SEGA Sequels: Toejam and Earl

Hey guys, welcome to Episode 16 of SEGA Sequel Saturdays. Before I get into it this week, there’s some business to take care of. I’d like to start by thanking George and Nuckles87 for contributing episodes to this feature, either when I haven’t been able to, or, in some cases, when I’ve been totally out of ideas. I’d also like to thank all of you who read these and create discussions each week by commenting. It makes writing them fun and rewarding, and I’d love to see this continue as a weekly feature. I feel that the best way to do that is, well, to open the floor to you guys. If you want to write an episode of Sequel Saturdays, drop a me a private message or say so in the comments section. You’d send me your write-up and I’d format, edit, and post it. I’d love to keep this feature going and if you would too, and if you want to write an episode, definitely let me know.

Alright, that out of the way, let’s jump into this week’s episode, this one about a good old childhood franchise of mine.

It’s interesting to look back at the history of the Toejam and Earl series, as it was one of the brighter stars on the SEGA Genesis. Known for its charismatic lead characters, off the wall sense of humor, and great co-op gameplay, Toejam and Earl were at one point seen as serious contenders to be SEGA’s official mascots. Of course, as we all know, that didn’t happen, that honor ultimately going to a certain blue blur, but it’s impossible to look back at the Genesis and not see Toejam and Earl, at the very least, as key figures in SEGA’s lineup.

There’s something so incredibly unique about this series, one in which its 2 main characters, Toejam and Earl, are forced to make contact with us, the Earthlings, when their ship crashes on planet Earth, forcing the duo to search our planet for the ship’s pieces in order to return to their home on Funkatron. The game was well-regarded for its sense of humor, its characters, its large levels, and, of course, its funky spirit.

The sequel, Toejam and Earl: Panic on Funkatron, switched things up in a pretty big way, moving the action to Funkatron and changing the gameplay style entirely to a side-scrolling experience. Fan reactions were incredibly mixed, and generally, people seemed to prefer the original game. To me, though, Panic on Funkatron was much more fun. I thought the side-scrolling gameplay streamlined the best of the original game and made it feel faster, I loved Funkatron and the awesome alien characters you got to interact with, the graphics were a big step up, the Hyperfunk zones were incredibly awesome, and you were just never sure exactly what funky sights you’d come across next. I can’t blame fans though for being upset, as it’s rare for sequels to change things up so drastically. I’d like to think that most people at least liked the game, even if they didn’t find it to be the sequel that they may have wanted.

Many years later and after many delays, Toejam and Earl III was released in 2002 for the Xbox, and, not too surprisingly, the developers chose to return to the gameplay of the original. The 3rd installment saw a return to Earth and to the large open areas that defined the 1st game all those years ago. What Toejam and Earl Studios hadn’t taken into account, however, was how dated the gameplay had become in all the years between them. Despite the (of course) huge graphical upgrade that came with the next generation hardware, people found the randomly generated levels to be incredibly bland. Gameplay (which relied a lot on collecting) that was seen as fun and impressive back on the Genesis was concidered dull and repetitive on the Xbox. The story sequences, which would have helped convince gamers to keep playing, were surprisingly few in number. Years ago during an email exchange with series co-creator Greg Johnson, he told me that they’d actually planned to have many more cutscenes, even going as far as to record the dialogue with the voice talent, but that these were cut when it became clear that they wouldn’t be finished on time for the game’s release.

Reviews were not kind and sales were disappointing despite a solid marketing push from SEGA and the iconic nature of its characters. Toejam and Earl III: Mission to Earth would turn out to be the final nail in the series’ coffin, resulting in the closure of Toejam and Earl Studios.

It sucks, in a lot of ways, that what was once such an iconic franchise had to go out this way. Though I certainly wouldn’t say that Mission to Earth lived up to the first 2 installments, and while I could never get into its characterizations of the two main characters, (Latisha I didn’t even think was necessary) I had a lot of fun with it at first. It’s just impossible not to play one of these games with a smile on your face, whether at the crazy humor, the funky music and neat powerups, or all the clever little touches that have always made these games so distinctive.

The first two games have been re-released digitally, and there was a fairly vocal push among fans to get Toejam and Earl into Sonic and SEGA All Stars Racing, something that, unfortunately, didn’t happen. It’s still a franchise that seems to be held in high regard by a lot of people, and I’d love to see another game, this time not one that goes back to an ancient gameplay style but one that takes these characters into the next generation. I’d love to see it return to Funkatron, bringing back the great alien characters, the vibrant colors, the bouncy surfaces, the Underfunk, the Hyperfunk zones, and the trees loaded with hidden presents…all in glorious 3D. I’d like to see more frequent cutscenes, with Toejam and Earl written to be much goofier than howthey were portrayed in the 3rd installment, and, of course, entirely new gameplay. I’m not even sure what the gameplay would be, to be honest, but it would be fresh and hopefully revolutionize co-op gaming the same way the series originally did back on the Genesis.

It’s just too great and unique a series to be forgotten. It may not be possible, but I’d love to see a Toejam and Earl 4. I definitely feel that this series is too iconic, unique, and fun to just end now. It’s looking incredibly unlikely at this point in time, but hopefully in the future we’ll see the return, in some form, of the hip hop-loving alien duo named Toejam and Earl.

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8 responses to “SEGA Sequels: Toejam and Earl

  1. Chaosmaster8753 says:

    Feels a little more like a retrospective (no offense.)

  2. -nSega54- says:

    None taken.

    It's kind of tough to imagine a sequel to this series because it never really had a chance to develop any sort of modern gameplay. Pretty much to sum up, what I'm saying is that I'd want to see a return to Funkatron and see some of the things that Toejam and Earl III did reversed. I'd also like to see the series try something new instead of just reverting to an old style of gameplay.

  3. cube_b3 says:

    That screen shot of xbox TJ&E looks stretched or was the game just ugly?

  4. -nSega54- says:

    Screen shot's stretched to match the others, but actually I think I'll shrink it a bit because it doesn't do TJandE3 justice. Game wasn't ugly, actually, the visuals were pretty solid. The only problem with the visuals was a lot of draw-in.

  5. cube_b3 says:

    So what do you mean by Randomly Generated Levels?

    Cause that is inexcuseable they spend their entire development time designing an engine that could make levels rather than actually make levels?

  6. -nSega54- says:

    There were huhb worlds in III where you would travel from one level to another, and these were fixed, not randomly generated.

    Once you got to the levels themselves, though, yeah, they were randomly generated because this series has always been about that. Basically you never know where Earthlings will be, you never know where the keys, presents, and other collectable objects are hidden. It always keeps things fresh, I suppose. Every time you return to a level to collect stuff, nothing will be in the same place.

  7. cube_b3 says:

    Like playing a game based entirely on Sonic Adventure's treasure hunt :S.

    No thank You!

  8. -nSega54- says:

    Well, not exactly, haha. It's a lot more fun than that. If you ever want to do some fun co-op sidescrolling I'd definitely give Toejam and Earl II: Panic on Funkatron a shot. Really fun game and the visuals still look colorful and appealing today.

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