torstai 19. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Earthworm Jim (1994)

Genre(s): Action / Platform
Released: 1994
Available on: GB, GBA, GEN, GG, PC, Sega-CD, SMS, SNES, Virtual Console
Developer(s): Shiny Entertainment, Kinesoft, Eurocom Entertainment Software, Game Titan
Publisher(s): Playmates, Virgin, Activision, Majesco Games
Players: 1

Once more, I feel the need to return to the mid-90’s platformer trend. Each game developer that came after Nintendo and Sega had their own platformer, in better (Capcom’s Mega Man) and worse (Accolade’s Bubsy the Bobcat). When Playmates, Virgin and totally inexperienced developer Shiny Entertainment originally announced their collaboration on a new platformer entitled Earthworm Jim, nobody knew what to expect or what kind of a cult following this enigmatic, odd title would go on to create. With its core awesomeness and weird, but totally functional humour, Earthworm Jim became a sleeper hit that spawned an excellent animated series, and several immortal catchphrases in the gaming community. This game played a definite part in encouraging game designers to make humour a bigger part in all of their future endeavors. Today, Earthworm Jim is still hailed as one of the greatest platformers and funniest games ever made.

It’s furiously difficult, but you just can’t stop laughing!

Long ago, Jim was just an ordinary earthworm, living on some poor schmuck’s backyard, and digging up dirt was the sole purpose of his life. He held no meaning to the rest of the world. One day, without Jim’s knowing, there was a duel deep in outer space, between a space pilot and Psy-Crow, the most trusted henchman of the evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed Slug-for-a-Butt. The pilot was carrying an Ultra-high-tech-indestructible-super-space-cyber-suit commissioned by the Queen and built by Professor Monkey-for-a-Head. During the struggle, the suit fell, down to Earth and right on top of Jim. The puny earthworm mutated into an intergalactic superhero. Jim soon fell for the Queen’s sister, Princess What’s-Her-Name. When the Princess is kidnapped by her notably uglier sibling, Jim sets out to rescue his significant other with the powers and high intelligence – on earthworm standards – bestowed upon him.

Audiovisual downsides. The developers tried to do a little too much with the original Genesis version of the game, nearly exceeding the platform’s capacity. The 3D effects in Andy Asteroids? don’t look too good, and the pixelated mist in What the Heck?, for example, looks very rough. The animation, however, is very smooth and there are some really amusing clips which were cut out from all the future ports of the game. The Genesis version is Earthworm Jim in its purest form, despite the graphical flaws cancelled out in later versions. There are much more sound effects and voice samples than in any other ports – the Genesis’ sample rate is a bit screechy, but not disturbingly so. The audiovisual qualities of the game are a very large part of its core design and general amusement. Some people return to the game just to hear those “WHAMMA!!!”:s, “Groovy!”:s, and Jim’s hilarious rant after losing the Andy Asteroids? race. The music, written by Mark Miller, is downright awesome and diverse, and right up there with some of the greatest video game soundtracks of the time. Overall, the game looks and sounds extremely nice for about 95% of the time, for a Genesis game at the very least.

A dancing trash can. On wheels. Everyday
stuff in New Junk City.
The game is so funny, moreover in a deliciously surreal way, that it actually hurts. Like I said, the amusement this game offers up with its humour alone is one of the main reasons many people, including me, return to Earthworm Jim periodically, even if it is an extremely difficult game, and not always even too enjoyable because of that. It starts out as a quite basic mix of a run ‘n’ gun game and a platformer, but quickly builds up into a much more diverse title hard to really categorize. It’s extremely innovative. All of the stages have specific special sequences, in the boss fights or the stage itself. The first stage, New Junk City, starts out pretty normally on the franchise’s own scale – never mind rabid piranha poodles or the hilarious effects that are there from the very beginning – until you notice that you can’t make progress before launching a cow high up into the air with no apparent reason at all, using a refridgerator as leverage. There’s no reward for it except that you’re able to move on again, the game announces “COW LAUNCHED”, and that’s it! What the hell? The surreality and the complete, utter irrelevancy of the humour is what makes the game so damn funny. The stages themselves, up until a certain point in the game, will make you snicker so much that you’ll probably lose control of the game itself a couple of times. Those slimy enemy lawyers in What the Heck? – which is of course the game’s family friendly version of Hell – were the final breaking point for me back in the day. I had to keep playing the game, no matter how frustrating it was. I was obsessed to see what lied behind each new corner.

