ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Tips to Funk the Funk Off

From deflecting Earthlings to zooming through a Back in the Groove run, these tips will help you survive ToeJam and Earl's latest trip to Earth.

The ToeJam & Earl games are weird, no one will argue that. Naturally, the pieces of advice I have to share in this guide are similarly as strange.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is so much like the original game on the Sega Genesis that players of the 1991 classic won't have much trouble learning the ropes, but there are some intricacies exclusive to Back in the Groove worth going over. 

The game tosses a ton of tips your way during its load screens and in its built-in manual, so the tips I'm laying out here are purely from my time playing the game solo before release and online after release. If you don't agree with my strats, that's cool. Part of the fun of the game is that everyone plays differently, otherwise, it'd just be boring.

"Pause" for Safety

Maybe you've noticed already, but the world around you keeps moving when you press the pause button or open your inventory.

When you pause the game, the Earthlings around you will often keep moving. Sometimes they move more slowly or halt and then scoot around, but when you're not in immediate danger, they will continue to wander around as if you're not there at all.

Opening your inventory is one of the best ways to save yourself from being hit by Earthlings. If you're just trying to get somewhere without much trouble, open your inventory or pause and let nearby Earthlings spread out a bit.

If you're about to get hit, open your inventory and use a present or two to hopefully help you out.

If you ever see an online player standing in a dangerous area with its bag open, it's probably just biding its time or trying to figure out which present to use.

Check the Crazed Dentist behind the Hitops. I used the Hitops to get out of there safely.

"Doing" the HyperFunk Zone

The HyperFunk Zone usually nets you a lot of XP, but you may not like doing it or just can't deal with lag when in an online multiplayer game. In those cases, just let the game play itself.

You get a 300 XP bonus when you get a new high score in the HyperFunk Zone, which pairs great if your Luck stat gets some bumps because Luck can make you automatically pass exits.

My general strategy is to make sure I get past the first exit the first time I do the HyperFunk Zone, and then to just let it play out in subsequent entries. Particularly in online multiplayer.

It's worth noting that using presents will net you overall more XP gains than the HyperFunk Zone, so you can skip it completely if you don't feel like playing through it.


Considering the random nature of the game, it's easy to get stuck or lost in Back in the Groove. This is especially the case when you're on higher levels and struggling to stay alive.

It's true that the presents you get are random, but there are some that you should keep once you've identified them for emergency situations like getting stuck or cornered by a bunch of Earthlings.

  • Hold onto presents that teleport you to the elevator or ship piece, or even a present that spawns an elevator, you never know when you're going to need them

  • Hold onto a Timed Teleport, Tomato Rain, Teleport to Elevator, Teleport to Ship Piece, Hitops, Spring Shoes, Gassy Tummy, or Icarus Wings so you have a way to get out of a sticky situation

  • If you don't have any of the above, hold onto a Show Hidden Paths present so you can find your way around on confusing later levels

  • If all else fails, walk around the edges of the areas you have available to try to find hidden paths yourself

Amped beneficial presents are like the game's gift to a patient player, provided they are patient.

Some levels amp up certain presents but presents that allow you to manually amp other presents are a boon like no other. Getting increased effects or a longer duration on some presents can completely turn the tide for you.

One very important thing to bear in mind is that persistent present effects, such as Hitops or Gassy Tummy, will continue when you go up or down a level with the effect in place. So if you fall while running around with Hitops, you'll still have them on at the lower level and can quickly get back to the elevator.

This is something to keep at the back of your mind when you see a Backer Island on a level and have to leave it behind, but pick up Spring Shoes or another present on the next level that can help you reach the Backer Island. The Icarus Wings they give you are indispensable.

Use Your Presents Like It's 1999

Aside from some key presents that you know you'll need in emergency situations, it's generally to your benefit to use your presents even if they are unidentified just to make way for more presents.

Though there are a number of presents with harmful or negligible effects, most will help you on your adventure.

Once your inventory starts to get full, don't wait to get a promotion and hope for an increase to your inventory stat. Just use 'em up! Back in the Groove throws so many presents your way, there's no reason not to use them often.

It seems to be an integral part of the experience, even. Another layer of random on top of other layers of random.

Make Good Use of Friendly Earthlings

The Opera Singer and Pharaoh aren't there for their own entertainment; both are the cornerstone to an easy run.

