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SummaryGroovy! Groovy! Groo-gr-gr-gr-groo-gr-gr-groovy!
The GoodWhen I was a kid, I loved Earthworm Jim. Not just the game, but the character and even the franchise. I remember getting excited the first time I saw the television series advertised on Kids WB and I recorded it every weekend. I had Earthworm Jim action figures. I even wrote a fan letter to Shiny asking if they were going to make a sequel and they wrote back, those great guys. I had Earthworm Jim posters and drawings on my wall that stayed up until my mom took them down when I left for college. I guess what I’m trying to say is; you should keep in mind that this review might be a little biased due to nostalgia. However, I will, as always, try and keep it as objective as possible.
Earthworm Jim is the story of a common earthworm that one day finds himself mutated by a super-suit. His first instinct is, of course, to travel the galaxy and kill the person who had the suit made, Queen Slug For A Butt, and rescue her hot twin sister, Princess-What’s-Her-Name. There’s no way of knowing the story if you don’t have the instruction booklet. There are no cutscenes or even any text-scrolls to let you know what’s going on. Really, though, there doesn’t have to be. Jim is an endearing character based off his weirdness alone. Plus, there’s no way to tie all the levels together, so just go with it.
Most of the game is a standard run-and-gun platformer. The levels twist and turn but there are never really any puzzles to figure out, so it’s all action. However, Earthworm Jim has a habit of mixing things up. Between levels you race Psycrow through space in sections called “Andy Asteroids”. Later, you have to pilot a fragile submarine through an underwater maze. There’s one level in which you have to defeat a boss by bashing him against a wall while bungee jumping. Most of the time, however, you simply have to get from point A to point B while shooting anything that gets in the way. Aside from your normal blaster, you can also use Jim’s head as a bullwhip to attack enemies or swing on hooks like Indiana Jones. If I hear anyone make the joke “use your head – literally” one more time, I’m going to punch the nearest convenient person.
Most of the art in Earthworm Jim was hand drawn, which was pretty rare for a game at the time. I remember Shiny using all sorts of buzzwords to describe their animation technique. Animotion, I think they called it. Basically they would draw everything out on cels and then scan them into a computer. Everything has a very clean and exaggerated look to it. The animations are absolutely astounding. The backgrounds are also very detailed and interesting. Instead of everything looking flat, the ground and ceilings had curves and twists to them. The result is some of the best graphics on the Super Nintendo.
The music is completely nuts. It ranges from heavy bassy songs to a really memorable banjo hootenanny that plays over the Andy Asteroid stages. The second level’s music is really amusing. It plays “Night on Bald Mountain” for a while before suddenly switching to elevator music accompanied by tortured screams. Outstanding! The sound effects are fairly decent, as well. The game makes heavy use of sound and voice clips, something that was quite rare on consoles at the time. The voice work on Jim is especially impressive, as it gives him more personality than most of the other video game characters at the time. It’s much easier to relate to a character who can actually talk as opposed to one that communicates entirely through abstract sound effects.
The BadThe overall challenge in Earthworm Jim is manageable, but frustration can quickly mount in the later stages. I’d like to reiterate that there is a difference between a game that is difficult and a game that is frustrating. For the first few levels, things are where they should be. Enemies whittle away at your health and you’re often required to make precise leaps. However, the last two levels introduce pester and insta-kill enemies. Enemies who can kill you instantly are, as far as I’m concerned, a sin in game design. Environmental hazards that kill you on contact are one thing, but when an enemy can ignore your health bar and kill you outright, then the game’s no longer playing by the rules.
The most annoying level in the entire game is, without a doubt, level 6: “For Pete’s Sake”. In this level you must help your adorable puppy buddy get to his home located on the most dangerous planet in the universe. To do so, you must whip him so he jumps over hazards, and also clear out any enemies in front of him. If he gets hurt, he attacks you and drags you back to the last checkpoint. It’s a fun and creative idea, but the enemies in this level are ridiculously annoying. There’s a flying saucer that will stun you and hold you in place for, like, a year while you watch helplessly as Peter walks off a cliff. There are also these stupid tentacle plants that will flick you off the side of a cliff whenever you get near them. Augh! I hate them so much! To make things even more ridiculous, the game actually gives you the option of extending the level! Oh god, no!
