This is a game about a couple of aliens who are trying to reassemble their spaceship so that they can return to their home planet, Funkotron. As you’re likely to read elsewhere, the game mechanics owe a large part of their heritage to Rogue, a game for the personal computer from 1980, but, for important reasons, TJ&E escaped following those those roots too closely, and did not become anything like Diablo, or–and this might be stretching the limits of the dungeon-crawling genre–Baldur’s Gate.
It has been complained that TJ&E is ‘just a game about walking around’; this is supremely ignorant. The player, whether playing with another (as ‘intended’) or by themselves, will do a lot of walking around, but this does not limit the game. What drives TJ&E is the idea that you’re exploring something, getting deeper and deeper into the world with which you’re interacting &c. This is what makes this a really, really good game.
All the levels you play through are randomly generated, and all of the items littered throughout the game have to be used in order to function discovered: everything gets rotated, mixed around, when you start again. The items themselves are genuinely helpful to game-play, and are authentically imaginative. In fact the very freedom the player has to roam around and explore the level, checking the map, figuring things out, is what makes this game. Most commentary on TJ&E reserves all the praise for its music–and the music is brilliant, Herbie Hancock-esque funk that loops perfectly–but the sandbox dimension to the game is what keeps me coming back.
I can go on about the levels’ terrain, the various enemies, the game’s difficulty curve, but you need to go and play this game.
ToeJam & Earl is available on the Sega Mega Drive (both the console and cartridge can be bought fairly cheaply online), and the Wii Virtual Console, for 800 Wii Points.