We Need a New ToeJam & Earl As Soon As Possible

Funky town.


Before I outline just how important a modern entry in the ToeJam & Earl franchise would be, please do one simple favor for me. Open this link in another tab, crank up the volume, and let the most funky of musical scores set the tone as you imagine the glorious return of this endearing duo.

If you've been paying attention to gaming trends the last few years, you might have noticed one experience becoming so common that it's almost impossible to ignore. Roguelikes have risen dramatically in prominence--from niche distraction to ubiquitous trendsetter--ushering in an era of abject punishment and endless rewards. Spelunky is the foremost example of this phenomenon. A community of devotees has formed to learn the many secrets buried within its inhospitable caves, and reached heights unknown to even the masterminds who created this landmark achievement. Once that path was carved, countless other roguelikes flooded the landscape, and every one of these encouraged utter devotion to master their deadly brilliance.

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And it's the commonalities between these many games that have made me eager for ToeJam & Earl to return. Roguelikes are so unrepentant in their brutality that they push away those unwilling to withstand such difficulty. To suggest that those games become more accessible and more friendly to outsiders would be sacrilegious, so don't expect for one second that my goal is to water down something I love. However, we have already seen a template for how to welcome in others without churning out a dumbed-down monstrosity. I fell in love with ToeJam & Earl before I had ever heard of Rogue, let alone roguelikes, and the elements that separated it from the gaming world in 1991 are just as celebrated today. Plus, if ToeJam & Earl would return, it could provide an ideal starting point for those fearful of entering the treacherous rabbit hole.

I fell in love with ToeJam & Earl before I had ever heard of Rogue, and the elements that separated it from the gaming world in 1991 are just as celebrated today.

For those who never had the pleasure of making ToeJam & Earl's acquaintance, I'm sorry for the aching hole in your heart. Here's a brief rundown for the uninitiated : ToeJam and Earl crash-land on Earth, but they aren't imperialists looking for a new place to colonize. Rather, they're goofy aliens who are just looking for a good time. So they venture across randomized locations, running away from the crazies who populate this strange world, collecting presents to earn unexpected items, and searching for ship parts to take them home. It's an irreverent adventure that exaggerates the oddities of familiar personality types, offering a comedic look at things that we take for granted.

That spaceship sure looks like a bean.
That spaceship sure looks like a bean.

So its humor is what pulls people in who have no idea what's in store for them. Such an emphasis is a drastic change from what we've grown to expect from roguelikes, but just because a game made me laugh two decades ago doesn't mean a modern-day reimagining is needed. However, the brilliance of ToeJam & Earl is that it doesn't lean on its sense of humor like a crutch. Its unpredictability, gleeful spirit, joyous rewards, and cunning sense of discovery are timeless elements that today's world is in desperate need of.

Usually, in such a plea for a long-dormant franchise to resurface, I would suggest changes that would make it work within the modern scene. But that isn't necessary with ToeJam & Earl. There is absolutely nothing like the Genesis classic today, and there hasn't been since the uneven third entry came out on the Xbox. There is a massive hole in the roguelike genre that ToeJam & Earl could fill beautifully. So rather than build up an entirely new game based on disparate elements from the franchise, it would only be necessary to tweak the first game. After all, you wouldn't add a flute solo to a funky jam, and ToeJam & Earl doesn't need any crazy modifications either.

The core action should remain unchanged. ToeJam and Earl are not the attacking forces that we typically see in games. They just want to listen to music and crack jokes, not take up arms, and that passivity has to stay true in their rebirth. As boring as it sounds in a brief description, much of ToeJam & Earl involves simply walking across an unknown field. Rather than being a tedious experience, though, it was constantly exciting because you never knew who or what you'd run into. So it's the surprises that have to make up much of the appeal instead of the dexterity and fast reflexes we're accustomed to in roguelikes. This emphasis would not only separate a new ToeJam & Earl from its many demanding counterparts, but would be more welcoming to those who would rather not sweat and curse during their leisure time.

You wouldn't add a flute solo to a funky jam, and ToeJam & Earl doesn't need any crazy modifications either.

What kind of people would you meet? That's a very good question. In the original game, you would come across normal stereotypes taken to absurd levels. There was the nerd herd, a group of socially stunted people who ran you over with their unquestioning ambivalence; a maniacal dentist whose nightmarish screams tormented me for years; and a hula dancer whose gyrating hips cast a mesmerizing hold on the intrepid explorers. The sheer diversity of people kept you on guard, ready to react to any situation, so you would dive into a pond when Cupid tried to prick you or dance around a tree to avoid the lawnmower man. During those rare moments when you were granted a weapon, you might toss a couple of tomatoes at those ambling about, but don't expect such firepower to last.

Earl is a world-renowned dancer.
Earl is a world-renowned dancer.

