ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth Review

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The first ToeJam & Earl was a sleeper hit for the Sega Genesis. In fact, it became popular enough that Sega used the protagonists as mascots. From what I understand, the developers aimed to expand upon the formula for the sequel but Sega interfered and the game transformed into a side scroller. Development of the third game was halted by the Sega Saturn’s poor commercial performance in North America and versions for the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast were canceled. But the game would eventually be released exclusively for the Xbox. Developed by ToeJam & Earl Productions and Visual Concepts and published by Sega, ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth was released for Xbox in October, 2002.

The story follows returning extraterrestrial protagonists ToeJam and Earl and a new character, Latisha. Their mission is to go to Earth and retrieve the twelve Sacred Albums of Funk and return them to Lamont the Funkopotamus. This time around, the characters are fully voiced and there are several cut scenes peppered throughout the game that advance the story. The plot is definitely silly and ridiculous and this is one of the funniest games we have ever played even though some of the comedy is certainly dated. Clearly influenced by hip hop culture, the game conveys a silly, funky, and sassy attitude, sometimes leaning over into the edgy territory. Some of the shit the Earthlings say, ToeJam’s double entendres, the sexual innuendos, the lingo – we were frequently cracking up.

I am happy to say ToeJam & Earl III feels more like the first game than the second but it does borrow some elements from the latter. I would describe it is an action platformer and collect-a-thon. The game does support up to two players and comes with three playable characters, each with their own strengths. ToeJam & Earl III did receive DLC, including new characters and levels. You can play through the game’s Story mode or Random mode which needs to be unlocked. Much like the first game, everything is fixed in the Story mode. In the Random mode, as far as I can tell, the levels are simply randomized. The game does come with multiple themed zones with their own set of levels. Each zone has its own hub world of sorts where you can swap characters, access the gates to the levels and other zones and interact with vendors.

If you’ve played the previous games, everything here will feel pretty familiar except it’s 3D. Every level is basically a collection of islands connected by paths, some of which are hidden and you must find an elevator to leave. The two player mode does feature split-screen gameplay and we do feel the camera kind of sucks. It can be hard to see what’s ahead of you and sometimes even around you. Each level is populated with Earthlings that can be converted by performing Funk Fu on them or performing Funk Rhythms which are just rhythm minigames. Converted Earthlings drop points which can be collected and when you earn enough points, you can talk to the Wiseman to receive a promotion.

Promotions increase your rank making you more powerful and certain ones increase your belt level. The belt level is one feature we really don’t care for. Enemies can only be converted with Funk Fu if you match or exceed their belt level, otherwise you do no damage and have to rely on shooting Funkify Notes at them which can be found scattered around the levels or purchased from the Gospel Choir. This means you may have to grind for Funkify Notes or money to buy them and the ones you find in the environments will try and fly away from you. ToeJam & Earl III comes with some of the same issues as the first game. For example, certain Earthlings are outright annoying and cheap and they can gang up on you if you’re not careful. And if you’re belt level is too low and you’re out of Funkify Notes, you’re basically fucked. At least this time you can’t fall to a previous level.

You can Funk Fu sparkles to reveal secrets or enemies which will instantly attack you and some will Randomize your presents which can be very annoying. Some enemies can deal a significant amount of damage and kill you very quickly and others can dodge or duck to avoid your Funkify Notes like the Insane Dentists. With Earthlings like this, we found that if you keep firing, you’ll eventually hit them but it becomes tedious, especially if there’s a lot of these Earthlings in the level. If you don’t have the right belt, some levels can be really frustrating and towards the end of the game, we frequently felt the need to spend all our money on Funkify Notes just to make sure we had enough to deal with the threats ahead.

Money can be acquired by talking to converted Earthlings and completing minigames and can be spent at vendors like the Wiseman to identify presents, the Sushi Bar, the DLC guy to access the DLC levels, the Gospel Choir, and the Shopkeeper which is where you can also sell unwanted presents. You can also interact with mailboxes to spend money on mail order presents. As expected, presents are crucial part of the gameplay. They can contain power-ups and positive bonuses but also negative effects and in many instances, you don’t know what a present is until you open or identify it. Many of the classic presents return and also come in different variations. You can hop around on Spring Shoes, fly around with Icarus Wings, and Food replenishes health. Some presents are risky meaning when you open them, they can backfire resulting in a negative affect and some presents just suck like Instant Demotion. There a ton of new presents, some of which can be quite helpful like Orgasmic Food which replenishes all your health, the Laugh Blaster which is a turret, and Funk Fu Blast which will convert any Earthlings surrounding you.

You will need to collect keys to unlock levels and they can be found everywhere and you’ll need karaoke microphones to unlock Gate Levels which are like boss levels. You do have a certain amount of lives which are lost when you die but you can find and collect Extra Life bugs and collecting enough rewards you with an extra life. Many presents need to be unlocked before they can be opened and every level has a checklist or a set of objectives to complete, some even include a mission which typically requires you to deliver an item to a specific Earthling. Objectives are usually simple like collect all presents, convert all Earthlings, or unlock certain presents which can be found on pedestals.

Despite the different themed zones, various minigames, and numerous presents, the gameplay can become repetitive quickly. Every level basically feels the same. You run around completing objectives, converting Earthlings, and collecting things. You’ll face many of the same enemies from beginning to end and the level layouts all feel very similar. We do feel the humor alleviates some of the negative aspects or it at least helped us tolerate some of the tediousness more but there’s no denying the game has issues.

The different zones include grassy, urban, desert, snow, and water and each contain about a handful of levels and a minigame. As you explore a level, more of it is revealed on the in-game map and in the two player mode, you can teleport to the other player from the map screen which is nice. The islands can have buildings and houses and you can knock on doors for rewards or in other words, go trick or treating for a reward. Items, food, and presents can be found scattered around, you can swim in water, and spend money to raise gates so you can pass through. In some levels, some of the islands are not connected to the mainland by any paths and will require another method to reach like Spring Shoes, Icarus Wings, or Rocket Skates.

Visually, ToeJam & Earl III is a colorful game but we can’t say it’s a very good looking game. The presentation does retain the series cartoony style but the environments come across as bland, the draw distance is really short and several character models, specifically the Earthlings, are outright ugly. They’re all kind of goofy looking which is clearly by design but we can’t say any look particularly good. The soundtrack is full of funky tunes, rap, and each level is introduced by a song from the Soul Sisters. A lot of the tunes are actually pretty catchy. On the technical side, I can’t say we ran into too many problems and the game did run pretty smoothly in both single player and two player.

ToeJam & Earl III is hilarious and despite it’s issues, we had a lot of fun with it. We do feel the game is best enjoyed with another player but there’s still plenty of fun to be had when playing solo. It’s not perfect, there’s not a lot of depth to the gameplay, and it is repetitive. Some of the enemies can be annoying and make trying to accomplish things tedious, the camera in the two player mode can be problematic, and once you’ve beaten the first zone you’ve seen almost everything the game has to offer. On the positive side, I would say that everything that made the first ToeJam & Earl fun can be found here along with more content and variety, even though it is repetitive, and the Random mode adds a lot of replay value to the experience.

We would recommend ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth. It’s a fun and humorous game that can keep you coming back. It shows that the ToeJam & Earl formula is still fun and unique and even though it comes with its share of problems, there’s not many other games quite like this, let alone ones that do it better. Definitely check it out.

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