ToeJam and Earl 3: Mission To EarthToeJam and Earl, two of the most unique heroes ever to grace the Sega Genesis, return to the exciting world of console gaming in ToeJam and Earl III: Mission to Earth-- only on the Xbox. It has been a long time since TJ & E first challenged the rules on what a platform game can or should be. Are they still masters of the funk universe, or have they lost a step? Funkify! The call has gone out from Funkotron. Lamont, the great Funkopotamus, leader of Funkotron and embodiment of all that is funky, has felt a profound disturbance in The Funk. Twelve sacred albums of Funk were stolen from Lamontâ€™s personal collection and are now residing on that unfunkiest of places, Earth. To get to the bottom of this heinous act, the Funkopotamus has tapped the trio of ToeJam (a.k.a. â€œMaster Tâ€), Earl (a.k.a. â€œBig Eâ€) and Latisha (a.k.a. â€œthe new chickâ€ â€“ OK, not really) to retrieve the vintage vinyl and to restore The Funk for all Funkotronians. GAMEPLAY The game takes place across multiple zones of Earth. There is the Urban Zone, the Grassy Zone, the Water Zone, the Desert Zone and the Snow Zone. Each zone contains multiple doors that are unlocked by adding to your collection of keys. Within each door lies an island of Earth suspended in the sky and populated by a varied collection of earthlings including jackhammer-riding workmen, maniacal dentists, medusa babies, rich ladies with attack-Pomeranians (think annoying poodle wannabes), and a host of other strange folk. The character you choose to play any of the various levels with will only moderately affect your strategy. ToeJam, as before, is all about speed, while Earl is slower but a lot more powerful both on offense and defense. Latisha, the new character in the series, is a balance of the other two. Each character also has special qualities that make him/her more suited to particular situations. Earl, for example, gets a 2-for-1 deal on sushi (mmmâ€¦ sushiâ€¦) that can then be used to replenish his life meter, a useful trait when taking on hordes of unfunky earthlings. Once inside a level your job is simple: find one of the 12 sacred albums of funk and/or find a particular item to give to a particular person. Should you grow tired of the standard levels, each zone also offers a few change-of-pace levels (unlocked by microphones instead of keys) where you need to complete a specific task in a particular time, generally performing a particular trick to near perfection. The gameplay is fairly open-ended. You can proceed at whatever pace you like, performing only the minimal requirements of the level, or you can suck a zone dry of everything it contains. Thereâ€™s no time limit, although day will pass into night and back again while in a given level. At night, you can sneak up on sleeping characters, but night also brings out the Boogiemen, night spirits who can sneak up on you and do damage. You can exit a level at any time once youâ€™ve found the elevator out, but you will want to stay and deal with as many earthlings as possible. Earthlings are a pain in the butt. They hurt your character and get in your way. Some earthlings may only slow you down (cupids and hula girls, for example), but this slow down then exposes you to attacks from other more harmful folks, such as the maniacal dentists I mentioned earlier. The way to end these attacks is to funkify the earthlings for their own good. The moment of funkification is memorable, as your targeted earthling friend will sprout an Afro and bright pink sunglasses while shaking their groove thang. Sadly, this effect is only temporary. Once funkified, earthlings become a whole lot cooler, offering up presents, money and points to your character. You can funkify these fools in a number of ways: by using your Funk Fu, by shooting them with Funkifying Notes youâ€™ve collected, or by utilizing one of the many presents located on each level. Not every type of earthling is susceptible to each type of attack. Dentists will duck under your Funkifying Notes, and the attack-Pomeranians will laugh off your attempts at Funk Fu until you reach the exalted level of Funklord. The presents, while helpful, are so varied that you will never have enough of the ones you want or need. There is another approach, however, that works with pretty much any earthling. Funk Rhythm spots are sprinkled throughout the levels. Once activated, you will be prompted to match the rhythm that is played on screen. Match the rhythm and two good things happen: points for you and funkification of any nearby earthling. You can also run around while rhythm matching, thereby snaring more earthlings with your funky ways. In order to funkify a maximum number of earthlings, you will need to keep a few tricks up your sleeve, and you will need to know which trick will work in a given situation.
