Sega's famous rapping aliens have returned with on the Xbox with Toe Jam & Earl 3: Mission to Earth along with a new alien friend named Latisha. As in previous titles, the gameplay involves a lot of collecting and exploration. The visuals have been upgraded substantially for the Xbox, which makes for a much better sense of immersion. Even though some of the cultural references are lame, TJ&E's Corny jokes and off-beat designs are still appealing. So does this update to the classic Genesis games measure up or is it stuck in the past? The Laser gets funky and finds out.
Sega's been on a kick lately when it comes to bringing a lot of their classic franchises back, even some of the more obscure ones. For example, players who were there in the Genesis days are sure to remember the crazy rapping alien duo of Toe Jam & Earl, which appeared in two games. This off-beat series was extremely popular back thanks to its cast of whacked-out characters, funky level designs and off-the-wall humor. The series seemed to have been forgotten these past few years. After nearly a decade in hibernation, Toe Jam & Earl, have returned on the Xbox with some new friends. Players can also look forward to seeing their old favorites plus some new enemies during the course of the game. Subtitled Mission to Earth, this time the aliens have crash landed on a crazy little blue planet filled with insane people. You'll spend a lot of time wandering around the game's 30 expansive levels. In this installment, the citizens of Earth have stolen the 12 sacred "Albums of Funk", and it's up to you to retrieve them by exploring the massive environments. Toe Jam and Earl are also in search of the elusive Anti-funk who must be defeated. Along the way, you come into contact with a variety of wacky characters that can either help or hurt you. These citizens include rotten kids, cheerleaders, sushi-bar owners, hula-girls, drill-toting dentists and the classic wise men in carrot suits. You can choose to battle these enemies, or can talk to them to gain more information. There are even some spies from the planet Funkotron disguised as humans.
Toe Jam & Earl 3 stays true to the spirit of the original games but introduces many new elements and innovations to the series without losing its trademark humor. The most important of these new features is the much more expansive go-anywhere structure, which allows you to play different levels in a non-linear fashion. As you go along, you can collect many keys that you can use to unlock other areas in the game. Each level also has a checkpoint of things that need to be completed or found, including the Karoake Microphone. Once you collect the Microphone, you can unlock the Gate Battles, where you face off with a boss. Defeating these bosses allows you to open another huge area. Luckily, you can call up the world map, check out your inventory or look at the checklist at any point in the game. With such a straightforward structure, gamers should have little trouble understanding where they are and progressing to new areas. Helping further is the save system which allows you to save your progress at any time. This makes it easy to restart when you lose life.
You'll also find Bucks and Points scattered around in each level. You can use the Bucks to buy food and other items for your character while points are used to earn extra lives. While most of the food will help restore your energy, there's some 'bad' food which reduces your energy when eaten, so be careful to look before you swallow. To help them along the way, Toe Jam and Earl have some pretty cool 'Funk-Fu' abilities that allow them to battle some of the many foes they'll face as they traverse that strange blue planet. The good news is that our alien heroes will find a variety of cool power-ups hidden in gift packages scattered around the world. The biggest change in the game is that TJEIII now featureas cool multiplayer mode where up to two players can play cooperatively using a split screen mode. Even better is that fact that the other player can jump in at any time, with a smooth transitions when a new player comes in.
These gift packages can contain many different types of items ranging from food to power-ups. In all there are more than 70 types of presents in the game. Some of these presents are locked, and you'll need to find an item to unlock them. You'll also find Mystery Packages which you can't use until you find a Wise Man in a Carrot Suit to identify. Later on, you earn some cool power-ups which will allow you to perform Mega-Funk Fu super moves to fight off the bas guys. There are also some cool power-ups that help your travels including spring shoes and Icarus Wings which help you bust through the long gaps. These flying devices are time-limited so you need to use them wisely. In addition, there are also some cool rhythm games where you have to match the beats. Another new feature allows you to drive around in the Funkmobile or fly around the world using Icarus wings. Other presents allow you to blow a Bullhorn to calm the people down, place a decoy, repel the Earthlings with a loud boom-box or that old standby, busting out with some bad opera. All of this is relatively simple to accomplish, and the game's straightforward level design makes it easy to find and travel throughout.
Oddly enough, TJE3 retains the overhead perspective of the original, though instead of using sprites as the original, the new version uses polygons. It's a very effective perspective, and the camera placement is good enough that you'll rarely have to resort to auto-positioning. The biggest problems come when you reach the edges of each level. It can be hard not to fall over the side, so you need to adjust the camera manually here, which is annoying, but not enough to ruin the experience. As with most Xbox titles, the visuals are razor sharp with excellent rendering present throughout that gives the game a sophisticated, yet off-kilter look. While the crisp character animations are excellent, the funny voice acting and one liners go along way in making the game so much fun. Sure there are a few groaners, but that's life. The environments are richly detailed with realistic water, clouds and other environmental effects making the cartoonish worlds seem almost alive. There are several types of levels, including grassy, snowy, mountainous and desert environments. All this while retaining the original character designs and attitude, transplanting everything into glorious 3D with full environmental rendering, taking full advantage of the Xbox's abilities.
While it's not particularly ground-breaking, Toe Jam & Earl 3 is a fun game. The mix of comedy and action is light and humorous, one that should appeal to a broad cross-section of players. It's simple approach means that it's very easy to get into, though it can get a bit repetitive after awhile. The initial levels will give you a strong sense of déjà vu but new abilities such as the jumping shoes keep things fresh. TJE3 never strays far from the elements that made the original games so popular. While there are some challenging parts, for the most part, the game isn't that difficult and seems to be geared towards kids. This isn't a bad thing, but this title seems a little out of place on the older skewing Xbox. The downside of this is that the endless collecting and exploration gets a bit tiresome after a few hours and the comedy is hit-or-miss. On balance, this is a solidly entertaining platform title that should appeal to younger players those with fond memories of the original game.
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