ToeJam & Earl is ripe for parody, so a new entry would allow modern cliches to be lampooned. We could see sensationalist news anchors searching desperately for your missing spacecraft, patriotic politicians trying to force these poor aliens to leave their country, and disreputable lawyers hunting for copyright infractions that would cost you any money you've saved. Or maybe there are video game executives roaming about, forcing expensive microtransactions on you or trying to transform you into 30-year-old white men to increase sales. The beautiful way that ToeJam & Earl could infuse social commentary into its action, while still retaining the humor and surprises the game is based on, would make for an experience that's not only fun, but has something interesting to say as well.

The final element that makes the action of ToeJam & Earl so appealing is the presents you collect. They are strewn randomly across randomly generated stages, and the contents of each package are (you guessed it!) random. The ones present (see what I did there?) in the original game momentarily changed your locomotion (rocket skates, Icarus wings), gave you a weapon (slingshot), hurt your character (schoolbook, bummer), or made you burp (root beer). All of them were important, though a few more could further spice up your escapades. A trench coat could conceal you Ninja Turtle style, steroids could strengthen your, um, strength, or a loaf of bread could give you terrible gas (ToeJam and Earl follow a gluten-free diet for some reason). Are you intrigued? Not yet? Well, what if the aliens borrowed from popular culture? ToeJam could fall distractedly in love with a cell phone like we saw in Her or Earl might accidentally clone a dinosaur like Jurassic Park. The possibilities are endless.

Now that I've thought up new ways to modernize the franchise I know and love, and have had that infectious tune running through my head the entire time I wrote this, I am desperate for my wish to become a reality. I love roguelikes as much as anyone, but I still recognize that some diversity is needed if this style of game is going to thrive. Bring back ToeJam & Earl to teach us how to laugh again, and use their platform to poke fun at the ills that we deal with in our daily lives. I know that such a game would be a wild success, so I can only hope that we're treated to a new entry in the not-too-distant future. Until then, just listen to the incredible theme song, and try not to picture Earl in his underwear.

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Avatar image for fka_foofa

OMG! This needs to happen. TJ&E Panic on Funkotron was one of my best gaming memories from the Genesis days. It would be a serious breath of fresh air.

Avatar image for Sw1tched

4 player co-op with 2 new characters with the same gamepy as the original????? And obviously more substantial and filled with options and current gen visuals ... but absolutely HAS to be top down 3-4 player. I would pay $60 for it and or support crowd funding

Avatar image for bourne714

You lost me at 10 hours of ToeJam and Earl's Funk theme.

Avatar image for deactivated-5aaaf6313c856

Still have my cartridge for sale. Great game!

Avatar image for Metalnoid

I remember that cartridge, but i never played it. The world was in the hands of Sonic and Mortal Kombat on those days, so i don't miss it :D

Avatar image for blazermarc

Yes! More TJ&E please! TJ&EIII is pretty much the only reason I keep my Original Xbox around. I never played the earlier ones, but if they were better than TJ&EIII I'm not sure I coulda handled the awesomeness.

Avatar image for abcdefgabcdefgz

Tons of older original games had lots of cool idea and would be cool with remakes. The problem is it will either not happen or they will do it and butcher it to appeal to the modern gamer. It just never works

Avatar image for tomotomo

So here is a question for anyone who wants to answer... Since you can go to Steam right now and purchase the orginal TJ&E game, how different from this would you want a NEW TJ&E game? In other words, is just updated graphics and audio and some new Earthlings and presents enough? Or would you want some new features? Also what platform(s) would you want it on?

Avatar image for Sw1tched

<< LINK REMOVED >> Keep core game exactly the same with current gen visuals. More presents, bigger maps, more secrets, and add 2 new characters with special abilities and make it 4 player co op online or local split screen!! Modern tv's are big enough to handle that.

Avatar image for Megamoss1984

Sega have a ton of IP's ripe and ready for modern interpretations. Unfortunately I'm not confident of their ability to pull them off well...

Avatar image for mattykovax

Bought that for my PS3, me and my brother play it for nostalgia reasons. If they were to pretty much update the original I would buy it.

Avatar image for AshTrai

I loved toejam and earl back in the day. I seem to remember not really liking any of the sequels though...

Just the fun of exploring for presents and pieces of ship, avoiding the increasingly hard and crazy enemies, and not trying to fall off teh world to the level below (you could go down levels as well as up, was really fun

Avatar image for wEEman33

Problem is, SEGA owns ToeJam and Earl, and there hasn't been a great SEGA game since Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

Before that one, you'd probably have to go all the way back to the original Xbox or GameCube, when SEGA was pumping out classics like Panzer Dragoon Orta, OutRun 2006, and Super Monkey Ball 1.

Avatar image for Orga777


I thought Sonic Generations was a good game... :(

Avatar image for Holy-Rapture


Avatar image for NightOfInsomnia

This game was one of my favorites on Sega. Oh the nostalgia it would bring if we got a reboot.

Avatar image for MattyTheButcher

"I've got a wiener on my head." - Mary Kish


Avatar image for spikepigeo

The instant I saw the headline I knew Tom wrote it. Gamespot's resident hipster. Still, that doesn't make it any less true -- another of these would be awesome.

