ToeJam & Earl: Back In The Groove is a game that asks you to chill out while you play. The text never explicitly says that, but the sentiment is implied in everything from the soundtrack to the way the characters walk. Due to this, your perception of the game will depend heavily on how you go into it. You can come out of it feeling like you just had the chillest hangout ever, or wondering what even the point of this game is.
A quick refresher: ToeJam & Earl is '90s gaming gathered up and encapsulated in the form of a cartridge. It stars the titular pair, alien rappers who crash land on earth. They stroll through randomly-generated levels to a funk beat while they look for the scattered parts of their spaceship. That's also the exact setup of Back In The Groove, making the new game a reboot of sorts.
In true reboot fashion, Back In The Groove adds some modern conveniences while staying true to the classic formula. You don't have to play as just ToeJam or Earl this time around, there are nine characters of different sizes and shapes to choose from. The co-op experience is expanded from two players to four, with online co-op available. Still, for all the additions, the gameplay amounts to casually strolling along looking for spaceship parts.
The ToeJam & Earl gameplay experience predates the era of Twitch streamers competing to master a game before anyone else. You're not meant to speed run this game or play it for the trophies. You're meant to just... walk around and be amused.
Obstacles come in the form of random earthlings players encounter. Some will run you over with lawnmower, a hula dancer will trap you in a breezy tune, or a group of tourists will chase the aliens down for a picture. None of these are particularly dire fates. They seem more meant to draw out a chuckle than seriously set back your progress.
Another attraction of ToeJam and Earl is the roguelike elements of its level design. Maps are generated randomly every time. You traverse a certain number of them to find spaceship parts. Once you find enough to rebuild your craft and fly the aliens home, you win. Then you can do it again with different randomly-generated maps. There are unlockable characters and items to provide a sense of accomplishment, but the thing that's supposed to draw you back into replaying the game is the wonder of what you might encounter next.
To me personally, especially as I reviewed this game alongside Sekiro, it all seemed a little aimless. I did enjoy discovering what each new character and item did, but not enough to want to go through another series of maps just to see more. Even playing with a friend didn't give it much more life. That being said, I respect that some people are seeking a chill gaming sesh.
Whether or not ToeJam & Earl: Back In The Groove is the game for you depends largely on what you plan to get out of your next gaming purchase. If you want to recapture those chill '90s afternoons of no homework, bag of chips next to you, and Genesis powered on, then you probably donated to this game on Kickstarter and already love it. If you spend your days trying to become the next Apex Legends pro, you'll probably have a hard time embracing the meandering pace.
A PS4 copy was provided by the publisher for this review. The game is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
3 out of 5 stars.