. But this game is all about the journey through the absurd with a friend. So call your buddy, download Toejam and Earl, pour a drink, and help two funky dudes get back to Funkotron.
Some Like It Hoth
Next time, we’ll take a look at the excellent Rogue Squadron series on the Nintendo GameCube. The Star Wars hype is only growing and I have a hankerin’ for some tow cablein’. If you have any games that you’d like to see featured, click on my name at the top of the article and send me a message!