So Retro: ToeJam & Earl reboot modernizes nostalgia – CNET

The retro vibe around video games and consoles is still going strong, and now it’s about to get funky. More than 25 years after ToeJam & Earl first came out for Sega Genesis, the alien duo from Funkotron is back in a reboot from HumaNature Studios called ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove, set to be released on March 1.

HumaNature Studios

Greg Johnson, one of the original game’s co-creators, headed up the development of the new game after raising more than $500,000 in a Kickstarter campaign.

Johnson said the original game holds so much nostalgia for fans that he wasn’t concerned about making the new game appealing to a new market.

“We’re going to do a true reboot of game one,” Johnson explained. “What do the fans want?  What’s going to really hit that nostalgic button? So that was kind of the guiding principle for all of the decisions that we made in this reboot.”

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Making a modern version of a retro game meant figuring out what to keep, what to change and what to add. Johnson said he got guidance from fans.

“We all have assumptions about what we think people want or were attached to,” he said, “but our assumptions are often wrong.”

In the original game, when the characters move up to the next level, they take an elevator ride and chat. It was designed to kill time since the old gaming machines were slow in generating levels. With current faster processing, that elevator ride isn’t necessary. But Johnson said fans told him they’d miss it, so he kept it in.

The reboot has nine playable characters instead of two, including the old-school ToeJam and Earl and new versions of the main characters, which are meant to appear a bit older.

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Level 2 split screen of the new reboot ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove.

HumaNature Studios

“They were, I guess, about 13 or 14 years old, at least in my mind, in the original game,” Johnson said. “In the new game, we made them a little taller, a little lengthier and more like they were late, older teenage aliens, maybe 18 or 19-ish. We gave ToeJam a shirt, and Earl has a cap.”

Players will encounter more than 60 characters, including Internet Trolls, King Tut and armies of chickens. It’s still best to avoid the hula dancer.

One of the things we were trying to focus on with this game is replay ability,” Johnson said. “So, having the characters have different dialogues with each other and having them have different stats. Every time you finish the game, you get a power hat. Those hats let you do special things, give you special abilities, bump your stats, or let you do things like you walk on water.”

Johnson said to keep the nostalgic game feeling fresh, they added some surprises.

“This is a little bit of a secret. After you’ve completed the game in random mode at least two or three times, you unlock a special story where there’s a special dialogue thread with ToeJam and Earl,” Johnson revealed. “They’ll say things to each other that they wouldn’t ever say otherwise, that basically tells about their backstory.”

Though most fans won’t be able to try out the new characters and levels until next March, actor Macaulay Culkin, an admitted ToeJam and Earl fan, and his brother have already tested it out, with a three-day playing binge of the old and new games last March.

Johnson says it’d be great for the new game to make a lot of money, but that’s not the goal. 

“What I really want is to be validated by the fans” Johnson said. “If people feel like we succeeded at making them feel those joyful memories again, then I’ll feel like we did it.”

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove will be released on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.  

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