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12 марта 2017, 01:50

PAXEast 2017 Hand’s On With ToeJam & Earl


The original 1991 ToeJam & Earl is today considered one of the all-time classics of the Sega Genesis, a wacky collect-a-thon with an offbeat sense of humor and a unique sound and art design inspired by then-current 90s hip-hop and graffiti art culture that routinely appears near the top of 16-bit era “best of” lists. But the game was only a modest success upon its initial release, and Sega insisted that the sequel (“ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron”) be reworked as a traditional platformer – which in turn was met with positive reviews but also divided fans of the original’s more unique gameplay. A 3D revival for the Xbox platform (“ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth”) was tepidly received back in 2002.

Now, original series creator Greg Johnson (who retained the rights to the franchise himself, a rare move for a developer from the 90s console era) is looking to return the series to its roots with ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove.  This game started out as a Kickstarter project under his HumaNature Studios label. But they received a major boost in prominence when Adult Swim Games came on board to publish the independent title (currently slated for Linux, Windows, Mac, and Nintendo Switch release) and facilitate a proper retail push targeting a 2017 launch. A playable demo of the title was available for hand’s on preview at the Penny Arcade Expo (“PAX”) East convention this weekend.

 

While most often cited by present-day gaming historians for the originality of its character designs, offbeat sense of humor and unique (especially for the time) grounding in contemporary hip-hop culture. What was perhaps most revolutionary (for a console title, certainly) about the original ToeJam & Earl were the lack of emphasis on “combat” mechanics and the use of randomly-generated level maps. Players controlled either ToeJam or Earl (or both, via then-novel split-screen multiplayer), a pair of aliens stranded on a cartoonishly-surreal version of Earth hunting for parts to repair their spaceship. The emphasis was on exploration and item collecting, with enemy-fighting limited to the occasional tossing of tomatoes and progress more likely to be impeded by falling from one floating island level down to the previous.

Back in The Groove faithfully recreates this essential setup, with new HD graphics that merge the hip-hop inspired visuals of the original with an animation-style cartoon aesthetic by now familiar to indie gaming fans. While the demo also showed off the inclusion of key elements from the other entries in the series (most notably the dance-off rhythm mini-game from Panic on Funkotron), it’s very clear that the primary aim here is bringing Johnson’s original core concept fully into the 21st Century. On the aesthetic side, it’s a welcome return: Freed from the both visual limitations of the 16-bit era and the unwieldy awkwardness of Mission to Earth’s early-2000s 3D action-platformers, it’s quite a sight to see ToeJam, Earl and their world finally living up to their covers and promotional art. Visually, it’s like playing through a long-lost mid-90s Nicktoon (or especially funky Liquid Television entry.)

ToeJam & Earl: Back in The Groove gameplay

How does it play? Based on the demo, pretty well. The deliberate lack of a (prominent) combat mechanic still takes some getting used to, even if you’ve played the original, simply on the basis of so few mainstream games stressing exploration and collection without a method of fighting your way out. But once you settle into the (for lack of a better word) groove it becomes an easygoing change of pace from the frenetic immediacy the categorizes the majority of games (especially “retro” throwbacks) – “intense” is not the word for ToeJam & Earl. What could, possibly, use another look might be the prompt-based interactions with other characters and objects onscreen – isometric 2D movement was always an inexact science, design wise, and that’s something that hasn’t changed since ’91.

While it’s always nice to see a retro-revival from outside the (by now well-covered) first-party Nintendo franchises, “arcade classics” and 90s PC mainstays, it remains to be seen whether or not ToeJam & Earl will make the jump to modernity successfully. But Back in The Groove represents a solid attempt at making one of gaming’s most quixotic legacy series funky again, and it’s indeed possible that Adult Swim Games has another breakout hit on their hands.

Source: http://www.geek.com/games/paxeast-2017-hands-on-toejam-earl-back-in-the-groove-1692018/?source