Shiny Entertainment’s Earthworm Jim was already a mad action-platformer, but Earthworm Jim 2 adds even more crazy gameplay and humor on top of it.
Earthworm Jim 2 (PC)
(USA 1995, developer: Shiny Entertainment (now defunct), publisher: Interplay, platforms: PC [DOS], Sega Mega Drive, Sega Saturn, PS1, SNES, GBA, Wii)
Earthworm Jim again has to save Princess What’s-Her-Name and defeat his arch nemesis Psy-Crow, while also taking care of a few cows and dog puppies that need saving, too.
Cartoon story, characters mayhem, part deux
Despite not having a particularly great story, being actually the same as in the original, the sequel is still entertaining enough in all its humorous slapstick scenes and even crazier level design. The villains remain as illustrious as before, with Major Mucus, Evil the Cat, and of course Psy-Crow making a return, only in different boss fights. Speaking of boss fights, Bob the Killer Goldfish also has an appearance and ends up to be just as useless as when Jim encounters him first. Peter Puppet, the dog that can suddently turn into a raging beast when being angry, is also back, but this time the hero has to save his puppies, while a few other memorable creatures join the weird cartoon roster. It’s all rather nonsensical, especially with an ending that defies even the irrationality of the series. But that’s what makes going through each level so great: one never knows what to expect next.
Crazy levels, crazy ideas
This also summarizes the level design best, because unlike the former game that was more or less a standard platformer, this time almost each level introduces more gameplay mechanics. There are actually only two levels that could be called normal run-and-gun affairs, and even these have a few weird segments, like carrying cows to a barn and when they become a ticking time bomb, one has to cool them off by jumping into water. This isn’t even the weirdest part, as at one time the player has to catch puppies thrown out of a window by a boss, making them jump on marshmallows trampoline-style into the safely hands of Peter Puppy, while also trying to catch a bomb that is then thrown back at the enemy. At another time one turns into a blind salamander wandering through the intestines of a giant creature, then one has to fly with Jim’s inflated head through another level, or the side-scrolling perspective suddenly changes into an isometric shooter. These are only a few examples of how wildly the action can become, so one won’t find a game that offers as much originality and craziness so easily.
Of course this whole back and forth between different gameplay styles raises the question if the game feels consistent and fun throughout. It’s obviously less consistent in level design and gameplay mechanics, but it retains that sense of surprise that makes most platformers so enjoyable. Usually one would say that mixing too many styles of play would hint at the developers not knowing what identity their game has and instead trying to please everyone. Fortunately, this isn’t the case here, because as wacky as the various levels are, they perfectly capture the feeling of watching different cartoons, switching back and forth, but with the same character as the lead. There are also some very ingenious ‘puzzles’, e.g. running around and making paperwork fly so that enemy file cabinets stop and open their drawers for Jim to use as ladders, or chasing a file cabinet and pushing another one that has a foot sticking out in its way, so that the other one falls over it. Scenes like these aren’t only very original, but very funny, too.
Dying a second time and maybe more
However, it’s not all positive if one looks at certain aspects of the game that don’t quite gel and result in frustration. The save game system is an absolute mess, requiring the player to collect three symbols in each level to skip it next time. If one misses only a single one, every level has to be played again if one hasn’t been able to collect all. The old password-system was way better and simply fair, because it just shouldn’t be part of a game to look for something that is often well hidden and that should actually be a reward at the end of a level. Then there are the typical trial-and-error sections in which one only finds out with sheer luck what to do. Even more annoying are the less responsive jump controls and a few segments in which enemies turn up out of nowhere. At least the overall difficulty can be adjusted with an easy mode that, unlike the original, is actually much easier to get through, although this doesn’t mean that there are still some very tricky passages that require memorizing each section of a level and pixel perfect timing.
Lovely looks and sounds of wackiness
The presentation of the game remains as fantastic as before, maybe even better compared to its predecessor. Fluid animations, great sprite work, and well-drawn backgrounds help to make the player imagine being in a cartoon. Then there’s the simply amazing soundtrack that has heavy guitar riffs, fast-and-furious as well as very melancholy piano pieces (the latter played during the blind salamander level), carnival, Carribean music, and one of the coolest Italian jingles accompanying the grab-the-puppies level. So just like the levels themselves, there is so much variety in the music and graphical presentation that one never feels bored.
Crazier, more awesome, but also better?
Earthworm Jim 2 is an awesome sequel to an already great game, but it doesn’t improve on the gameplay per se. Actually it still suffers from less responsive controls and many difficulty spikes, also introducing an unnecessarily cumbersome savegame system. If it weren’t for these problems, this would be an all-time-great among platformers. There are so many funny scenes, almost each level looks, sounds, and above all plays differently so that one doesn’t realize that the nonsensical fun is already over after only 2 or 3 hours.
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