VIDEO GAMES / Feel the funk: ToeJam and Earl are a wholesome antidote to the shoot-em-up brigade. Rupert Goodwins enters the funk dimension

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The Independent Culture
Right, let's get the plot over with. ToeJam and Earl have returned to the planet Funkotron after a brief trip to Earth, unknowingly carrying a load of stow-away Earthling tourists. To repair the damage, the careless teen-aliens have to capture the Earthlings in jamjars and despatch them back home.

ToeJam is a thin dude with three legs and a baseball cap; Earl is fat and pink and clad in blue polka-dot shorts and sunglasses. Being not underequipped with avoirdupois myself, I can but applaud this presentation of a porker as a positive role model, even if he does have tentacles and iffy taste in underwear.

The Earthlings are nerdish to a fault and have names that read like John Peel's playlist - Poodles and the Rich Lady, Naked Man in Box, The Cow Ghost and Duck on a Carpet. Every single one is the stuff of nightmares: the poodles are small, pink and yappy, the man sings opera out of tune. They hide in bushes, trees and under manhole covers, popping out to cause havoc with cameras, pneumatic drills and funkophobic attitudes that threaten the very fabric of the planet.

After level three, a new task is set - to collect special items and persuade the source of all funk, the Funkapotamus himself, to return. Upset by the Earthling invasion, this mega-cool being has removed himself to the Funk Dimension, and unless he can be persuaded to return, the planet will be de-funked in no time. Oh, and he's called Lamont. I'm at a loss to explain this.

Nor can I explain the curious sight of two grown men rolling around on my carpet, convulsed with laughter at the sight of ToeJam and Earl balancing on giant pink bubbles as they lurch through the psychedelic skies in search of flying hamburgers or coin-operated gizmos. Coins, funk points and other whizzo devices are hidden around the place; two of the most effective are the Funk Vac, a mutant machine that sucks up and captures any Earthling in the 'hood, and Panics. These send our heroes into invincible frenzies of random jar-chucking and my house guests into further fits.

Little side attractions perk things up. There's The HyperFunk Zone, where as many presents must be collected as possible before time runs out, and several rhythm games. Here, pals of the cool twosome play increasingly complex drum patterns; follow these on the control pad and a jazzed-up version of Hughie Green's Clapometer scores you from Lame to Awesome. This boosts your funk score, as does the performance of particularly graceful moves on pink beds of bouncy fungus.

The game really takes off with two players. Ever the model of political correctness, this mode is relentlessly co-operative with both players contributing to just the one score. If one player gets close to exhaustion - too many nips from the poodles or hits on the noggin from the flying Earthling boy with the peashooter - then the other can share some energy through synchronised hand-slapping. Wholesome enough for the Sunday school set,yet equipped with attitude to effortlessly engage the MTV generation, ToeJam and Earl are absolutely incapable of being interpreted as a danger to the country's youth. And all without a hint of saccharine.

Only tiny slips in design mar the fun. It's possible to get trapped in a level - some puzzles need special, funk-powered teleportation moves and if you exhaust a level's supply before reaching those points, there's nothing you can do except press the reset button and start again.

Funkular music is provided throughout: throbbing, popping, slammin' bad-ass jive noise that matches the pulsating animation to a P. As screen after screen of upbeat, multicoloured mayhem slips past, the realisation hits home that this is the game George Clinton would write after a particularly good gig. ToeJam and Earl is ridiculous, compulsive and altogether splendid. Perfect for parties, and a sovereign cure for too much blood on the silicon screen. 'Nuff respect.

ToeJam and Earl: Panic on Funkotron, Sega Megadrive

(Photograph omitted)

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