*Video Game Yore is a series of articles which attempts to ascertain the exact release dates of classic video games. Living in the information age, we are now used to literally having boundless data at our fingertips at all times. One would think that with this amazing tool, it would be simple to find something as trivial as the release date of a video game, right? Well, as it turns out, you can’t always find everything you want easily on the Internet. This series of articles is ultimately about investigative journalism and our best attempts at answering the burning question: When was that game released?
If you’ve played Toejam and Earl, it’s likely a game you have never forgotten. I didn’t need a better reason than that to choose it as my first VGY project. Well, except maybe this one: It’s my favorite game of all time. But don’t take my word for it; the game speaks for itself. These funky-fresh-rapping aliens have been breakin’ it down since the original came out in 1991. Ah yes, 1991. But when exactly was the game released in 1991? There is much conflicting evidence present on the ever-conflicted Internet (some sources even claim 92). I am going to examine these facets before I reach my final conclusion, but why not start with my personal memories. Those are surely evidence, right?
The above picture was taken on March 5, 1992 at my grandparents’ house in Lake Wales, Florida. My brother and I were playing, yep you guessed it, Toejam and Earl. How do I know this? And how do I know the exact date the photo was taken? Well, here’s the back of the picture:
That’s right, before digital time stamps, we had the good old analog way of printing it on the back of the photo. Now, as for what game my brother and I are playing, you can clearly see the Sega Genesis controllers in our hands. You can also clearly see my sister in the background with a video camera filming us playing. Sadly, I don’t have the video uploaded to YouTube (although that may happen someday), but the video is infamous in my family because throughout the entire boring affair you can hear John Baker’s brilliant funkadelic soundtrack playing as our home movie’s soundtrack. I’d say that’s evidence enough (especially since I have at least 6 witnesses) that we were playing the game on March 5, 1992.
Secondly, if my own word is of any consequence, I have vivid memories of purchasing Toejam and Earl “sometime” in 1991. We were at the Gardens Mall which is located here; in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. I remember entering Software Etc (which is now an Apple Store), seeing my future alien friends sitting on the display case and convincing my wonderful grandmother to buy the game for $49.99. And it wasn’t even my birthday! Then we went to Denny’s afterwards where my brother and I proceeded to pour over the instruction manual while we ate. I even recall running into my old cub scout leader’s wife, Mrs. Nickerson, where she confessed to us that her husband was cheating on her (I know, strange memory). But most of all I remember going back to my grandmother’s house on the island and popping that game in. We played it all weekend on that fantastic 1970’s era wood grain TV set. You know the one I’m talking about:
So with this initial “evidence” in mind, let’s challenge our first couple “reputable” sources:
Both claim that Toejam and Earl was released in the US on March 12, 1992. A full 7 days after my brother and I were caught playing a stolen copy apparently. Huh, how is that possible? Well, obviously Toejam and Earl wasn’t released on that date (or even close to that date). So we can kick this date off the list of possible releases.
Since March 12, 1992 is the latest release date I could find, why don’t we attempt to tackle the earliest and then meet in the middle? Well, in this case, I had to look no further than Google:
Google says March 12, 1991, a full year ahead of GameFAQ’s and Gamespot’s posted release date! Interesting… At this point you have to wonder where these sites are getting their data from, since none of them list sources. At any rate, I attempted to see if I could find any other websites or sources that listed Toejam and Earl coming out in the spring of 1991. My findings? Not a single one. But I did find another trend:
There were quite a few sites listing June 11, 1991 as the actual release date. Although I will have to say, again, they don’t list any sources or proof of that date. My guess here is that IMDB (for some strange reason, aren’t they a movie site?) has the game listed as June 11, 1991, so other websites are using it as their source. But wait! We aren’t done yet. There are more release dates:
Sega Retro Claims that the game was released in August of 1991, although no specific date is listed. And once again, there is also no source cited. So what is one to believe with all these different release dates for the same game? Simple, you write an email to the developer! In this case, the man himself, Greg Johnson. And by the way, Greg is a super nice guy and was gracious enough to respond to me (within 24 hours no less!). Will he finally be able to dispel the mystery of when exactly Toejam and Earl was released? I mean, the developer of the game itself has to know right? Here was his response:
Well as it turns out, even the man who designed the game doesn’t know when the game was released (which apparently isn’t all that uncommon). Although he did search his basement for me! Like I said, what an amazing guy! Perhaps Mark Voorsanger (Toejam and Earl’s programmer) will know. For now though, we are still without a definitive release date.
