Let’s Talk About Toejam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron

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Gentle people of the interwebs… how can you tell me that this game is bad? How can you suggest that this game is a generic platformer that is nothing even close in quality-slash-fun to the original when the original was a COMPLETELY different style of game? I mean… you can’t compare those two games. You can’t call either of those games generic. You can’t sit there and tell me that this game isn’t good. Sure, it might NOT have really stood the test of time as well as other games have but are you SERIOUSLY telling me that you didn’t have fun playing this game when you were playing it?

If you wanted another Toejam and Earl game, well guess what? You’ve got Toejam and Earl. The first one. That’s Toejam and Earl. This is not Toejam and Earl. I will admit to that and THAT only. This is not that game. This is the sequel. And as a sequel to a game that really only had one major gimmick, it HAD to be different. There was NO way that giving us the same game over again but bigger and brighter would have made you like it THAT much.

And besides, people moan about it NOW but they didn’t at the time. The original didn’t even sell THAT well initially. It was pretty much an early example of cult gaming. It’s too late now. This game was good back then. It still is. Comparing it to the original is an exercise in madness. MUCH LIKE THIS GAME BUT NOT IN THE SAME WAY.

Look, if you know Toejam and Earl at all, you’ll know the whole thing is bonkers because it has every right to be. It’s a game involving the vagueries of outer space and aliens. No one REALLY knows what’s out there and as such, you get to be as creative as you like with what things look like. I mean, Toejam and Earl ain’t exactly human looking – Earl is probably more human-like than Toejam but even that’s being slightly facetious – so hey, let’s be creative and give our characters as many eyes and limbs as we want. Have them jump about the place on NO legs and whatnot. WHY NOT?

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Think about it. As a designer on the original game, you only had to design TWO actual aliens. You couldn’t be COMPLETELY creative with everything else apart from the way the landscapes look and even then you sorta have to stick to the same visuals and whatnot. The game was set on Earth (BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAA NEVER SEEN AN EARTH THAT LOOKED LIKE THAT BEFORE!!!) and the rest of THAT game’s characters were all Earthly based. Herds of nerds, opera singers in full get-up, giant hamsters in balls and a lady with a crying child in a shopping cart… all very fun ideas and interesting enemies but they’re not exactly leading the world in cutting edge designs. I mean, we know what humans look like. Whoop-de-doo.

And yeah, they got to play with those ideas again with PANIC ON FUNKOTRON: the sequel to the I-dunno-did-it-win-any-awards? classic Toejam and Earl. Because gather round everyone, for I shall tell you a tale of the rather alarming incident occurring on the good planet Funkotron.

See, as TJ and Big E were making their way back to their home planet, having crashed on Earth previously, they find out that some Earthlings have stowed away somehow and are now wreaking havoc on their home planet. Feeling responsible – because they DID bring them back seeing as the NEWS BROADCAST TOLD EVERYONE – our helpful heroes now have to find all of the Earthlings and tell them off to fuck off back to Earth by – and I shit you not – PUTTING THEM INTO JARS.

I’ll let that one sink in for a bit.

THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A GAME FOR CHILDREN AND THAT OUT-OF-CONTEXT SNIPPET OF STORY IS SUGGESTING THAT YOU HAVE TO CHOP THEM UP AND PUT THEM INTO JARS OR SOMETHING. THIS IS WHAT ALIEN FILMS DO TO PEOPLE.

Anyway… what REALLY happens is that these jars are basically used to house the Earthlings until they’re sent back to Earth. They’re pretty harmless but I suppose being pelted with several jars kinda sucks – and probably hurts a BIT – but kudos for creativity. And here’s the main crux of my argument: this game is DRIPPING with it because the subject matter actually ALLOWS IT. This was a chance for the developers, artists and all involved to go a bit nuts with the design of everything. There’s a serious amount of love gone into the sheer design of this whole game that’s actually REALLY lovely and it shines from its very core.

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I mean look at this. It’s fucking beautiful. The designers obviously had a whale of a time coming up with this shit.  Who wouldn’t? You’re being told “make up some alien landscapes” and it must have felt like being a seven-year-old all over again. This is the kind of stuff you want to say to your class of children (and I will be) with “HEY KIDS, YOU KNOW THAT THING IN YOUR SKULL? USE IT TODAY TO MAKE SOME STUFF UP FOR A NEW PLANET!” and they’ll explode.

No, they will. I guarantee it. And then they’ll attempt to make me do it for them. S’always the way.

Now, the range of Earthlings you come across in the game is actually quite impressive. You start off with simpler child enemies, including the incessantly annoying girl who fucking kicks you in the shins and makes constant NYEH NYEH noises, a rather large lady with her three loyal pooches who will MAUL you completely if you attack her first, and eventually you’ll find a naked man in a box (yup) and the legendary GHOST COW.

