GameTech: Getting funky with Toejam and Earl

People tell you to live life in the present, but living for presents is much more fun. Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove does both, by dragging an ancient classic into the modern day, with the primary gameplay hook being the collectible wrapped gifts that litter the colourful landscape.

Toejam and Earl first came to prominence back on the Sega Mega Drive, in a game that would have been many an Irish gamer’s first rougelite. That first outing saw the two eponymous aliens crash land on Earth and travel through a randomized, psychedelic version of humanity in order to find the parts of their crashed spaceship and return home.

Back in the Groove is a straight-up remake of that first game, with a similar art style and premise, but with new additions to the roguelike gameplay. Playing as Toejam, Earl, or one of their six friends, you explore up to 25 levels, some of which contain a ship piece, but many which only contain an exit.

Getting in your way are the tricky ‘humans’ who litter the floating islands that comprise this wacky vision of Earth. Some of those humans are helpful, giving you stat boosts or health, but many more are a hindrance or downright dangerous, from the annoying Cupid, whose arrows reverse your controls, to the chaotic ice-cream truck that comes hurtling towards you.

As ToeJam and Earl delve deeper into the levels, these human obstacles become more numerous and difficult, meaning our alien buddies need some help handling them. That’s where the presents come into play.

These wrapped gifts are also littered around the floating islands, and each one can give you a boost or set you back.

The thing is, unless you get the presents identified by a man in a carrot suit (it’s the type of game Terry Gilliam would love), then each present remains a mystery until you actually use it.

So you might receive the rocket boots just when you need them, or the timing could be awful and you could fly off the edge of the island. You might be teleported directly to the exit, or you might get some bad food that

depletes your health.

Back in the Groove is a zany, imaginative and downright silly roguelike. It also really lives up to its name with a groovy, bass-driven funk soundtrack.

You can play solo or co-op, both locally and online, and there’s plenty of replay value for a budget title. Plus, for two cartoon characters, the two leading aliens have great presents.


Speaking of being in the groove, Mark Savage hosts the second of a two-part series on video game music on BBC Radio 6 music at 1pm this Sunday, March 10.

He will have some excellent guests on, including the composer of the superb Horizon Zero Dawn soundtrack, The Flight, and also Winifred Phillips, who created the scores for God of War and Little Big Planet.

BBC Radio 3’s Tom Service will explain how game music is full of psychological cues, whilst ludomusicologist Tim Summers explains the importance of ‘death music’. (Spoiler: It’s music to die for).

Art-rock band 65 Days of Static will also demonstrate how they created an “infinite soundtrack” for the sci-fi game No Man’s Sky, which they say changes every time it’s played.

Video game music remains the most under-rated aspect of the medium, but there’s no doubt that most of our favourite games would have been very differently received without the soundtracks that accompany them.

Like those soundtracks, the show could be worth a listen.


Finally, the music has stopped for the Play-Station Vita, a beautiful little system that just never got off the ground. Sony Japan has announced that the handheld will no longer be produced, officially making it a dead console. The Vita was effectively a portable Play-Station 3, packing some incredible power for a handheld system upon its release in 2012.

It also had a touchpad, touchscreen and was generally beautiful to hold and use. However, unlike the design of the Nintendo Switch, the Vita didn’t cater to gamers who wanted to play on their TVs and it ultimately feel somewhere between portability and home console, pleasing neither crowd.

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