Ready, Aim, Tomatoes – the rarely remembered ToeJam & Earl shoot’em up

An early marketing strategy for the Mega Drive centred around using renown celebrities, with such games as Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Joe Montana Football helping SEGA claim a foothold in the market.

Once a certain hedgehog arrived on the scene, this strategy became less crucial – with a hip new mascot, SEGA no longer needed to associate their flagship console with celebrities of the era. Platform games starring colourful, attitude-filled, characters were now leading the way. If you’re under the impression this is a segway into how ToeJam & Earl came to be, then you’re mistaken – the bodacious alien duo made their debut a whole six months before Sonic the Hedgehog.

Come 1992, SEGA was getting ready to launch the Menacer light gun. This was their answer to Nintendo’s already released Super Scope and the successor to the Master System’s Light Phaser.

SEGA, of course, needed a range of games to support their new peripheral, along with a pack-in title to rival Nintendo’s Super Scope Six. SEGA producer Mac Senour suggested instead of a typical collection of side-scrolling shooters and shooting galleries, the development team should use their own catalogue of licenses and characters to create a star-studded compilation. Recalling their previous marketing ploy this, somewhat bizarrely, included sports mini-games based on Joe Montana and David Robinson.

Using already established brands and franchises to sell the Menacer, rather than create new IP, was a sound enough idea but for reasons numerous, it never came to full fruition. Perhaps crumbling under their own ambition (even in 1992, licenses had complications), SEGA went on to develop just one light-gun game based on existing characters – Ready, Aim, Tomatoes, starring ToeJam & Earl.

Being part of the duly named Menacer Six Game Cartridge, Ready, Aim, Tomatoes was a straightforward side-scrolling shooter, borrowing music and sprites from the original TJ&E. Playing as ToeJam (something not particularly obvious due to the first-person perspective) it was a simple case of firing tomatoes at the usual assortment of oddball enemies, while picking up the occasional rapid-fire power-up, and using bombs proficiently to clear the screen instantly.

Smaller enemies doled out more points – due to being harder to hit – and it was possible to backtrack to mop up any enemies missed.

Earl took pride of place in the corner of the screen, watching over the action while occasionally tucking into ice cream – a neat touch that helped inject a sense of personality.

Out of all the titles on the Menacer Six Game Cartridge, this was the best of the bunch. Livelier and more spritely than the likes of the bug blaster Pest Control and the tedious tank shooter Front Line, it not only put player’s shooting accuracy to the test but also had some fiendishly challenging score targets to meet. New enemies and an arranged soundtrack wouldn’t have gone amiss, though – heavy asset recycling made it clear Ready, Aim, Tomatoes was put together with haste.

For the record, the Menacer was a commercial and critical failure. Terminator 2: The Arcade Game was the only other title to launch alongside the add-on, making it pretty much dead on arrival. Almost an entire year passed until the third Menacer compatible title launched – Mad Dog McCree for the Mega CD. It’s easy to imagine most Menacers languishing in deep inside wardrobes by this point.

Ready, Aim, Tomatoes does have a legacy of sorts, however. In 2005, Radica released an officially licensed plug-and-play Menacer TV game, resembling a generic light gun rather than staying true to the modular original. The Menacer’s original pack-in titles came built in, and due to Ready, Aim, Tomatoes’ inclusion, good old ToeJam & Earl took centre stage on the packaging. We imagine their presence alone was enough to help shift units, if only a handful – the scarcity of Radica’s plug ‘n play suggests the Menacer’s second coming was about as successful as its first.

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