When I was younger, I was a massive fan of Earthworm Jim. I remember renting it for the first time, seeing the promo for the cartoon, and even managing to beat it, despite my inexperience and underdeveloped thumbs. I once even wrote a letter to Shiny Entertainment, and asked if they would be creating a sequel, and they wrote back saying they were working on it. In the days before the internet, getting that kind of information straight from the source was so thrilling.
He’s a character that appealed to my childhood sensibilities. Weird, absurd, and wacky, with a tinge of crude humour. I followed the series all the way through to when it wasn’t good anymore.
I’m all grown-up now, my tastes have changed, I have to do my own grocery shopping, but every once and a while, it’s time to return to the games that made an impact on me when I could barely read. Truth be told, I only replayed the first game because I had an interest in returning to the second, but if you know me, you know I never do things in half measures. So, let’s take a look.
HERE COMES EARTHWORM JIM YOU KNOW THAT HE’S THE MIGHTY ONE
As it’s laid out in the excellently done instruction manual, Earthworm Jim was just an average earthworm, when one day a mechanical supersuit falls from space and lands on him. He instantly mutates into a larger worm, capable of manipulating the suit and taking advantage of its monstrous powers. Around the same time, he learns of a captive princess, and sets off on a galactic adventure to save her.
If none of that really makes sense, just wait until you see the game.
Earthworm Jim is your typical platformer. Each stage has a beginning and end, and you have to get from the former to the latter without dying too much. Helping you survive is your really big gun and your head, which can be used to whip onto hooks, whip enemies, and slow your descent. That’s not the whole can of worms, though, because most of the levels present a new wrinkle to test your skills. It’s not always as simple as mowing everything down in your way and slapping a boss around.
GROOVY! GROOVY! GROOV-GR-GR-GR-GR GROOVY! GROOVY!
Take, for example, the stage where you have to bungie jump over a pool of mucus, avoiding a deadly fish creature at the bottom, while also trying to shove your opponent into the wall in an effort to break his cord. Or the harrowing level that has you navigate an underwater maze in a fragile glass submarine. Don’t worry, you’ll get lots of opportunity to blast things, but you’ll also have to prove you can adapt.
It’s this variety that makes every stage memorable and helps Earthworm Jim stand out from other games that were released in the era. The level design itself is sort of underwhelming, however. There’s a lot of fun stuff to see, but actually getting to it can be a bit less than exciting. It just doesn’t flow together all that well, like someone was just trying to make use of the space available, rather than present something refined and well planned.
SNOT A PROBLEM
There’s a lot of pizazz that buries that. It uses a technique called Digicel, first pioneered by Virgin Interactive. It’s the practice of scanning traditional animation cells into a digital image to allow for truly hand drawn and animated sprites. The result is extremely expressive characters with ridiculously smooth animations, which it makes thorough use of. It’s also aged a lot better than the practice of creating sprites from 3D models, like in Donkey Kong Country.
The backgrounds are similarly well done, showing a great deal of small details and special effects. The SNES version makes use of a lot of really cool parallax effects to add depth to the stages, which strangely didn’t seem to make it into even the special editions that would come later.
It makes the game’s personality really stand out. The way that enemies beat up on Jim, his over-emphasized grimace, and even his idle animations give him a lot of character that has helped him remain in the community’s collective memory for so long. His supporting characters are likewise as memorable, ranging from the wacky Professor Monkey-for-a-Head, to the ineffectual Bob the Goldfish, and even the fair weather friend, Peter Puppy. Earthworm Jim really delivers as a full aesthetic package.
DOWN THE TUBES
Though, it isn’t without its deficiencies. While EWJ has a lot going for it, there are some places where it’s a bit shaky. The biggest example of a small problem that has big implications is with Jim’s blaster power-up. Around levels, you find pick-ups that allow you to fire one big blast, but there’s no way to save it for later. You can’t switch back to rapid fire, which means that the power-up you just got is going to be used on the next enemy, regardless of how much a threat it is. Oh, and you better not miss.
That’s not a deal breaker, though, but the other place where things could have been tightened is with regards to enemies that can kill you in a single hit. That’s absolute B.S. This is particularly egregious in the last level, but the game’s use of insta-death is pretty vexing throughout. It’s not at all forgiving about it.
It’s a game with a pretty stiff challenge, regardless. Part of this comes from the fact that the hit detection is pretty wonky, which makes any sort of precision targeting all but impossible. Make no mistake, though, it’s also difficult because it has a whole lot of tricky tricks up its sleeve. I’ve played it enough so that nightmarish sections like the Down the Tubes sub sprint isn’t as difficult as it was when I was a kid, but I still recognize that it’s no cakewalk.
To really screw with you, though, the game has a limited continue system, which is always a fly in my ointment whenever it crops up.
THE WHOLE CAN OF WORMS
I probably made my stance pretty clear in the intro, but I love Earthworm Jim.
It’s far from your standard platformer, packing in tonnes of variety to keep you on your toes the whole time. Issues like the power-up system, the limited lives and continues, and the penchant for instant death can be someone vexing, but there’s enough here to keep you going, well past the point of frustration. Hell, the music alone makes it a worthwhile trek.
I feel it’s necessary to note that, while I’m using this review to cover all the versions of the game, they do feature some pretty significant differences. The SNES version, for example, is prettier, but it has an entire level cut from it, and the Genesis version features more animation. Likewise, the Special Edition versions have additional levels, which didn’t make it into the most recent HD version. Speaking of which, the HD version has multiplayer, which is a novelty, but it’s there.
It all comes down to a matter of preference, but regardless of which version you play, you’re in for a good time.
This review was conducted on an SNES with an original cartridge copy of the game. It’s just what the author played as a kid, so that’s her preference. Her parents bought it for her when she too young to have money.