Before Shiny Entertainment did the crazy and fun action-adventure MDK, the company created the memorably comic run-and-gun platformer Earthworm Jim.
Earthworm Jim (PC)
(USA 1994, developer: Shiny Entertainment (now defunct), publisher: Interplay, platforms: PC [DOS/Windows], Sega Mega Drive, Sega Game Gear, Sega CD, SNES, Game Boy, GBA)
As an alien space suit falls down from the sky on Earthworm Jim, he receives super powers and has to rescue Princess What’s-Her-Name from the evil Psy-Crow.
A cartoon brought to platforming life
Iconic platforming heroes were numerous in the 90ies, but not every anthropomorphic mascot would be remembered years after, probably because some were interchangeable and others simply starred in a bad game. Fortunately, Earthworm Jim has lost none of his/its coolness and above all else uniqueness. Simply the idea to put a worm, one of nature’s most overlooked and often stamped on or washed away creatures, into a power-suit and give it a cannon is genius. But the weirdness doesn’t stop there, because it’s the villains Jim has to face that make the world even more memorable. Illustrious names like Psy-Crow, Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, Evil the Cat, Bob the Killer Goldfish, Major Mucus, and Professor Monkey-For-A-Head turn the title into a Saturday morning cartoon series that is both fun for the young but also weird enough for adults to enjoy. Of course the story about rescuing the princess isn’t new, but the way how it’s told in such a humorous and self-referential way at times, poking fun at all the hero and damsel in distress themes, is priceless. There might not be much in the way of cut-scenes, but blasting and jumping through all the strange worlds is enough to keep the player going.
The level design always introduces new crazy ideas, although these aren’t always of the same high quality. For example, racing Psy-Crow in a pseudo-3D level through asteroids, picking up speed and invincibility items to come first is fun the first time, but it can get very repetitive soon after. What is even worse is a downright unfair section in which one has to push Major Mucus on a bungee rope against rocks. Once or twice it’s quite original, but the last phase has more to do with luck rather than skill, as each time one is hit, one’s own rope gets thinner, and as it’s nearly impossible to evade certain whirlwind attacks of the enemy, making it an almost impossible level to beat. There’s also a level in which one has to escort a small dog who when falling into chasms turns into a raging monster and attacks Jim. Using Jim’s head as a whip to catapult the dog over precipices, simultaneously trying to fight off enemies and also jumping right after is an exercise in both timing and frustration.
If this all sounds negative, then it’s because it’s such a shame that one is torn between being excited about the next great idea or funny scene and then tearing one’s hair out because of unresponsive controls and a high difficulty curve even on the lowest level. One could probably finish the game in about 3 hours, but 6 is more realistic, because there are just so many ways to die, with trial and error sections in abundance. It’s good to have a symbol code system for each level, and there are a few checkpoints, but this still doesn’t make the game a cakewalk. It’s possible to pick up some goodies along the way, like more powerful weapons or even extra lives, but reaching these always involves the risk of losing a life anyway. In medium difficulties it’s also rather annoying that one can get easily stuck when firing too many bullets which can only be reloaded when waiting a while. Taking into account that some bosses are pretty tough to beat if one doesn’t have a certain weapon, one can’t shake the feeling that a bit more fine-tuning in gameplay would have made the game far better. Learning by dying is more likely to be how one progresses, remembering all the pitfalls and where enemies show up. The boss fights often require different approaches to master, and while they’re not mindblowing-ly original, they still make for some pretty cool scenes.
Cartoon looks and sounds
Graphically, the game might not have the highest resolution, but the attention to detail in the colorful backgrounds and especially the fluid animations of each character remains impressive. Even if it’s sometimes difficult to take a breather, one will see so many great things in each level, and the way how Jim makes funny gestures when being inactive gives the whole game a sense of cartoon life that makes it just as enjoyable to look at today as when it was released. Even better is the soundtrack that features great guitar riffs in addition to other synth tunes that change with each new level. There isn’t much voice acting, but hearing Jim say “Groovie” is often enough to raise a smile even in the most difficult stages of the game.
A classic for better or worse
Earthworm Jim has everything one could wish for in a classic platformer: funny and memorable characters in weird settings and situations, a great soundtrack, detailed backgrounds and nice animations. However, it also has what many modern gamers will hate about it: unresponsive controls and just too many difficulty spikes. It remains a cult classic, but not a very accessible one for beginners who want to play it for the great art style and wicked sense of humor.</p<
It’s also worth noting that I reviewed the PC DOS-version which seems to have quite a few control and other issues. It’s true that playing with a keyboard isn’t a lot of fun, but one can get used to it. There’s also a Windows Special Edition that includes more levels, but this isn’t available on GOG or Steam (although I have it as a physical copy). Purists would maybe want to check out the original console versions, but as far as availability and easier access goes, this isn’t such a bad port, as I could finish the game without any problems, except lots of trying and dying.
Buy the digital PC version (together with Earthworm Jim 2) on
Buy the digital version for PC on
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