Platinum Players Posse...
It's kind of funny how you can surprised by something in the world of videogaming. Quite often you can be minding your own business, just hanging out, being all sexy and then wham! Something get's you hooked.
Without meaning to form an attachment or thinking it to be a possibility because you honestly didn't ever expect it to happen for something you hadn't even really heard of prior to your first play, you're all of a sudden on the end of some fisherman's rod being reeled in. That's one of the best things about gaming... The unexpected surprise!
Megatron's_Fury, who we are reliably informed is a man as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, has many memories of being stopped in his tracks by something cool and new. This is when his love of hip-hop, aliens and Sega met!
Parappa wishes he was this cool!
If I were to get paid cash money every time I mentioned how cool Sega were then right now I would be typing this article from my personal luxury boat moored in Monaco, the fact that as you read this I’m on my 3rd cup of coffee for the day with a side order of rich tea biscuits tells you exactly how I roll. I'm living the life of a rock star people... Just so happens to be a poor rock star! - lol
What is true however is that Sega are cool, were cool and always will be cool, nobody did stuff like they did cause nobody had the stones to go that far off the blueprint for a videogame back in the 80's and 90's and anything done now is merely a copy and paste of what they did best... First!
Now we can all sit here and list off examples of this, Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5 etc etc games loads of us know and love however something came before all of that from the mind of one very talented guy 'Greg Johnson' that would fuse 90's musical embracing of mainstream rap music and the 'fresh' vibe that was the 16-Bit era. In fact when you look at how Sega marketed their games in the 1990's in North America especially you can see that they not only knew how to make games they knew how to sell them to the MTV 'Shout Louder' generation.
Released very early on in the Megadrive's life the original ToeJam & Earl game was like nothing else out there, a platform game from an isometric point of view that while following existing game mechanic principals added in two key elements, well 3 actually!
First off was the two main characters who were alien rappers that walked, talked and dressed like MC Hammer on his laundry day, completely over the top in all things they swaggered around the screen with such iconic flare that it looked like they would become the company's main mascots. ToeJam & earl are absolutely the character expression of Sega in their prime, no question. The second aspect was how the game enabled you to really get involved with the fact they were rappers, allowing you to freestyle rap with all the cool words of the time with a music track behind you that just felt so very fresh prince of Bel-Air Will Smith.
The real star of the show however was how each game felt different from the last as it randomized item locations and even the maps themselves, completing it once meant you could do it all over again and still find new things and have new play experiences... In 1991 people that was immense! Add in the two player co-op element and this was absolutely a master class of design.
Story wise it tells the tale of 2 aliens who crash land on earth and have to explore their new surroundings to fix their broken spaceship, this essentially means it's a puzzle platform based adventure however the music overlays helped create a game that in my opinion helped create an entire new genre of videogames, i.e. Rhythm Action. For sure Parappa the Rapper coined the whole thing however you cannot tell me the designer of that game never played this one and thought... 'Hold on' 'This gives me an idea' As I have said before anything Sony did with the Playstation Sega did years before and way cooler, Sony just picked up the 'cool' ball and crossed the line is all.
Selling very well a sequel was developed for the Megadrive/Genesis console released in 1993 (America) and 1994 (Europe) that would end up splitting opinion right down the middle. Designed by the same lead guy it was a departure from the existing first game because Sega wanted a straight up platformer and refused to get behind another game the same as the first. ToeJam & Earl - Panic On Funkotron is set back on the lovable aliens home world where humans who have stowed away on the craft that took them back there are causing chaos. They are doing so much harm that the source of 'Funk' has gone to another dimension so it's up to you as the player to stop these pesky humans and restore coolness to the planet.
With a tradition side view this felt more like a standard videogame of the time meaning fans of the original immediately got annoyed and turned their noses up to it, the thing is that they are for the most part wrong to do so because a sequel should do something new and this does exactly that. It's a cracking adventure that reviewed very well indeed because those that played it instantly knew this was a great adventure. it's full of insanely funny moments, great character design, amazing level graphics and the soundtrack is superb. It's not the first game, it's something familiar yet different and personally I love it!
Selling reasonably well it looked like the franchise was here to stay, behind closed doors a Sega Saturn version began development...
Due to the sales disaster that was the Sega Saturn development was soon switched to the new console called 'Dreamcast' however because that flopped overnight (gamers in the late 90's were dumb, that console was amazing, shame on you!!!) the whole project was shelved. Recently however a playable version has surfaced on the internet that shows that the third game in the trilogy was very much existing work polished up to release standard.
Anyone who knows me knows I get annoyed at people asking for the Dreamcast 2 console, the fact very few people got the first one when it mattered means in my opinion the market simply doesn't deserve it for it's lack of vision and support for Sega when they needed their fans the most (you know who you are...) The second reason is that you already had it... It's called the XBOX! Microsoft with their partnership with Sega had clearly used the Dreamcast as a means to test the water then unleashed a console that is in every single possible way an evolution from that iconic machine. 4 controller ports, online gaming and a ton of SEGA franchise games, it looked like a Sega console from an angle, it was as cool as one and Sega did almost all of their best work post hardware collapse on that machine.
ToeJam & Earl 3 - Mission To Earth was once such game released in 2002 (America) and 2003 (Europe) and as we now know was the existing Dreamcast game with bells and whistles. In this adventure the dynamic duo team up with a new lead character 'Latisha' who is a feisty female alien who joins them to go back to Earth to retrieve the 12 sacred albums of funk and return them to their planet.
Returning to the isometric viewpoint with a movable camera to allow for close-ups and viewpoint changes it was more in tune with what the original creator of the characters and franchise had always wanted. Once again two player co-op was present however this time a split screen allowed more adventuring in the now returned randomly generated levels. The graphics, thanks to the power of the Xbox were exceptional and some of the animation is so good it's like watching an animated feature. Each of the 3 characters has their own powers and abilities however collectibles also allow everyone to get where they need to go.
Very much like the Panzer Dragoon's and House Of The Dead franchises released on the Microsoft box of awesome (have you worked out I love the Xbox yet?) it sold terribly and that's where the franchise pretty much died a death until the creator went to Kickstarter to bring it all back with a new 4th game (YAY!!!)
The third game received very mixed reviews with many praising it's return to it's original identity and great character design however some thought the camera was poor and gamers of the time simply ignored it, mainly because it was exclusive to Xbox which lost out to the behemoth that was the PS2. In the end though what we have is the creation of a design genius that didn't just re-write existing stuff, it completely defined an era, a mood and best of all helped in a small way to go on to create the Rhythm Action game, sure that's a leap on my part but if you look at it for a while you can see this is one of the main starting points.
So there you have it, yet another reason why owning a Genesis or Megadrive was just so cool, the SNES has nothing like this at all, in fact it has no characters that are even remotely close to being this cool. A lovely reminder of why the Golden Era was just so wonderful. I have said it before and I will say it again... They don't make em like this anymore... Bet you wish you had purchased that Dreamcast now eh?
Close your eyes and imagine how great it would still be to have Sega making games machines and game franchises like this... 'What if' it's a killer right?... JAMMIN!