Wii Points: 800 ($8)
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The original ToeJam & Earl was a fun, funky, groundbreaking game that endeared players with humorous, split-screen cooperative gameplay. Instead of continuing down the same road for the inevitable sequel, Johnson Voorsanger Productions took things in a completely different direction, to disappointing effect. Change does not always signal innovation, and ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron is the odd sequel that calls to mind the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
In fact, the top-down adventure game's transition to a side-scrolling, action-heavy sequel is reminiscent of another Virtual Console title seeing release this week--Nintendo's Zelda II. Both sequels were made with the same ingredients as their forebears and prepared in slightly different ways. The resulting meals fell flat with gamers, who were hoping for more in the same vein of the original recipe. In these situations, it is often difficult to discern between the result of dashed hopes and a genuinely poor sequel. While an argument can be made for the favorable qualities of both games, it is undeniable that they each failed to measure up to the standards that their predecessors had established.
In a way, you can see what the developers of ToeJam were thinking back in 1993. This is SEGA, right? Not Sega. Keep the same, quirky ToeJam & Earl setting, but speed the game up a little. I mean, ToeJam kind of looks like a hedgehog, doesn't he, maybe? Keep the characters and the humor, but give it some more pep. Keep the funk, lose the junk. If that was indeed their plan, it was successful. As a side-scroller, Panic on Funkotron seems at first to retain the distinctive mood of the original, and also plays much faster than its predecessor. Unfortunately, that isn't saying much. Funkotron doesn't play nearly fast enough to be exciting for that reason, and in its transition to a simple platformer, the series loses much of its charm.
In Funkotron, ToeJam and Earl will still navigate through multiple sprawling levels, heading through portals into new areas and picking up presents that award extra points. The game can still be played cooperatively, with the two characters bouncing around the psychadelic backgrounds together--although the split-screen mode of the original is curiously absent, much to the game's detriment. Even the music consists of the same tracks from the first game, and while it's difficult to fault the tracks themselves, the laziness inherent in such a move is downright repugnant.
The platforming mechanics of Funkotron are decidedly different, yet blandly unsatisfying. Rather than jumping on enemy heads, the object of Funkotron is to throw jars at the humans, which, after one or six hits, somehow capture them neatly behind the tiny glass prisons. The player must then pick up the jars to collect points and move on to the next level of the game. "Funk points" can be spent to use powers such as "Funk Move," which will teleport ToeJam or Earl through a wall or enemy. "Funk Scan" pauses the game and applies a warped, colorful filter over the screen, revealing hidden power ups. While these powers do technically spice up the standard platforming experience, they aren't enough to save it from tedium.
This is due mostly to the repetitive nature of the levels. While featuring bright colors and distinctive art, the design of each level doesn't vary all that much from the last. They tend to blend together, and one can only stare at purple trees for so long before everything runs together like a Crayola box gone wrong. Trampoline platforms and deep-sea swimming areas have been done to death, and beyond that, there's not much else going on here. You can interact with certain objects by pressing "up" on the controller, which will sometimes trigger bonus levels or teleportation. That's about it.
Some of the new minigames do serve the sequel well. Jam Out will see ToeJam or Earl going up against their NPC friends in a rhythm-based competition, earning more points for nailing a particular sequence of claps and booms. Fungus Olympics has the characters put into a minigame not unlike synchronized swimming. The Hyper Funk Zone plays a bit like a star power section of a Mario title, or a rhino ride from a Donkey Kong Country game, with characters barreling forward in an effort to collect bonus points. These short diversions break up the otherwise monotonous pace of Panic.
Ultimately, ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron is a tour de force of mediocrity. Some fun could definitely be had in cooperative mode, but with so many superior cooperative games to choose from, Panic in Funkotron fails to stand out in any meaningful way. It remains both a thoroughly average game, as well as a squandered opportunity to bring back the magic of ToeJam & Earl.