Before we begin I should probably preface this reflection with the fact that my first video game system was a Sega Genesis. Have always loved the Genesis, will always love the Genesis, am biased towards the Genesis. Sega (before it decided to systematically dismantle its core franchise with these new age Sonic the Hedgehog iterations) really did some things well back in its heyday, and one of them was the creation of two of my favorite drinking buddies; Toejam & Earl.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve found myself slowly pulling away from some big budget purchases (Bioshock Infinite and Dishonored to name two) simply due to the fact that I don’t have any time to make serious headway on any given weeknight. Work seems to eat my free time (like Kim Kardashian eats souls) Monday through Friday, so I find little more than an hour a day with the ability to play video games. One night I dusted off the old Sega and perused my old titles just to mix it up; which one was I going to choose? Altered Beast, Kid Chameleon, Sonic 2, TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist? As I inspected each individual title, my eyes rested on a picture of two aliens; one with the speech bubble “JAMMIN’!” above his head (and sporting the backwards baseball hat and massive gold chain) and the other one (the fat one with shades and border shorts) about to pound a hotdog with mustard. I instantly decided to shove my copy (albeit it took multiple tries) of Toejam and Earl into the Sega Genesis and dove into a nostalgic bliss.
A brief description of the game for those who haven’t had the pleasure: Toejam and Earl are two aliens who’ve crashed to earth (a bizarre earth made up of 25 platformed levels that are traversed by elevator) and are searching for the broken parts of their spaceship. Along the way they eat food, find presents, use presents, and avoid all types of earthlings like the plague. The game takes a solid hour and a half to complete, which may sound short, but it has two main things I love:
• Low Key Gameplay – As I said before, you basically walk around looking for ship parts while avoiding earthlings while using tons of presents.
This allows you to spend the entire hour pounding beers without the threat of getting killed (always a positive on a Tuesday night). There’s almost zero stress, which is the opposite of what you get from blockbusters like Modern Warfare. Now think about this – All day you deal with people, no one thanks you for your hard work, and you feel stuck in your life like a fly caught in orange marmalade. Toejam and Earl lets you do exactly the opposite: explore at your own pace, avoid everyone that’s trying to get in your grill, find rewards everywhere, and have an endgame where you get the hell out of where you are and on the track back to what you ought to be doing. Scary.
• A Great Soundtrack – Some people don’t like certain types of music. I personally hate everything country, so as you can imagine if there was a video game involving Taylor Swift I’d rather find myself making out with a circular saw than purchasing it. Toejam and Earl has the first truly “funk” soundtrack that I’ve ever heard in video gaming. Beats like “Toejam Jammin’”, “Big Earl Bump” and “Alien Break Down” somehow use a 32 bit system to create music that is not only memorable, but unique. The best part about these songs are how they perfectly mesh with the whole “just kind of waddling around” theme of the entire game. You can’t imagine George Clinton creating his music without being high as the MIR space station, and you kinda get that vibe from our two alien heroes as they ramble through their own version of earth.
You can find the above songs on Youtube, but a great way to hear them is on iTunes. The One-Ups do a nice job capturing the heart and intent of the songs through their versions, and they also do a masterful job with other classic video game music. Check them out.
That being said, for those of you who are lucky enough to still own a Sega Genesis, it’s worth searching for this little known treasure. Toejam & Earl is a game that really helps mellow you out at the end of a hard day, which is rare now. It does it without being childish, pretentious, or completely crappy. So crack open a cold one, and treat yourself to some TJ&E. You won’t regret it.