To further complicate things, there’s a finite number of continues. The only way you can earn more is by collecting enough fuel pods on the Andy Asteroid levels. I’m not sure why they chose to limit continues as it would still be a challenging game regardless. What really sucks, though, is the lack of a password or save system. That’s absolutely ridiculous, Earthworm Jim is a fairly lengthy game and it can be really vexing to play it in one sitting. When frustration mounts, the player should have the option to switch off the game and not lose all their progress. Having to sit down and play through the whole game just to get back to where you left off is extremely annoying.
The frustration isn’t helped by Jim’s somewhat questionable controls. It’s not that they’re weird or anything, they just seem unrefined. The whip is probably the biggest issue. It’s just too slow to be very useful in tense combat situations. It has quite a few frames to its animation, so the delay between pressing the button and the whip cracking is tremendous. It doesn’t help that the hit detection is sometimes questionable and that the animation can be interrupted. Another problem is with Jim’s propeller-head-copter hover-move-thing. You can hover for as long as you want but you have to keep tapping the B button to keep hovering. That’s a pain in the butt. Why can’t I just hold the button down? It isn’t like I’d gain some sort of cheap advantage since I can already hover as long as I want.
I think the game’s biggest problem is that, well, it just isn’t that great of a game. Yes, it has great music and graphics, it’s really charming, and the gameplay is solid enough. It’s just that there isn’t much to it. The gameplay itself doesn’t have any personality and is completely overshadowed by its lead character. There’s no real excitement or depth. All the boss battles are all very simple and boring. There are no hugely flashy and exciting memorable encounters. It’s a very standard game overall. Nothing sticks out behind the flash and pizzazz, it’s just flat.
The Bottom LineDespite its flaws, Earthworm Jim is a game that will always have a special place in my collection. A lot of creativity, talent, and love went in to making this game and it shows. The graphics are impressive, the music is top notch, and Jim is a weird and endearing character. However, the game itself is somewhat ho-hum and can become extremely frustrating. It may be based entirely off the qualities of its character and technology, but I think Earthworm Jim is still a really GOOD game that you should check out.
I would like to note that there is a substantial difference between the Super Nintendo and Genesis versions. Both versions have their advantages and disadvantages and I think it’s a matter of preference. The Genesis version has more sound and voice samples as well as an extra level. On the other hand, the Super Nintendo has improved graphics and higher quality music. There are also notable differences in the actual levels and gameplay. There are more pick-ups in the Genesis version and there tends to be more hazards as well, but the extra level makes the Genny version a bit more difficult.
How much better are the SNES’ graphics? They’re a lot more colourful, but the biggest difference is in the backgrounds. The SNES takes advantage of multiple parallax layers that look spectacular, while all the Genesis backgrounds are merely two layers. This is most noticeable in the first and fifth stages. On the other hand, the Genesis version seems to have more animations in a lot of places. How much better is the SNES music? It’s hard to say, I’ve heard opinions of people who feel that the Genesis version’s music was actually better, despite its lower quality. The Genesis’ extra sound effects are quite noticeable. There are extra sound bites, screams, and even a sound for when you trigger a secret item. Is the Genesis version’s extra level worth it? Well, I’m not sure. It’s a solid level, but the boss is a pain in the butt. Yet having a level omitted makes the SNES version feel incomplete next to the Genesis.
Either way you go, Earthworm Jim is a solid game. There is also an enhanced Sega CD and Windows version which adds extra levels and animations, as well as “CD quality” music. Unfortunately, they also don’t have the Super Nintendo’s awesome parallax layered backgrounds. Also, the Windows version can only be played in windowed mode, which sucks balls. There is an HD update coming to current generation systems which you might want to look out for it you’re having trouble deciding. I personally feel that an update is unnecessary since it’s already a great looking game, but that’s probably just the retro gamer in me talking. My choice is the Super Nintendo version, but that might be influenced by the fact that it’s the one I had as a kid. Also, if you’re someone who played the Genesis version, you probably don’t get the reference I made in the headline.