TJ&E 2 critics should be funked to death and their remains kept in a glass jar. Here's why:
OK, so it did a lot of things right. But it's not the masterpiece everybody claims it is. At most it was the best game for the Genesis at the time... but that's not saying much. TJ&E is basically a dungeon crawler, a remade Rogue (if you don't know what that is, look it up) with colorful graphics, good characters and a surprising setting. It managed to do random levels more or less right (roughly half of the maps didn't make any sense at all) and support two player split-screen games. But that was all. The gameplay itself was slow, the controls unresponsive and there still was, despite not having ASCII graphics, a huge gap between what you were doing and what happened. The interface was clunky (much more so on the Wii playing with the remote) and the game has aged poorly, feeling almost unbearably slow nowadays. Come on, be honest: how long have you played since you downloaded TJ&E? A couple of hours, maybe?
Now, TJ&E2 was disappointing for a very specific group of people which obviously includes mr. Gerstmann: those who had played and loved the first one. I'm from a different kind. I got to TJ&E2 first, then played the original. My perspective was different, probably more in synch with Wii players who never knew the games. To me, this game is the highlight of the series.
The game obviously has improved its graphics for the sequel. The move to a side screen view and predesigned levels has actually kept the essence of the game and added new ways for the two main characters to interact between them and with the environment. The new "search" mechanic, reminiscent of Impossible Mission can get tedious, but the burden is halved in coop play and it's a normal issue with games of its time that still survives to this day (isn't link's main source of income still cutting grass?).
What this game managed to do that the previous didn't is have a story. Characters are now more interactive, they give out quests and there are several minigames that change the pace. That was very unusual for the time, when platformers were all about reflexes. Panic on Funkotron was heavy on plot, funky characters and dialogue and puzzles. It borrowed elements from the first game, but also from 8 bit classics like Monty Mole or Dizzy and redid them in a modern way, much like the first one had redone ASCII-based random dungeon generators. Don't let the people who couldn't accept evolution fool you, there's good fun to be had here, even today. Coop is pretty much a must, and getting into the game's quirky sense of humor a plus, since much of the enjoyment comes just from looking at the character designs and enjoying the dialogue. It's bothersome that the main weapon in the game is shot at an arc and that some enemies behave incontrollably, leading to random death, but that doesn't hurt the game too much, it's just part of it.
I was going to end this review with a line like "if you liked such and such you must check this game out". After thinking for a while I couldn't find a suitable reference to put in there. That alone makes this game worthy of your money and attention.