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Seriously. THIS. IS. FUCKING. BRILLIANT. I mean, it’s not good for you as a player because it’s most likely to kill you but the GHOST COW attacks you by possessing you, making you MOO and then shaking you violently until it decides it’s done. It is an absolute BASTARD to kill but ya know what? It’s fucking hilarious, much like the rest of the game is.

And yeah, if you’ve followed me enough, you’ll know that I’m a sucker for a charming game. Panic on Funkotron just has enough design charm and quirks to really set itself apart. The fact that enemies are designed in certain ways to take more hits than others is a charming little quirk for difficulty, as is the way they move around and hide in places like the sneaky Earthling bastards they are. It provides a challenge that keeps your attention. Also, having a little radar gauge to lead you to your enemies is helpful and not a massive “you so stupid, we gotta help you” mechanic – I mean the whole point of the game is find ALL of the Earthlings on each stage so having to trawl the stages without any help would be a fucking nightmare. Instead, you have a purpose and you don’t get lost. Too much.

Yeah, some stages get a bit repetitive and the maze-like feeling of the underwater bits are an absolute sod and you can get lost in the Under-Funk’s caves easily on some levels. And getting lost in gaming is a massive pointer towards CHEAT GUIDES. Or magazines with the level maps in them. Look, you won’t need them because there’s a nice little arrow diglet helping you out. Now follow it! Or don’t.

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There are some nice breaks in the action along the way, including dance-offs with your fellow alien brethren where you can earn points, coins, weird Earthling-killing doohickeys (vacuum cleaners and panic buttons to be precise) and these are fun little additions that add to the charm of this title. As you come across more of the citizens, they start to give you helpful little hints or add more to the story and eventually they reveal the REAL plot of this game.

You see, Earthlings invading the planet is pretty easy to sort out but the REAL challenge comes in sorting out the Great Funkapotamus.

Yes. You heard me.

That name is brilliant. End of.

He’s the balance of funkiness on the planet and without him, the planet starts to lose it’s verve, life and colour. Everyone starts to get a little bit more depressed. How do you save him/her/it? Well… you find his favourite things to coax him out of hiding of course!

Of course you do.

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Finding these items is, unfortunately, an absolute SOD to do as you have to scan the levels and find hidden doorways to enter and then you end up finding the most ABYSMAL keepsakes to try and coax the bugger out of his cowardice.

“HEY GREAT FUNKAPOTAMUS – I GOT YOUR FAVOURITE PICKLE. NOW STOP BEING A DICK AND LEAD US AGAIN.”
“FUCK YOU. I NEED MORE THAN JUST A PICKLE.”
“I GOT YOUR SNEAKERS TOO.”
“THAT IS APPROXIMATELY 20% OF THE WAY TO GETTING ME TO COME OUT BUT STILL NO.”
“FINE, BE A DICK.”

Basically.

Getting him to stop being a dick is the only way to get the game’s proper ending. It’s actually quite refreshing that the game only really throws this at you a bit later on once you’re settled into the game. If they threw it at you from the start, it might be a bit much to expect the player to just sorta… y’know CONSTANTLY look for stuff. Instead, it teaches you how to capture the Earthlings first, as the main priority, and then gets you into the deeper intricacies of the game. You could complete the game WITHOUT getting the Funkapotamus to stop being a massive douche and you’ll still get a reasonable enough ending. Just not the true ending. It’s like Mass Effect. With less sex.

Or not.

I dunno.

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And if none of that sounds trippy enough, they also give you the Hyperfunk Zone to collect presents for points, coins and other bits and bobs. Because why not? Look, how can you deny yourself the joy of this bloody game when it’s so fucking chock-full of everything and anything? It’s FAR from generic. It’s FAR from boring and repetitive. It’s FAR too good for those people who are DEVOID of fun. Suggesting this game ‘sold out’ in some way or became generic is just ridiculous. It’s brilliantly bonkers, surprising, charming and actually really well scripted. It’s not witty or clever. It’s just fun and it highlights the beauty of simplistic dialogue. Each of the aliens has a distinct personality and the way that you interact with each character is really nice. It’s simple and it reminds us all that we could all do with being a bit more helpful at times.

The landscapes do OCCASIONALLY get a little bit repetitive and you might get a little bit frustrated with the the way the characters jump really floatily. I mean, it’s not flat out brilliant, control-wise. The way the jumps tend to float off more than you REALLY want them too can be very irritating. The jumps, however, are never life-threatening and you can always make your way back up to the platforms easily enough. Mechanically, it’s actually pretty simple and there are enough gizmos and gadgets and doodads to help you out if you’re in trouble.

Plus you get a kick-ass funk soundtrack to guide you on your way. Like… dude.

Now I’m off to find the Funkapotamus’s favourite ceiling fan.

You should know I’m not joking.

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