Toejam and Earl
What Is It?: Believe it or not at one point not to long ago hip-hop wasn’t as widely accepted as it is now, and was largely misunderstood, rappers weren’t getting shows on TBS and most of America’s window into the world of hip-hop was through the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In 1991 ToeJam & Earl helped represent the every growing hip-hop culture with a mix of catchy midi rap tunes, colorful and strange mix of characters, silly humor, and a interesting randomly generated world where the duo had to find pieces of their spaceship to get back to their home planet of Funkatron.
The game was very unique for it’s time, with a strange multi-tiered world floating in space, and a item system similar to a RPG’s giving you advantages such as sneakers that let you run past pesky carrot men, and crazed mothers pushing their babies around in a shopping cart.
Why we haven’t seen it: The sad thing about Sega is that it had so many great gaming ideas but as a company it was poorly managed and had bad execution when it knew it had a franchise on their hands. Due to a few missteps by both the developers and publisher Sega, the original top-down treasure hunting/RPG/adventure game was turned into a side-scrolling platformer. Despite initial critical and commercial success, fans of the original quickly felt alienated and the game overall was mostly forgotten. A bunch of false starts later, the developers finally released a ToeJam & Earl 3 for the original Xbox but it failed to capture the audience that bought into it because of it being hip and fun, something TJ&E3 was not. However, you can find both original Genesis titles on Wii’s Virtual Console for those interested in what the game is really about.
Will we ever see it again?: It is very likely we will see it again someday for Xbox Live Arcade. Sega ran a contest asking gamers to vote on what classic Sega title they would like to see on XBLA next, and the original Genesis release got the majority of the vote, however ultimately the decision lies with the games create as he holds all rights to the IP. It would be interesting to have an online co-op, or even new modes added to the original, perhaps even expanding on the universe and adding additional challenges. Until then, you can get the exact game from the Sega Genesis as well as the series lesser known and widely regarded much lesser side-scrolling sequel on Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console.
What alternatives do we have?: It would prove difficult to suggest one game that could be seen as an alternative to ToeJam & Earl. While it is an incredible title, the primary reason anyone wants to see it, is because of it’s own unique charm and originality. Technically, there are probably plenty of games that mimic parts of ToeJam & Earl exceedingly well but none are as funky-fresh as ToeJam and Earl.
What Is It?: Shenmue is probably the best game to show what the ill-faded Sega Dreamcast could pull off technologically. Originally released in the United States in 2000 the game followed the story of Ryo Hazuki and his journey to find who killed his father. It was in an open ended Japanese town, with a full cast of characters that used voice dialogue rather than text; with an incredibly moody, if not sometimes to over the top. The cityscape itself was a star, setting from day and night, seasons changing, a bustling place of activity, and where you could ask people for information on your current quest. It benefited from great variety. Fight your opponents like you would in a fighting title, and special “Quick Time Events” prompted you to press the buttons on the screen so you could participate in all of the in-game cut scenes. It was marketed as a role-playing game, but the open-ended mechanics made it much more.
The game was meant to go on for at least four titles going by the chapters within the story, but a Shenmue II was produced before Sega finally called it quits.
Why we haven’t seen it: Mostly lack of mass appeal and cost. Shenmue has been cited as one of the final nails in Sega’s coffin, forcing them to surrender the hardware manufacturing business with the Dreamcast and becoming a third party developer. The game holds the Guinness World Record for most expensive videogame at $70 million being built back in 1998-2000, at a time when triple A titles typically only cost less than $10 million to create.
Will we ever see it again?: It isn’t looking very likely but as Sega executives and series creator Yu Susuki say, “Never say never.” After Shenmue II’s cliffhanger ending many hardcore gamers clamored for the then planned sequel. However, after a merger with Sammy Holdings and a lot of restructuring, ideas were tossed around such as an online version of the game, but nothing ever solidified.
What alternatives do we have?: The effects of Shenmue can be seen to this day. While many of the concepts and mechanics in the game seem to be givens nowadays, ten years ago they amazed gamers. Since then we have been given open-ended titles such as the fully 3D Grand Theft Auto series, and RPGs like Final Fantasy have relied more on speech rather than their text heavy roots. The alternatives are all around you and chances are you have several games influenced by Shenmue in your gaming library right now.
Do you have a favorite Sega title you would like to see come back? Tell us about it in the comments and check back for more on our “5 Games Series” next week!
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