Stop me if you've heard this story before: aliens crash land on Earth and need to reassemble their ship while crazy humans try to mess with them at every turn. That's right, I'm talking about the 1991 classic, Toejam and Earl, but now rebooted for 2019. The reboot keeps the classic gameplay and style from the original intact, we're talking full 90's mode... but with a twist. Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove looks, feels, and plays exactly like something you'd find in an early 1990's time capsule (but with new features added in). Stylistically, Back in the Groove is like if all 6 seasons of The Fresh Prince, the first 3 House Party movies, and the pre-1994 Fox Kids lineup got together in a blender, pureed itself, and the resulting mixture was lovingly poured into this game and baked on high. I mean that in the best way possible, of course, in that the result is an enjoyable nostalgia casserole.
But what else does TJ&E have going for it besides nostalgia? And what changes does the reboot bring?
First of all, the most welcome change to Back in the Groove is the addition of a save state and load game feature. No more having to pause the game and turn off the TV to go out to get a bite to eat, no more forgetting you left the game on, the console turns itself off and you lose your progress! Just pause, and save your game. I can't tell you how benevolent of a feature this is, especially with so many levels to explore in order to put Toe Jam and Earl's ship back together. Where was this in the original game?!
In addition to a save game feature, Back in the Groove adds in new enemies and items (or in this case, presents) for players to use. The enemies have evolved with the times to include a new Segway Security Guard and an Internet Troll that uses insults to render the player berserk (reflected by screwed up controls). Amusingly enough, the Internet Troll tries to escape if the player decides to try and get him to say something without the keyboard involved. Among the new items is the Disguise, allowing your alien of choice to blend in with other enemies, and a "gas," cloud used to disperse clusters of enemies for when you don't want to sneak through or can't engage in direct combat with raining tomatoes (my preferred item of choice).
Something else that's brand new to Back in the Groove is the addition of a character select for each playthrough with nine different characters in all (six to start), each with their own stats and abilities. Don't like the stats of a particular character? Maybe you like a certain stat and want more of it? No worries as during each playthrough players will be rewarded with stat points for their characters and be able to either bring balance to a less favorable character's play style or max out a stat that they like and crank it all the way to 11. The abilities are cool too and are mostly all advantage with no drawback. Whether it's extra time with items or being able to eat food after it's gone bad, the new abilities give players a clear edge for the levels they're about to delve through. Ultimately, these changes and additions make the reboot a much more user-friendly version of a classic.
Don't get me wrong, even with the new changes, some of the more tedious and frustrating aspects of the original game refused to change, so to speak. Lots of time is still devoted to playing hide and seek with presents and ship pieces, traversing maps (especially ones with narrow paths), and in later levels, not getting run over by what I felt were a disproportionate amount of Earthlings. Sure, there's easier difficulty settings, but I don't feel comfortable with difficulty settings like "Farty Baby," and "Toddler," even if they got genuine laughs out of my wife and me.
Back in the Groove is a chance for moms and dads to show the youngins a little slice of gaming from their era. It's also for youngin-less adults to relive a classic. If you like rogue-likes, randomness, bright colors, silliness, the 90s, and you have a chunk of time to invest, then Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove might be for you. If, on the other hand, you're a more impatient gamer and don't like the unpredictable, maybe stick to an action game or get some restraint and chill out with the game's generous intro mode with only 10 levels. So, out of TOV 5 stars, I'm giving Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove 3.5.