The ToeJam & Earl series has been in hibernation for roughly a decade and a half by this point, so there’s a high likelihood that a large number of players in the current market don’t know much about it, but back when it was an active series, it had a pretty large following. The series’ brand of action and platforming coupled with its style of humour endeared itself to many people, and for all of them, the return of the series with next year’s Back in the Groove is an event worth looking forward to, especially since the upcoming fourth entry looks like a throwback to the very beginning of the series. Curious about how developers HumaNature Studios are looking to bring the series back, we sent across some of our questions about the game to the team. The following questions were answered by Art Lead Nathan Shorts.
"We essentially rebuilt the first TJ&E game — We even referenced the original level generating algorithm! — and then we continued to build and tweak and add from that. "
What prompted you to bring back ToeJam & Earl for a fourth entry after the series had spent so many years in hibernation?
There were a few reasons we reawakened the property. Rogue-likes are very popular now, 90s nostalgia is in high demand, etc. But I think the main catalyst was an article that Greg (co-creator) read in 2014 that was titled something like “Now is the time for a new Toejam & Earl“. Humanature Studios was primed to start a new project and with the success some older IPs had seen getting funded through Kickstarter, we felt we had a pretty good shot at bringing TJ&E back.
Are you making any efforts to modernize ToeJam & Earl, or do you want to retain everything from the previous games to give fans something they’re familiar with?
Yes and no. We essentially rebuilt the first TJ&E game — We even referenced the original level generating algorithm! — and then we continued to build and tweak and add from that.
We’ve modernized the game in key areas so it can stand strong in the current market. For example, the pacing of the game has been sped up quite a bit from the original. It retains the laid back feel that fans know and love, but it doesn’t take nearly as long to accomplish the game’s goals. We’ve also included save states, as well as items that persistent through multiple playthroughs.
What are the biggest challenges related to working on a property that’s been dormant for so long, in terms of attracting the attention of new audiences?
I’d say the biggest challenge for us has been striking the balance of catering to longtime fans while creating something that still feels new and exciting for the younger audience that might have no idea what Toejam & Earl even is.
What prompted you to bring back Jam Out from Panic on Funkotron? Can players expect it to be the same mini game it was back then, or are you making any significant changes?
For every Game 1 fan we’ve encountered, there has been another fan that prefers Panic on Funkotron instead. We didn’t want them to feel entirely left out, so a number of features from Panic on Funkotron have made a return in Back in the Groove. Coin meters, trees with hidden items, the Hyperfunk Zone, and yes, the jam out game!
The jam out game will feel familiar, although it now has more of a Guitar Hero style note track and you can participate in head-to-head jam out sessions during coop playthroughs.
"Nearly all the playable characters are recognisable faces from the older games. Latisha, who was a playable character in ToeJam & Earl 3 has made a return. And for the Panic on Funkotron fans out there, they’ll be happy to see that both Lewanada and Peabo are now playable!"
Will Back in the Groove feature Joycon support on Switch for local co-op?
Will there be a good mix of old and new characters in the game’s nine playable ones? Can you talk to us about any of these, returning or new?
Sure! Nearly all the playable characters are recognisable faces from the older games. Latisha, who was a playable character in ToeJam & Earl 3 has made a return. And for the Panic on Funkotron fans out there, they’ll be happy to see that both Lewanada and Peabo are now playable!
Can you speak a bit about how randomly generated levels will be implemented in Back in the Groove?
All of our levels in Back in the Groove have been randomly generated. For the Tutorial and Fixed Worlds, we handpicked levels from the generator that will always be present in those modes. In the Random and Hard modes, the game will pull levels from our randomly generated pile so that every playthrough is unique and unpredictable!
Do you think there are any unique advantages and/or disadvantages inherent in making a game that is crowdfunded?
Crowdfunding is unique in that you have a direct line of communication with your fans from day one. If you’re crowdfunding a brand new game, that’s great! You’ve already started to build an audience. In our case, our backers were already devoted fans and so we had the opportunity to hear all of their input and suggestions from the get-go. It was a bit challenging to sift through all of the thoughts and opinions of our backers and utilize them in a way to fit the vision of the project, but it ultimately served crucial to what the game has become. I’m super grateful for what those fans have contributed.
Music is obviously an important part of any ToeJam & Earl game. How much of a focus has it been for you during the development of Back in the Groove?
Development for the Back in the Groove soundtrack started almost immediately after our Kickstarter campaign had finished. We felt is was integral for establishing the mood and feel of the game, even in it’s earliest stages. We’ve capped off at nearly 30 unique tracks and they’re all funky as heck!
The game is coming on both the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X- what kind of differences did you find between the two consoles?
Honestly? We have’t see a huge difference. Maybe that’s due to the nature of our game, as it’s not meant to push these systems to the limit.
"As a studio, we have a tendency to focus less on the hardware and platforms and more on the content. We like to see games that appeal to a broader audience, including non-gamers and families. We hope to see more of that in the next gen!"
Next gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from PS5 and Xbox Scarlett?
As a studio, we have a tendency to focus less on the hardware and platforms and more on the content. We like to see games that appeal to a broader audience, including non-gamers and families. We hope to see more of that in the next gen!
Do you think cross platform play will be one of the defining features of next-gen consoles?
Possibly. It’s not a feature we tend to focus on as a studio but it’d be nice to bring more people together, regardless of their platform of choice.
What is your take on the ongoing drama of loot boxes and microtransactions?
It’s always worth considering where the developers are coming from when they introduce a new source of revenue for their studio. Game prices have stayed roughly the same for years, while the cost and expectation of making a game has skyrocketed. I’m entirely in favor of creative avenues for sustaining a studio while they continue to make the content people love. As long as those avenues do not impede the core game experience.