Re(?)Considered: Toejam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron
A jarring experience.
While the original Toejam & Earl was a well-received title that's hailed as a minor classic, Sega decided to leave its roguelike trappings to the PC spods and dropped a much more conventional side-scrolling sequel into the laps of grateful Mega Drive owners.
"Thank you, Sega!" they cried. "There's a real platformer drought here in the early-to-mid nineties, I can tell you."
Anyway, Toejam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron is a direct follow-up to the original title in which Earthlings have stowed away aboard the titular duo's spaceship and are now wreaking havoc on their home planet. Your mission is to collect the Earthlings in jars, throw them in the back of a rocket and send those... illegal aliens... back... where they came from. Holy crap, that's gross. No, it must be about something else. Er... the erasure of Native American culture by colonists. Yeah, that's it. That's what it's got to be about.
No, obviously, there's a resonance to this game's surely light-hearted theme that almost certainly wasn't intended. It's actually a little uncomfortable rounding up all these Earthlings to send them home, though it eases the blow somewhat that they're themed after some obnoxious American stereotypes - a polka-dotted woman with vicious poodles, a bratty little girl who kicks you in the shins, a ghost cow that possesses your player character and causes them to glaze over, head spinning like Regan from The Exorcist, mooing in monotone. We've all been there!
The gameplay itself is kind of simplistic, transplanting the relatively free-roaming exploration of the original into linear stages by hiding power-ups, traps and Earthlings in trees, under rocks, underwater, high in the sky, through solid walls - everywhere. Some levels feel like a good thirty minutes because you have to stop and check in every sodding shrub you chance upon, just in case there's an Earthling inside. Playing in multiplayer streamlines this process and makes the game approximately twice as good.
The presentation is the real star. It absolutely shines! The cartoon graphics look superb, sprites are big and characterful and there's very little slowdown. Music is routinely awesome and there are multiple songs per stage. There are so many wonderful touches it would be difficult to list them all. There’s an awesome “Simon says” rap battle minigame long before Parappa the Rapper was anything more than "all in the mind". Jumping on fungus "trampolines" causes a judging panel to pop up in the corner, grading your bouncing prowess. There's an on-going narrative about the "Funk" leaving Planet Funkotron, which causes the colour to occasionally drain out of the stages. It's all just absolutely delightful and it's clear that love was poured into this. If anything it's a little too long, but you get a password between each stage, available at any time.
Despite its dubious politics, Panic on Funkotron is excellent and easy to get hold of. It's available on Steam as well as being part of the recent Sega Mega Drive Collection for Xbox One/PS4.