The Opera Singer Earthling, in particular, is a huge help on most levels, as she follows you and her shrill voice will pop any Earthlings in her vicinity for a decent amount of time.

The only downsides to her are that her services cost $3, and she can and will pop the Wiseman and any other helpful Earthlings.

The Pharoah is slightly less useful, but that's reflected in his $2 service charge. He will also follow you around, but his specialty is zapping everything in range to force whatever's hiding out into view.

Money, presents, bowling balls, Earthlings you'd be surprised how much can pop out all at once when he zaps an area covered in trees.

Don't Bother Exploring Everything

Do you really need to check every house, bush, tree, and miscellaneous environmental widget you come across? Even those that your search skill tells you definitely have items? The answer to that is a hard, "No."

As you progress through the levels, you're going to spend an increasing amount of time just running away from harmful Earthlings. If you've already lost some lives and are sitting at one remaining, just getting near the wrong Earthling can mean a quick game over.

You're going to have less time to investigate every nook and cranny of the game's randomly generated areas as you progress, which is something you as a player have to accept. If you find the elevator and there is no ship piece on a level, just move on.

There is little need to stay in levels where there is no ship piece, especially if you don't need to visit the Wiseman. Sometimes it's best to just zoom straight to the elevator just to save your run, and I know I expect other players to rush to elevators when playing online. You can expect other players to as well.

Toss Out Undesirables

There are simply some presents you don't want to have in your inventory. If the wrong Earthling touches you, like a Drone, your whole run could be ruined with one bad present open.

These are presents you should probably drop as soon as you identify them:

  • Here I Am: Draws enemy attention to you
  • Bummer: Instantly kills you
  • Instant Demotion: Instantly demotes you
  • Major Randomizer: There are uses for Randomizer presents, but it seems like Major gets randomly selected more than others; I tend to just drop all but one Baby Randomizer

If I'm having an easy time, I'll also drop Rootbeers. The healing does not make up for the hiccups.

Any time you are getting low on inventory space, either toss or use some presents. "Use it or lose it," as they say.

Online Hosts Can Kick Problem Players

If you're hosting online and have one player who refuses to move up levels or is purposefully griefing, you can pause the game and kick them if you need to.

I've been playing almost exclusively on Random Hard online as host, and have had plenty of players join my games near the end of the run and die on purpose to net themselves a free completion.

After the first few times this happened, I caught on and started to kick players looking for a free ride.

This is also something to keep in mind if you're hosting and another player just falls three or four times from one stage. I know the game can be tough, but no one's got unlimited time to wait on others.

The Art of (Not) Sneaking

You can sneak in Back to the Groove, but your best defense and detection avoidance option isn't sneaking at all. It's interacting with the environment.

I mentioned way at the top that opening your inventory does not make Earthlings stop in their tracks, and you can use that to your advantage. There's a little more you can do, though.

When you have dialogue with a friendly Earthling, it immediately causes harmful Earthlings to lose track of you. This also happens when you feed coins into meters and push buttons to open secret doors  just interacting with those items for a split second will cause enemies to lose aggro for just a moment, and perhaps give up on you completely.

Situation: De-escalated.

This does not work when shaking trees or bushes or what have you. You will still be paid attention to and hit when investigating. And of course, you can always dodge Earthlings by jumping into water if you have to.

Special Shout Out to Sunflowers

Speaking of (not) sneaking: Sunflowers.

The game tells you that you can use sunflower patches to hide, but have you really tried?

Stepping into a sunflower patch immediately cuts enemy aggro and even lets you avoid damage if you're about to get hit, provided you step into the patch fast enough.

With this in mind, if you're in a playthrough where you're having a lot of trouble, try to find some sunflowers and do a search while standing among them.

You can use the sunflower patch as a safe haven for wandering around the area and looting. If you draw the ire of an Earthling that's going to mess your day up, just run back to the sunflower patch and wait for your moment to leave again, then get back to it.

This has saved at least one of my runs.


There are certainly many more intricacies to learn and work with in ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove, but these here are the ones that have helped me most on my Random Hard runs and have pushed me to complete one after the other. Funk be with you!

Associate Editor

Ashley has been in with GameSkinny since its inception, and has a real passion for weird games.

Published Mar. 5th 2019

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