The ToeJam & Earl series started as a quirky little project that Sega released for the 16-bit Genesis system starring the eponymous alien rapper duo. The first game was a success, blending cooperative gameplay with randomized levels that were different every time you played them. Yet the second game unfortunately took away most of what made the original good and simply used the first game's themes in a dull side scroller. ToeJam & Earl III, released years after either of its predecessors, in turn borrows elements from both games but combines them in a way that, quite simply, isn't very fun at all.
It's always tough to build a game around humor. Historically, very few games have managed to be genuinely humorous on purpose. If the humor works, then it can actually make up for a lot of a game's deficiencies or make a good game even better. But if the funny parts aren't, well, funny, then some games can get downright painful to watch or play. ToeJam & Earl III, a tale of three funky hip-hop-loving aliens, unfortunately falls into the latter category. It certainly tries to be funny, but the humor almost always falls flat. With the surprisingly clever exception of a reference to the album artwork for Run-DMC's classic album, King of Rock, the rap music tie-ins feel fake and forced. It's as if three men who had never heard of hip-hop sat in a room for three hours while watching tapes of Yo! MTV Raps from around 1988, retained maybe 15 percent of what they saw, and filled in the rest of the blanks with tired '70s funk references. During play, each time you see an earthling become "funkified" and watch as Bootsy Collins star-shades appear on their eyes and Afros pop out of their heads, all you can do is groan.
The game revolves around "the funk." The Funkopotumus' record collection has been stolen and taken to Earth. It's up to ToeJam, Earl, and newcomer Latisha to go to Earth and recover the missing vinyl. Of course, after spending some time on the planet, your spiritual--and "funky"--mentor discovers an unbalance in the funk. This later evolves into a disturbance in the funk. Yes, you guessed it. There's a dark side to the funk--the antifunk. You'll eventually fight the antifunk in hopes of making the world funky for funky people to be funky in. Like those last few sentences, the game is constantly ramming the concept of funk down your throat, be it on its own or worked into incredibly lame Star Wars-like sequences, where the funk is interchangeable with the Force.
The actual gameplay in ToeJam & Earl III is like a cross between the first two games in the series. Like in the original, you, either alone or with a friend, must move from level to level, exploring the maps from a third-person perspective and ending each level with a trip in a flying elevator. Like in the second game, you'll find earthlings and, with a blast of your "funk fu," bless them with the healing power of the funk. The game is broken up into worlds, each with a handful of different stages and each culminating in a boss fight or other task. However, the standard level gives you a checklist of things to accomplish. Some levels will force you to convert every earthling in the level. Others will have you unlocking "presents," which are the game's equivalent to power-ups. You'll discover presents that give you various movement items, like spring shoes, rocket skates, and so on. Other presents are weapons, such as the large funk fu blast or the funkify notes. Still others are simple pleasures, such as life-recovering food, a decoy to trick pesky earthlings, and the like.
Regardless of the tasks at hand, all you really need to do is run around, blasting humans with the funk via your funk fu attack or the specialized weapons granted by the presents. Along the way you'll pick up keys, microphones, and other items that can be used to unlock later levels. In cooperative mode, the two players can split off from one another, which automatically changes the game's viewpoint to a split screen, which remerges when the two players enter the same area--a nice feature that unfortunately doesn't help the gameplay much.
ToeJam & Earl III began life as a Dreamcast game and was moved over to the Xbox once Sega left the DC in the dust. While the release on the Xbox looks quite a bit better when compared to old Dreamcast titles, the game doesn't stand up well to current Xbox standards. The characters are small and not very well defined. The simple level textures don't help matters much, and while the animation used throughout the game is decent, it's repetitive.
The audio portion of ToeJam & Earl III is a serious disappointment. The main characters haven't done much talking in previous games, so this is the first time you actually get to hear the characters rap, but the rhymes are weak, the beats are generic, and in the end, all this reinforces the notion that the whole game just seems phony. ToeJam's speech in the game is filled with stupid double entendres, most of it on the level of him asking cheerleaders to get a hold of "them pom-poms." The game's music, which is unlocked as you collect more of the missing records, is mostly drum machine and synthesized slap bass. It may be on par with early Genesis games, but you'd probably expect to hear something that sounds a little more current.
Big fans of the original ToeJam & Earl game will probably have very mixed feelings about the game. On one hand, the gameplay is roughly the same as that of the original game, full of wacky presents with varied effects. On the other, the poor voices and music really date the game and make it feel incredibly stale. The simple mechanics certainly don't help hide the game's other flaws, either, and ultimately the original ToeJam & Earl still remains a better game overall. So anyone looking for a ToeJam & Earl fix would be better off digging up a copy of the original. And anyone who has no idea what the previous games in the series are even about should look elsewhere for entertainment, at this point.