Gettin' my review on, aight?
It is an odd coincidence, but I happen to share a birthday with James Brown. Unfortunately, this means that he was able to get in line before me and get all the funk and all the soul a man could possibly take, leaving me tragically unhip, unfunky, and square as a sandwich with the crusts cut off. Which is why I own many of Mr. Brown's CDs, and he doesn't have any of mine.
Now if the Hardest Working Man In Show Business lived on planet Funkotron, he would certainly be their king. Unfortunately, he lives in Augusta, Georgia, which still makes him the Godfather of Soul, but it leaves Lamont the Funkopotomous in charge of Funkotron.
This is not such a good thing. First of all, Lamont is a sort of tiny, blue bulgy-eyed thing with an annoying voice. I think a Funkopotomous must be some kind of Pokemon. Second, he managed to lose the 12 sacred albums of funk. Now you, in the roll of Toe Jam, Earl, or newcomer Latisha, must rescue the albums from the unfunky Earthlings and the evil Anti-Funk.
You do this in pretty much exactly the same way you collected the parts of your crashed spaceship all those years ago in the original Toe Jam & Earl for the Genesis. You explore a number of different levels, avoid or defeat the unhip Earthlings, and open presents that have bonuses or traps inside them. Only now it's all in 3D. Welcome to Toe Jam & Earl III: Mission to Earth.
And it looks just great, thanks to smooth framerates and beautiful textures. Our three heroes are looking sharp in their hip-hop threads and their bling bling. Even the grass looks terrific. Playing is easy, too, thanks to a really smart camera that moves where it should and objects that fade into transparency if they get in your way.
Some aspects of gameplay have changed for the worse, however. In the original, you got experience points (and thus, more powerful) for exploring the levels. On each level you needed to look for the elevator up, but fall off the edge and it was back down to the previous level. Earthlings were either to be avoided or pelted with tomatoes.
In TJ&E 3, instead of running, you hit the earthlings with your "funk-fu" or shoot them with "funkify notes" in order to convert them to the ways of funk. Then a bunch of stars pop out of them which you can collect for experience. Instead of moving up and down through the levels, you collect keys and microphones that open up new areas. Falling off the edge has essentially no penalty at all - you reappear on the same level with only a very tiny hit to your health. It's more confusing and it just doesn't work as well as the original structure.
There are only really two new things in TJ&E 3 - some simple mini games, involving jumping, knocking things off the edge, or Parappa-style button-pressing to the beat. They are fine, but don't add much overall. More interesting is the ability to download new levels, items and characters using the Xbox Live service.
However, just about everything else is straight from the original. You'll confront chickens with mortars, the fat guy with the lawnmower, packs of nerds, the mad dentist and the wise man in the carrot suit. The presents are classic, too: food, ghetto blasters, rocket skates, spring shoes and the like. The spring shoes translate especially well into 3D, reminding me of the gameplay from the awesome Jumping Flash series.
The sound has obviously changed from the old 16-bit cartridge, and the new game is full of grooves, talking and singing. The result is mixed. Latisha and Earl's voices are well done, but Lamont is really irritating and Toe Jam sounds like me trying to do a Chris Rock impersonation. And apparently funky aliens say "aight?" all the time. Pick up the keys, aight? Use your funk-fu, aight?
The background music is fine, but never actually gets funky, and the occasional raps are actually sort of fun and goofy, poking fun at old late-80's rap stylings. The real star musicians are the trio of female gospel singers who grace many of the load screens.
But where TJ&E 3 really excels is where the original did: cooperative play and randomized levels. There are too few games out there where you and your friends can play together instead of trying to kill each other, although cooperative modes are finally becoming more common. TJ&E's split-screen works great and lets you bring your friend in to help collect the sacred albums of funk.
And you can do it more than once, because every time you start a new game of TJ&E, it is different. The maps are custom generated for every game and you can save any time. Sure, the gameplay and the enemies are mostly the same, but the islands, paths and bridges are all different, and you won't know where anything is.
One last thing that must be mentioned: the Anti-Funk might possibly be the dumbest looking video game boss of all time. Don't be surprised when you finally see him.
Now when I happen to hear a particularly funky groove, and start shakin' it on the dance floor, it's not a pretty sight. I try to remember to git up offa that thing, then get down, and then to git back on up, and I try to get funky... and I invariably fail. It is, however, very amusing for other people to watch, for a while, and then it just gits sort of sad. At this point someone usually offers me another drink, or cuts me off from the bar.
Toe Jam & Earl III is much the same way. You kind of get where they're trying to go with their parody of 80's rap culture, and it's funny for a while. But they ultimately fail to achieve any real funkiness.