You will have your hands full taking on all of these aliens, especially if you just expect to jump in and let the Funk Fu fly. The good news is that you can enlist the help of a friend to help spread The Funk. The two-player options in this game are very basic but very enjoyable. When playing cooperatively, collected points and presents are shared, and battles with the earthlings grow considerably easier. You also have the option of sharing health with your ailing partner by means of a high-five. Finally, the multiplayer game also incorporates one of the coolest features ever in a console game, the dynamically splitting screen. This is a carryover from the original game, and it is a feature that was worth preserving. When both characters are close together they will occupy a single screen on your TV. But if you feel like wandering off and leaving your loafing alien buddy behind, thatâ€™s no problem. The screen smoothly splits in two and youâ€™re each free to proceed at your own pace. It is a simple and graceful solution to a nagging problem that exists in many games. So is it fun to play? Yes, it is, but this game is not for everyone. The humor of this game is the key to how much you will like it. Some folks will love it, and some of you will really hate it. It seems that in their desire to be true to the original game, the developers failed to let the characters evolve beyond the 1980s and pubescent humor. Each of these characters falls into a stupid stereotype of rappers circa 1985 that is entirely unnecessary. The charactersâ€™ slang is outdated, and their rapping is utterly atrocious. ToeJam is the most annoying by far, simply because he wonâ€™t shut up about how great he is. This is an impressive feat considering he has no mouth, but it is also incredibly irritating. If you can get beyond this quirk, you will find a rock solid platforming game with some interesting twists. The various earthlings force you to find the right approach to dealing with them, and the level design is just varied enough to keep things interesting. Add to that the cool multiplayer option and the power-ups attained through the completion of strategic tasks, and you have a game with the ability to pull you in for extended sessions. You just have to embrace, or at least get beyond, the humor. GRAPHICS It is clear that the developers spent an inordinate amount of time making this game look very good. ToeJam & Earlâ€™s transition to the third dimension has been handled very well. Character designs are not overly complex, but they are effective and they serve their purpose well. Some of the earthlings, particularly the Anti-Funk himself, could have been drawn better, but this is a minor gripe. Character animations are fluid and original. The environments are fantastical interpretations of earth that fit well with the overall theme of the game and its characters. The level design is interesting and challenging for the most part, although there is excessive repetition towards the end. The graphical approach does not tax the Xbox with attempts at photo-realism, nor should it. This game looks great and it looks like it should. The wild colors, color-shifting skies, and the aurora borealis in the Snow Zone are all particularly nice, and the parts hang together very nicely as a whole. SOUND Now if only the developers had put as much effort into the sound as they did the graphicsâ€¦ The sound in this game is merely to be tolerated, when it should be one of the aspects of the game that is celebrated. The entire theme of this game is funk, funk and moâ€™ funk, yet where is the funk? The music most featured in the game is bad rap and silly gospel. I have nothing against these types of music, but they are used in a way that is both insulting to fans of that music and utterly out of synch with the stated theme of this game. The funkiest music in the game is heard in the background tracks, but The Funk never rises to the forefront like it should. A huge opportunity was lost on this front. Imagine the possibilities of involving legitimate funk masters like George Clinton or Bootsy Collins in a game already as off the wall as this one isâ€¦ The thought makes me yearn for what could have been. The game has 5.1 Dolby support but to no great effect. I was at least hoping I could rip some decent funk to the Xbox hard drive and make my own twelve sacred albums of funk, but, alas, there is no custom soundtrack support. REPLAY Another item carried over from the original games is that each level is randomly generated. The level itself doesnâ€™t change much, but the contents of the level (earthlings, presents, Funkify Notes, etc) and their locations change every time you restart the level. This feature, combined with the open-ended gameplay, allow for a fair amount of replay value. Additionally, this game supports the use of Xbox Live for downloading new levels and characters. Unfortunately, that aspect of this game cannot yet be tested, but it offers up the possibility for extending the life of this product. Who knows, maybe the developers will use the content downloads to address the sins in the audio departmentâ€¦ A man can dream at least. CLOSING COMMENTS In conclusion, Toe Jam and Earl III: Mission to Earth should have been a must-buy for any fans of platform games or funk music. Sadly this is not the case. The blatant attempt at achieving funky coolness is commendable but ultimately falls short of the mark. A few missteps in the presentation and audio departments keep this game from greatness. Still, I can recommend this game highly if youâ€™re the type who appreciates an original title. Fans of the original game will be very pleased with this new effort, and people who enjoy jokes about coconuts and bananas will get some chuckles to boot. Probably the best review I can give would be to explain that despite its shortcomings, I was motivated to play this game to the very end. I didnâ€™t do this because I had to write this review. I did it because the game got into my head and I didnâ€™t want it to leave. Itâ€™s an imperfect game, but itâ€™s also pretty darn fun. If that appeals to you, then pick it up and funkify! --Jeremy Graves