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ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove!

Game review by
David Chapman, Common Sense Media
ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! Game Poster Image
Funky fueled reboot that's a little more fad than fresh.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Has positive themes of friendship, cooperation, avoiding conflicts and violence.

Positive Role Models & Representations

ToeJam, Earl, other player characters are fairly easygoing and friendly. They rarely look for a fight, preferring to use funky beats (and occasional tomato) to distract foes.

Ease of Play

Gameplay and controls are simple, easy to pick up. Players generally just move around to collect presents and ship parts while avoiding bumping into enemies. A few rhythm and running mini-games mix things up, but nothing particularly difficult.

Violence

Very little violence, with players usually attempting to simply avoid enemies. Characters sometimes use silly attacks, such as passing gas or poking each other with forks. At its worst, it's slapstick, cartoonish.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! is a treasure hunting adventure game available for download on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch, as well as Windows, Linux, and Mac-based computers. The game's a continuation of the ToeJam & Earl video game series and the first new entry in the franchise since 2002. Players explore randomly generated levels, picking up mystery gifts, money, and pieces to their spaceship while avoiding the different crazy characters trying to stand in their way. The game has very little violence, limited to slapstick humor such as tossing tomatoes, belching, etc. The gameplay is simple and straightforward, and players can play solo or with up to three friends in co-op action.

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What's it about?

Just when you thought the beat was gone for good, the hip-hoppin'-est duo to ever grace video gaming is back for an encore performance with TOEJAM & EARL: BACK IN THE GROOVE! The interstellar icons of funk have once again managed to crash their ship, the Rapmaster Rocket, onto this pesky little planet called Earth. This time, though, they didn't come alone. They brought a full-blown Funkotron house party. Players can choose from nine different characters and team up with up to three of their friends in co-op play as they set out to track down the pieces of their hip ship, stocking up on cool presents and bringing their funky style back to the masses for a brand-new adventure.

Is it any good?

The original game poked fun at urban culture while giving gamers something truly different for its time, but this feels like an auto-tuned reboot, remixed with just a few brand-new beats and moves. ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! has crash-landed back on computers and consoles once again, and while the hip-hop loving, beat boxing extraterrestrial visitors from the planet Funkotron are just as funky as ever, the gameplay in their new game is closer to a strange head trip that's part retro-inspired fun, part nostalgia-driven fad that feels like its day has long passed. It's like going to a reunion and running into that one person who never left high school behind.

The personality of ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! might not have aged too well over the past few decades, but its gameplay managed to fair a bit better on the whole. It's a relatively basic and simple game, but it still has some old-school appeal. Instead of blasting through waves of bloodthirsty foes, players saunter around each randomly generated level, trying their best to avoid any confrontations while poking around for treasure. This is broken up with the occasional (and somewhat underwhelming) rhythm-based dance mini-game or the fast-paced side-scrolling endless runner-style "HyperFunk Zones." The game can be played by up to four players, though playing with more than two at a time can get a bit confusing, due to the game's cramped environments and dynamic split-screen mechanic. Still, it can be fun to team up with a buddy for backup, and to see how the various characters can interact with one another. But if you're looking for something deeply engaging, the rhythm in ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! feels just a bit off-key.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about positive character strengths like friendship and cooperation. What are some positive ways to create new friendships and strengthen current ones? What are some of the benefits of working together with friends to accomplish goals?

  • How do games like ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! help to show alternatives to conflict? What are some ways to help defuse conflicts in the real world?

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