Toejam and Earl is one of those game franchises that's fallen into undeserved obscurity over the years. Behind its funky soundtrack and undeniably dated look, was a revolutionary game that popularized game design that was decades ahead of its time. But, it's a timeless classic for a far more simple reason: no matter how many times you play it, you'll never master the game.
A Game Like No Other!
Most top-down exploration games have a strict design. For instance, Legend of Zelda has a set number of dungeons, with a set number or rooms, which contain a set number of enemies, and their placement will always be the same. This is why every time you replayed it, the game got easier. You knew what to expect, and once the game had no more surprises to offer, it became fairly easy to plan accordingly and blast through all opposition.
But, Toejam & Earl? Forget about it! No matter how many times you beat this game, you will never be any more prepared for its challenges. You will never learn where its treasures are hidden. You will never be ready to fight its enemies. You will never master this game! And, why? Because nothing ever stays the same.
Randomly Generated Levels!
Whenever you boot up a new game of Toejam & Earl, a special program creates a series of randomly generated levels. The maps you explore will only exist during that specific play through. Ditto for enemy placement. Even the items are all hidden behind randomly colored present boxes, the contents of which remain a mystery until you open them. And considering that a ton of the items are booby-traps, opening presents is always a serious gamble. So, good luck finding what you need to survive.
The Ultimate Exploration Game!
Toejam & Earl places a priority on exploration more so than almost any other game ever made. This is why it omits the robust combat mechanics of Zelda. Enemies are meant to be avoided, rather than fought head on. You need to find a way around them, even if that path leads you halfway across the map. And to make this task easier Toejam & Earl included something games like Zelda never will: a two-player mode.
Impossible to Master, Even with Help!
Toejam & Earl was one of the first games to feature a dynamic split screen, so that you could rope a buddy into helping you scout out its world. This doesn't make the game easier, but it does the next best thing: it made exploration faster. By letting you split up, you could cover twice as much ground in half the time. It's a game that knows you can never prepare for what it has in store. It knows you'll never be able to master it. But, it's smart enough to recognize that there's power in numbers when venturing into the unknown, and it strives to make that experience as fun and accessible as possible.
Buy ToeJam & Earl - For the Sega Genesis
Try as you might, you'll never be able to predict everything Toejam & Earl will throw at you, and that's what keeps it fresh. Well, that and a sublime co-op mode. But, I digress. How many of you remember stumbling through this game's undeniably weird environments? And if you've played it recently, do you agree it still feels just as surprising as when you were playing it back in the 90s? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments below.