Toe Jam & Earl: Panic on Funkatron is one of those games you either love or hate. If you were a big fan of the original, then chances are pretty good that you won't like the format that was chosen for the second game. However, if you're like me and an unabashed fan of platformers, this is a great one.
The basic concept of this game is that when Toe Jam & Earl came back from Earth from the first game, they brought a bunch of earthlings back to their home planet of Funktron by mistake. Now their job is to capture all the invaders and send them back home. This is done by using special capture jars which you toss onto the earthing capturing them like bugs. unlike bugs though you don't scoop them up with nets or anything, you just through a bunch of glowing jars until they get squished into one (unless you've got a superjars powerup in which case as soon as a jar hits them they're in it). About midway through the game you also get a subquest to bring the funkapotomus, Lamont, out of hiding by locating all his favorite things which are hidden in secret areas.
The controls are simple and quite responsive, especially if you have a six button genesis controller. C jumps and controls the swimming speed while underwater, B throws the capture jars, and A uses your "funk". With a six button controller, X is your funk scan, Y is your panic button, and Z is your funkVac. If you have a standard three button controller, all you have to do is press start then your a,b,c buttons will fill in. Those are just the defaults, you can to change them to anything you like in the menu screen.
Graphically it's a bright and colorful with large fluid sprites. The character designs for TJ and E are pretty much the same as in the first though they're quite a bit larger this time around. The designs for the denizens of Funkatron are unique, interesting and memorable. The earthling cast features some from the fist game, like the boogeyman and some absolute insane newcomers like a duck on a flying carpet and a ghost cow. The background landscape of Funktron is a mix of dr.suess type landcapes with the sort of questionable structures that only appear in platform games and as a nice bonus especially for the time period is quite interactive. You can, and will often be forced to, shake trees and search bushes.
Sounds wise is an area where it really excels, as one would expect with a planet name like Funkatron, the music is most certainly funk. Much more the your standard game beeps and boops it's got rich layering and sounds more like the background track to a 70's pimp flick than a video game made in the early 90's. The other sounds are just as appropriate, with the earthlings having annoying catchphrases and words of encouragement such as "awesome" and "funk that" when you pick up power-ups.
This game has two difficulty settings, normal setting or kid mode. Kid mode only allows you to go through the first seven levels, but it allows you to play the game in an invincibility mode which allows you to get a good grasp of how the game is played and an opportunity to find secret areas without worrying about being killed by the pesky earthlings.
On normal difficulty the game can get pretty challenging. It is very easy to get hurt, but there are a large number of "food" items around to heal yourself. Like in most games though, it always seems plentiful when you don't need it and scarce when you do. The underwater areas can be a total deathtrap, there's not much to hurt you down there, but your oxygen meter runs out fairly quickly and when you're stuck in one of the maze like areas you can forget finding a "kissy fish" in enough time.
In playing in two player mode you can share health, when of you is low you can just give each other a high five to set both health meters to middle. Unlike older games where you can really screw your friends, both players have to consent to this health swapping by pressing down on the control pad. Though since you're sharing health (and lives for that matter) it can be much easier to die. So if you're on tow different skill level you may find yourself at the continue screen more often than you'd like. Luckily for every human you jar, every power up or secret you find, you get points and you get another extra life at every 10,000 points, so once you've got a grasp on the game and the point earning system it's pretty easy to earn enough lives to keep you safe.
When you first start the game assuming you're playing alone you get the option to choose how you want to play. You can be Toejam and Earl , if you're playing two player mode. In one player mode, you can be just Earl, he's much slower than Toejam, but stronger and can move items faster and takes more damage or, just Toejam, he's quick but gets hurt easily and takes longer to move heavy items. Once you've made your character choice, you start in the games early levels with the basic task of finding the earthlings and capturing them. You do this by tracking them down and tossing jars on them. There's a convenient sensor at the bottom of the screen that lets you know which direction you should be headed in, in order to find them. Once you grab them all you head to the end of the level and toss them on a rocket headed back to earth. With that patch of earthlings cleared out you get launched into to space and fall back into a new human infested area of Funkatron where you do it all over again.
Once you hit level eight or so, you start hearing from the
other aliens you encounter (either via bonus stages or ringing their doorbells) about how the great "funkapotomus" aka Lamont is hiding and won't come out
due to the earthlings. So while continuing to round up all the earthlings your additional mission becomes to find his favorite things to help coax him out of hiding. The aliens give you clues throughout the levels as to where to find the hidden doors and the objects, but it will still take quite a bit of searching and "funk scanning".
Meanwhile the earthling searches get more and more difficult with earthlings appearing in bigger groups and with attacks that are harder to avoid. These dark times are when you should use your power ups. Your funk vac will suck up any earthlings you can see on the screen. The panic button causes your character to throw out a barrage of jars as you run around flapping your arms. They're both rather imperfect methods of capture, but can really save your butt. And at around level 14 once you've used all your power ups and been "flashed" by numerous tourists and nibbled on by an endless barrage of poodles you start to really enjoy the rough and careless tossing of the jars full of earthlings into the rocket.
To break up some of monotony of constantly catching annoying earthlings, scattered throughout the levels there are several mini games, which are some of my favorite parts of the game. These are usually accessed by putting a coin into one of the numerous parking meters spread through out the levels or pushing one of the lighted "push me" buttons. There are the rap sessions "jam out", "hyper funk zones" bonus point collecting areas, and the "Fungus Olympics" where you bounce on sponge like fungus and get points and items from the judges. It's also worth mentioning that the parking meters and buttons can make all manner of secret snacks, platforms and other fun stuff appear as well as a couple of not so nice things, but it's usually worth the coin, or the few seconds it takes to push them to find out.
After 17 long levels of this nonsense, not including bonus levels, you've finally rounded up all the earthlings, hopefully found all Lamont's favorite stuff and coaxed him out of hiding, making Funkatron the peaceful patch of funkiness it once was.
Overall this game is a standard platformer though longer and more fun than most. It's uniqueness in terms of concept and characters makes it a games that will stay with you for years to come. Since I first played this years ago, I have beaten it numerous times and find a new hidden door or super jar power-up every time, it never gets old. Every vintage gaming fan should give it a try.
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