So it was at this point that I realized I could keep searching the Internet on websites that weren’t in existence back in 1991, or I could go straight to publications that were. In this case, Gamepro, Electronic Gaming Monthly and Sega Visions. And thanks to my friend, fellow rebel and founder of Video Game Yore, Brent Jareske, I had a place I could find these old magazines. Mainly, retromags.com. Revel in the glory of wonderful, old gaming mags:
Ah-ha! Note the top left. It says “Fall 1991,” which implies that this magazine was released, at the earliest, in September of 1991. Also of major note is the yellow, emblazoned line of text across the front which exclaims: “Toejam and Earl hit the Streets…” which implies that Toejam and Earl was not released in March or June or August of 1991, but in the “Fall” of 1991. Alright, now we’re getting somewhere! Let’s keep digging:
I remembered that I had a friend on Twitter who is what I would consider an authority on classic video games. His name is Hugues Johnson and he runs a podcast and website called The Retro League that is dedicated to classic video games (and which you should really check out). He also has a website of his own with loads of old catalog scans which you can find here: http://huguesjohnson.com/scans/
Luckily for me, Hugues had exactly the book I was looking for which was the Electronics Boutique catalog from Christmas, 1991. You’ll notice in the above scan where I highlighted the very prominently placed Toejam and Earl. It even made the front page! On top of that, it was selling for a hefty $53.99 (ironically, around what it still goes for today on eBay complete with box and manual. Although if you want a new, sealed copy that will set you back around $600). Now, would a game released in March, June or even August still be selling for top dollar at Christmas? Or be featured on the front cover of the Electronics Boutique Christmas catalog? Doubtful at best, and yet more evidence that Toejam and Earl was not released in the spring or summer of 1991, but in the fall.
Further evidence that the game was released in the fall (if Wikipedia is to be believed) is that the other games in the above catalog scan, Fantasia and Quackshot were released in the fall also – November and December respectively.
So, based on the evidence so far, we’ve managed to narrow down the release window of Toejam and Earl to roughly September-December 1991. But why stop there? Let’s narrow it down some more:
Gamepro magazine, October 1991, issue #27 ran a review of Toejam and Earl. I found it on page 38. On page 40 though, there was an interesting bit of information that I circled in the bottom right corner. It reads “Available October ‘91.” So we finally got a piece of written evidence from 1991 telling us that Toejam and Earl was released in October. It took long enough! Well, I didn’t stop there. I found several other pages in Gamepro that were of interest:
On pages 6 and 7 there was a full 2 page ad for Toejam and Earl. Makes sense considering the game was reviewed in this issue. I’d also venture to say that it’s common practice for companies to advertise their games around the time of their release, right?
I found further evidence on page 33 in a Funco ad which listed Toejam and Earl as a new release highlighted with an asterisk. Again, it’s safe to assume from this ad that Toejam and Earl was either just released, or about to be released. The evidence for an October release date is becoming overwhelming! But I wanted to check one more source first. Just to erase any doubt I may have had left.
This review of Toejam and Earl is from Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine, November 1991, issue #28, page 24 (and the fools couldn’t even get the number of levels right! There are 25! Not 6!), further proof that the game was released in the fall of 1991. How about one more piece of evidence before we conclude our findings?
Another confirmed source listing Toejam and Earl as being released in October. In this case, Die Hard! What a great name for a video game seller… But alas, I feel our journey has finally reached a reasonable conclusion.
So to recap, there was little to no tangible evidence (other than mostly modern websites that cited no sources) that Toejam and Earl was released in the spring of 1991, summer of 1991 or spring of 1992. But when I went to publications that were actually printed in 1991, the story was much more clear. Even though I was not able to pin-point an exact release date, based on the evidence I was able to dig up, as well as my personal experiences with the game in 1991 and 1992, I think we can safely assume that Toejam and Earl was released between the 1st and 31st of October, 1991. My final results are below:
Toejam and Earl for the Sega Genesis
North American Release
UPC #0 10086 01020 6
Released: Between October 1st and October 31st 1991
If anyone else has any information, additional evidence or disputes any of the ideas brought forth in this column, please let us know in the comments below.