Avatar image for Goobshoeriot

I'm surprised this wasn't written by Mary Kish. Feel the Funk.. Feel the VIBRATION!!

Avatar image for SloganYams

To this I say a resounding YES!

Avatar image for ArchoNils2

I always hated the random elements. A game should never have a random "it kills you with no chance to avoid it" in the item selection :p

Avatar image for Ahiru-San

<< LINK REMOVED >> that orchestra hit noise… it haunts me every now and then…

still, you could always avoid that by identifying the presents (paying for that carrot guy), so you could always avoid the Randomizer present… if you had money and patience...

Avatar image for TomMcShea

<< LINK REMOVED >> Bummer...

Avatar image for paulallen813

As long as its better than number 3

Avatar image for Ford_Cruller

Right on Tom.

Avatar image for VegasAceVII

I had a good time with both Genesis games. I would love to see another one done properly or at least following the formula of the first installment. The first one just had the right "vibe." Very simple; yet challenging.

Avatar image for psuedospike

Toe Jam & Earl is a brilliant game (although its two sequels are meh)

The fun of the first one was the aimless wandering with little to no direction and having to figure out what each present is and does. My brother and I recently beat the original on 360 (arcade version), but we were pissed when we realized they disabled achievements in online mode, which makes absolutely no sense.

Anyway, a sequel or reboot would be amazing, if they stick to the idea of the original and forget TJ&E2 and 3, the bizarre Xbox game (which wasn't all bad actually).

Avatar image for Suaron_x

I'm all for a TJ&E sequel...though Tom's article could be written better. What's with the roguelike comments he added in nearly every sentence? One paragraph on how roguelikes relate to TJ&E would've been enough. The first game is still the best, though I liked the 3rd one as well. My main problem with the third one was the choppy frame rates that tended to get me motion sick if I had to swing the camera too much.

Avatar image for nefphlegm

When i was a kid this game was so tough for me when I got to the higher levels the lawn mower man and those damn clucking chicks would mortar me!!! I finally downloaded the game and beat it just a few months ago. Makin' it back to my home planet was great and i felt like a little kid again holding my sega genesis control jumping up and down yelling i'm back home!!! To see this article shows that there are so many other fans of this game just waiting for something fun and original to come back. How's this for suggested enemies... "popular" celebrities who are chased by groupies which causes you to have to resist the temptation of running with the herd... so you pull out a pair of "They LIVe" sunglasses to see the truth... they're evil aliens!!! Don't know about Earl though maybe he has immunity? He's too cool for that bro. Zombie cell phone pedestrians... would there be a stealth mode in the game? Best trying to avoid the heavily make-up attention seeker who wants to be your best friend... the possibilities are endless!

Avatar image for bobbo888

<< LINK REMOVED >> dudeeee the lawnmower guy hahahaha

Avatar image for Bennettfoam

Every single time I look at TJ&E pics, a smile comes to my face. That is how good this game is! :)

Avatar image for Smokescreened84

If it's done well and is enjoyable and doesn't get turned into yet another COD clone, then I wouldn't mind seeing a new Toejam and Earl game appear. The two pack release that came out last year or two years ago of the first and second games was good but not as good as it was when I was younger back in the 1990s.

A new game or a remake of the first two, but done well like XCOM Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within were instead of the lazy shooter remake of the third person male lead only shooter that appeared, would be a nice change from the usual that's churned out today on a regular basis.

Avatar image for Jay2528

A new ToeJam & Earl game, yes please! I had so much fun playing the original. It could be wildly fun when playing with someones else, I think it was my first truly fun co-op experience.

Avatar image for xantufrog

Gonna have to look for a cartridge for my Genesis and relive some good times

Avatar image for deadpeasant

Ah I have fond memories of playing this game for hours with my cousin back in the day... Its a real classic. I would love to experience something like it again but I don't think I'd like to see it get the modern treatment of day 1 DLC, Microtransactions and such that it would definitely be riddled with if they reboot it. It would sully it's good name forever.

Avatar image for kerrman

No. That series needs to stay in the 90s where it belongs.

Avatar image for bobbo888

<< LINK REMOVED >> you sir can go back to the 90's and never return please.

Avatar image for Killer6b9

He was not around in the 90s....lol

Avatar image for olddadgamer

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >>I wish I could go back to the 90s. Good times, good times.

Avatar image for DARREN636

To be 12 again....

Great times with this game.

Only ever played it co op.

Avatar image for bobbo888

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> To be a kid again haha

Avatar image for darkljolly

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> How can he go back to the 90s if he was obviously born just last week

Avatar image for deactivated-5abc14ca5e8cc

Would be better if an indie game came out that captured the same kind of originality and spirit as Toejam & Earl, rather than a re-release that will be, inevitably, disappointingly falling short of the original.

Avatar image for JoInfo

The way rap music has evolved since then... No thanks!

Avatar image for bobbo888

<< LINK REMOVED >> I hope you're not insinuating that rap got worse BECAUSE of TJ and Earl...

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