11. ToeJam & Earl
Random objects, identification risk.
Developed by Johnson-Voorsanger Productions (ToeJam & Earl Productions)
Designed by Greg Johnson
Reason for inclusion:
Roguelike in its item identification game and random levels, it is a strange experience to play it now simply because players aren't used to figuring things out for themselves as much anymore.
Rogue and NetHack
were created by, and for, college students. ToeJam & Earl
on the other hand was made for typical console gamers, then mostly kids.
It's got randomly generated levels, objects that must be identified
(including some very bad items), no continues, and rather high difficulty.
Now just guess how well it did in the marketplace.
Actually... eventually... it
did pretty well! Bill Kunkel (writing as "The Game Doctor")
called it a favorite of his around that time. It did so well, but was
so different than everything else in stores before or since, that when
it came time to make the sequel Sega second-guessed the creators, telling
them to make a game completely different from the original. The result
was by no means a bad game, but now most everyone agrees is inferior
to the first, despite having much better graphics and an actual storyline.
ToeJam & Earl's mysterious aspects come from the level layouts and the presents laying around. Levels are not just randomly arranged (which is a fairly shallow way of randomizing a game) but have environmental obstacles and aids that sometimes require expending resources to get through. The presents work like the scrolls in Rogue: using one causes it to take effect immediately.
There's some additional nuance in ToeJam & Earl. It can be played as a two-player game, and if the players are far from each other the game goes split-screen, letting them explore where they want without being tethered to each other. However, if the players are both on the same screen when a present is opened, it affects them both, whether it's a good present or bad. Opening one type of present results in the immediate loss of a life, and its effect will hit both players if near each other, just like the others, as will the Extra Life present.
One of the game's best design choices is that it ameliorates one of the flaws of the roguelike design with the inclusion of its Randomizer present. Opening that one rescrambles all the other presents in the game! It is a tremendous setback for the players, not the least because it randomizes itself in the process. However, it does fix the big problem with relying on an identification game in the design, for it's not true that, once an item is known, it is known forever and need never be identified again. Until the Randomizer is identified, the player must be more careful the more presents he IDs, not less.
Identification games are interesting
only so long as there are still things to be learned. Rogue
solves this problem by having a relatively small dungeon, so it's very
unlikely that every item will appear even in a victorious game. ToeJam
& Earl presents the chance that items could become re-randomized.
But it's not fair to just reset known items "just because,"
the scrambling must always be the result of some mistake made by the
player. In the later ToeJam & Earl III for Xbox, for
example, the attacks of one of the enemies can scramble items.
Links: An interview with designer