Review – ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron

ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funokotron header image.

I have to stop taking the phrase “not as good as the first one” as meaning “not worth playing.” I have had Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron for about as long as I’ve owned my Genesis, but I don’t think I ever completed a single level. I just wasn’t sure it was worth it, especially with not single-player.

Toejam & Earl was an extremely interesting game. There was nothing like it at the time, and there hasn’t been anything like it outside of the series. An exploration game with random worlds stacked on top of each other. It’s pure, unhinged creativity.

In contrast, Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron is like the developers were reaching to meet conventional design halfway. Rather than a top-down exploration of a funky-ethereal (Funktherial?) warped Earth, it’s a side-scrolling action game. It still has the first game’s DNA, but the platforming feels more routine. Is it as good as the first game? No. But it’s still great.

ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron. Earl doing the rhythm minigame.
Unf. Gah. Shaka. Good god!

FUNKTHERIAL

Panic on Funkotron follows up the story from the original TJ&E. While the pair were able to return to their home planet of Funkotron, it’s discovered that a staggering number of Earthlings were able to stow away on their ship. So now, the once funky planet is swimming in all manner of freaks, and that’s a major bummer.

So, the goal here is to capture all the Earthlings in jars, load them onto rockets, and send them back to Earth. Groovy. Or way cool? Um, funky?

As I mentioned, this is all done from a side-scrolling perspective. The levels are linear-ish but you need to look in every cranny and behind every bush to find where the Earthlings are hiding. Well, okay, not every bush. Your HUD alerts you when a human is nearby, and you have Funk-o-vision, which allows you to check what’s hiding in the foliage. Sometimes, it’s a bowling ball ready to pounce on your noggin. However, you have to be sufficiently funky to be able to use funk-o-vision, which is great because it means you aren’t just stopping every few steps to scan the environment. That would be a drag.

This leaves a few of TJ&E’s best features in the ditch. The randomized presents that contained a variety of items, both good and bad, are gone. The randomly generated environments are replaced by static ones. It’s not all bogus. There’s a lot to be said about a developer who doesn’t just settle for an again-more sequel. Although, the rumour is that the developers went this route because Sega didn’t really “get” the initial design, so…

ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron. Earl hits an earthling with a jar.
Earthlings are just the worst.

DON’T PANIC

What does remain from the first TJ&E is a methodical pace and a constant sense of danger. Funkotron is a bit more predictable and less dangerous than Earth, but the Earthlings still have claws and can take you down quickly if you’re not careful. There’s more than a few “fuck that guy” guys mixed in. The cow ghost that possesses you? Fuck that guy. The dude who lives naked in a box and will kill you by passively bumping into you? Fuck that guy. 

You have useable items called Panic and Funk-Vac, and both of them work as “abort mission” tools. Panic will make your character invincible and throw jars in all directions. This has a habit of missing enemies who are waist-high in height, but if you’re on the verge of death, it’s a useful Hail Mary. The Funk-Vac just sucks in all the enemies in the vicinity, which, again, is great for when things start going wrong. Or if you’re just tired of getting flashed in the eyes by tourists.

You’re not punished too harshly for dying. Any Earthling you managed to trap in a jar and pick up remains there, and you’re sent back to your last checkpoint. You can only carry six extra lives, but you get a new one every 10,000 points, which gives meaning to your score. There are a number of side activities like fungi bouncing, hunting for presents, and sprinting through the Hyperfunk Zone that are largely just for points, and having them build toward your next life makes them worthwhile. After all, who gives a damned about your Panic on Funkotron high score?

ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron. ToeJam talking to someone who tells him they have a message for him.
“What’s that?” “It’s a thing you tell someone for somebody else.”

THE SOURCE OF FUNK

The Toejam & Earl games (that I’ve played, I haven’t yet slotted the third game on Xbox) are most unique for their slow and steady pace. There are no bosses. There are times when the enemies are thick on the ground, but there’s nothing that stands as an obstacle. They could have added a few for Panic on Funkotron, but it would have changed the vibe.

Panic on Funkotron includes other characters that you interact with. They’ll tell you of what’s going on, they have offscreen interactions with one another, and they can sometimes have useful tips. It’s a much less lonely game than TJ&E, but that mood was appropriate, considering it was about being stranded.

Weirdly, despite my usual issues with name retention, I think I can still remember the names of most of the characters.

There are 17-ish levels, and 10 of the later levels each contain a hidden collectible; one of Lamont the Funkapotomus’s favourite items. Lamont is apparently the central source of funk on Funkotron, and the Earthlings have caused him to flee the dimension. His favourite stuff is hidden, but it’s easily found if you take the time to talk to the other characters, which is such a laid-back way to hide the prerequisites for the “good” ending.

I am so stressed out right now, absolutely going through it, and feeling thoroughly hopeless and helpless. I’ve found that fighting games and scrolling shoot ‘em ups are inaccessible in my current state of mind. But for three evenings, Panic on Funkotron was a strong source of comfort for me. For much of the time that I was playing it, I felt like the game was too long, but now that I finished it, it wasn’t long enough.

ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron. ToeJam is activating the Funkvac in a spot between two Earthlings.
Throwing the panic switch.

HEAPS, PILES, AND STACKS

I didn’t try co-op, largely because there’s nobody I can bully into playing with me. However, it doesn’t seem to have the split-screen of the original game, so both players are jammed onto a single screen. That sounds hellish. However, I am aware that the characters will actually talk to each other throughout the course of the game, so I feel like I missed out there. I wish there was a sort of Sonic & Tails option where the second character just kind of mimics your movements and stays out of the way, but unfortunately, there isn’t.

Otherwise, I do miss some of the aggressive originality of the original, but a lot of what made Toejam & Earl a great game translates quite well to this one. There are whole piles of heart on display – just stacks of it. And while it’s not without challenge, it has a slow and mellow pace to it that just feels so good. It helps that the art is charming and the music is great.

It’s maybe not even so much that Panic on Funkotron is a great game. It’s perhaps just that it’s exactly the sort of game I need right now.

7/10

This review was conducted on a Sega Genesis Model 2 (Rev VA3) using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author a long time ago. Also, I tried playing this on the Sega Genesis Classics collection on Switch and the input lag was so bad that I couldn’t do the rhythm matching games.

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About Zoey Handley 243 Articles
Zoey made up for her mundane childhood by playing video games. Now she won't shut up about them. Her eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer. A lover of discovery, she can often be found scouring through retro and indie games. She currently works as a Staff Writer at Destructoid.

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