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Game Profile
ToeJam & Earl Productions
GENRE: Adventure
PLAYERS:   1-2
October 23, 2002
Toe Jam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron

Toe Jam & Earl

 Written by Ryan Smotherman  on November 20, 2002

Full Review: Woah? too much funk makes the Ryeman woozy?

Along with Overworks' Shinobi and Smilebit's soon to be released Panzer Dragoon Orta, ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth, jointly developed by ToeJam & Earl Productions and the sports heavy Visual Concepts, is another old school Sega franchise that has recently been revived and is coming out swinging in the 21st century of the gaming world. And in the ToeJam and Earl's case, the duo has been MIA for a good 10 years now (no, that mediocre Panic on Funkotron game doesn't count), making them relatively unknown to a majority of the young gamers out there. In any case, their much anticipated return has recently arrived, and while there are no critical errors in the game's structure, it's ultimately lacking in a few key gameplay areas (namely depth), making for a fun, and extremely humorous, game that might not be the best the Xbox has to offer, but at the same time it just might surprise you in a very good way. Let's take a deeper look.

If you recall (I'm now talking to the older Sega fanatics, like myself), TJ and Big E's first adventure to Earth wasn't on purpose. Big E and all his clumsiness accidentally crashed their rocket ship onto Earth's surface during one of their many joy rides. Thus lead to an adventure through randomly generated levels, battling off the wacky Earthlings, and eventually finding all their ship parts to escape back home to Funkotron. This go around TJ, Big E, and their new sidekick, the strong willed Latisha, are given a mission from Lamont, the Great Funkopotamous to retrieve The 12 Sacred Albums of Funk (taken by the Earthlings), and ultimately restore balance to the Universe. As you'd guess, the game never quite takes itself too seriously, and in fact, humor is a key element in the game's overall appeal. Mission to Earth is truly one of the funniest game's I've ever played, and I found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions. The game is complete with a multitude of clever situations, insane enemies (watch out for the evil mail boxes, they pack a mean bite), and some really entertaining one-liners (which will eventually get old). Unfortunately, the overall gameplay doesn't quite stack up as good as the characters' personalities and charm.

The game is separated into two different types of modes ? Story Mode and Random Mode (is opened after you make your way through a certain point within the Story Mode) ? each of which offers both one-player or two-player co-op support. As you'd expect, the Story Mode is the real meat of the game, while the Random Mode, in essence, just allows for a load of replay value, offering brand new levels every time to fire it up. The primary goal within the Story Mode is to retrieve all 12 Albums of Funk, on an adventure that will take you through a variety of distinctly different locals, broken up into the Grassy, Urban, Desert, Snow, and Water environments, each of which offer their own look and Earthlings to deal with. But there isn't just 5 different levels per se, each one of the levels works as a central hub that allows you to visit different areas once a certain amount of keys are collected. These different areas are mission-based and usually require you to convert all the Earthlings, find certain presents, etc., and then find the elevator that will take you back to the hub. You are also allowed to go back to previous areas in the game to open up areas that weren't possible with the amount of keys originally given to you.

The actual gameplay works much like it did in the original, but it's now glorified in a full 3D world. You'll navigate the Earth's landscape as you look for items and battle those mean ole Earthlings by way of your Funk Fu, which is an attack that is used by hitting the X button, or by shooting your Funkify Notes, which is done by pressing the Y button. Basically, you know when an Earthling has been converted by the disco ball above his or her head; when it's silver, they're living the funky life. Another way of converting Earthlings is by using Rhythm Matching; this works just as you'd imagine ? you must match beats by means of the X and Y buttons, and when done correctly you'll shoot out Funkify Notes that will convert the nearby Earthlings. One of the main reasons to convert the Earthlings, besides getting them off your back of course, is the fact that they give you points to collect as this is done. These points are used to more or less level up and gain stronger abilities. The game starts you out as a meager Dufus, but if you're good enough you'll eventually earn the right to be called a ?Funklord?.

Constantly funkifying Earthlings does get old once you start to get a little deeper into the game, but thankfully this is broken up a bit by mini-games and boss battles, which are accessed by the gate battle platforms. Additionally, one of the main gameplay elements comes in the form of presents, something old school fans should definitely remember. The presents can be collected by simply finding them laying on the ground, or you can purchase them from mailboxes using the bucks you'll collect in the game. The various presents are easily the source of most of the game's fun-factor, allowing you the use of tons of abilities and items. These include basics such as extra bucks, food, or instant points, to old school presents like the spring shoes (which get some killer air), icarus wings that allow you to fly, and the ever so popular rocket skates. Of course, these are just a very small portion of the slew of different presents available in the game, though, some can be pretty useless, but are great for comic relief.

I found in my playtime with the game that, like with many games, going the multiplayer route doubles the fun. Like in the original, the game allows for two people to play cooperatively with one another by use of split-screen. When both characters are close to one another they share the entire screen, but once they venture apart the game splits seamlessly into two different screens. I found this to be a bit disorienting at first, but with time I really got used to it. Another positive note to mention in this mode is that you and your partner share both the points and money you collect throughout, which makes sure that it stays cooperatively and doesn't turn into a funky battle of who can collect the most of each. However, you're on your own when it comes to the presents, but thankfully they're quite liberally spread throughout the game. Bottom line ? if you want to really enjoy Mission to Earth for all it's worth, have an extra controller and a friend handy.

As for the graphics in Mission to Earth, they turned out to be quite gorgeous. Complete with some nice shadow and reflective effects throughout the detailed and very colorful environments. While in the game it actually goes through day and night cycles, so you could get anything from beautiful clouds in the bright blue sky, to a great looking sunset, to a star filled nightfall (where the Boogiemen come out to play!). Actual character and enemy models are equally impressive as well, truly bringing TJ and Big E into the current generation of consoles. However, while the game does look great overall, it doesn't look as good as it could with it being an Xbox exclusive and all, though, you really won't find too much to complain about.

Audio-wise, TJ and E Productions really took advantage of the Xbox to make sound a significant part of TJ and Big E's adventure (you gotta remember, before this they were using the Genesis' weak sound processor). TJ and Big E's voice acting is really well done, and fits the characters' personalities perfectly. Well, for that matter, all the voice acting in the game is top-notch and is a major factor in the game's extreme hilarity (Yo, just gimme some damn candy!). The ante on the soundtrack has also been upped. With some funky beats spread quite generously throughout, not to mention the fact that it's always fun to see the gang bust out some rhymes.

Bottom Line
If you're a long time fan of the funky alien duo known as ToeJam and Earl, I really just can't recommend this game enough. It's complete with everything that made the original so great, and a whole lot more ? like next generation quality visuals, sound, and a butt load of laughs. The game is also a decent length, and with the randomly generated levels and Xbox Live downloadable content (which includes new characters and levels), the game could keep you occupied for a good while. On the other hand, those unfamiliar with the franchise might find it a bit too odd for their tastes and will probably overlook it as a typical platform/adventure title. All in all, I nice next-generation upgrade to a classic franchise.

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