We still haven’t reached the point of going over the basics, so let’s get started already. In his normal state, Jim has a series of easily learned basic methods of movement and offense, which you’ll have to master extremely quick, ‘cause the game gets very difficult extremely quick. Jim has two standard attacks: the A button is used to whip out Jim’s blaster and, well, start blasting. From time to time, as you’re gathering ammo for the blaster, you might stumble across ammo icons that have a field of electricity surrounding them. These are atomic supershots, which will blast any regular enemy to oblivion with one single shot, whereas they eat a few clips whenever you’re using normal ammo. The B button controls Jim’s physical earthworm body, which can be used as a whip against enemies, a rope to swing on or hang from, whatever clever use comes your way. The C button is used for jumping. By mashing the C button – which is quite odd, since usually in games you just hold the button down for the same result – you can make Jim descend slower by using his natural body as a chopper blade. The game forces you to utilize other talents with different stipulations from time to time. In the boss fight against Evil the Cat, the ruler of Heck, you’re forced to cope without the power suit in the first part of the duel, which practically means you can’t do anything but jump. Who’s actually the hero here, Jim or the suit that seems to have a mind of its own? For the most part of Down the Tubes, you’ll be controlling an underwater pod by using 360 degrees of movement to your advantage. Might sound easy, but I shit you not when I say this stage is one of the most difficult stages in any game, ever. What makes it so is a very strict, almost seamless time limit. If your time runs out or you bump into a wall too many times while you’re trying to navigate the rocky passages, quickly, you’re dead worm meat. It took me years to beat this stage. 13 years to be exact. Really. You have to use every single half a second to your advantage, without crashing your pod.

The enemies in the game range from regular crows (Psy-Crow minions, I gather) to a piranha poodle aptly named Fifi, to steroid-pumped felines, to those slimy lawyers I mentioned. The enemies are so funny in design that sometimes it really doesn’t matter at all when they’re beating the shit out of Jim – you want them to! The bosses are also some of the coolest ever; the character of Evil the Cat’s my favourite, but Bob the Killer Goldfish, Major Mucus, Psy-Crow and Queen yada-yada Slug-for-a-Butt don’t come too far behind. The many boss fights against Psy-Crow are very simple, and depending on how well you do, you might not have to fight him randomly at all. Between the stages, there is a space racing minigame, a sort of bonus stage entitled Andy Asteroids?. You’ll be racing Psy-Crow in a 3D tube, which is apparently some sort of wormhole; how fitting. You’ll have power-ups – speed boosts and temporary shields – coming your way among all the asteroids you’d best avoid, to beat Psy-Crow. You can also sabotage his efforts by pushing him straight into a meteor shower. These races are fun at first, unfortunately they remain the same throughout the game. So, if you lose the race at any point, the only punishment you receive is that you have to fight the winner in a very simple, unchanging duel; he just requires four hits, two from your blaster and another two from your “whip”.

Down the Tubes. Also goes by the name
of Say Goodbye to Your Self Esteem.
The game is not too difficult... before AND after Down the Tubes. That stage is something so indescribable in difficulty, and it’s the third stage of the game! Amazing! Anyone smell Battletoads? There are eight stages in all, and I would imagine For Pete’s Sake and Buttville handing out a fair amount of trouble to many gamers who thought this would be yet another easy rental, but my honest opinion? If someone gets through the second half of Down the Tubes alive, (s)he will practically, for all intents and purposes, beat the game at that point. Adding to the challenge, as well as some very unwelcome, sheer frustration, is only one single chance to continue after you’ve lost all your lives.

Earthworm Jim is great, can’t help it. It’s difficult, frustrating, it borders on downright annoying, it was designed to induce laughter but it just as easily, unfairly, drives one to tears. Yet, it is so God damn funny and weird, that you just can’t get enough of it. You’re addicted to it, there’s no reasonable explanation. You just simply must see every twist and turn, and how it all ends. Definitely a true, obsessed gamer’s choice.

Graphics : 8.8
Sound : 9.4
Playability : 8.4
Challenge : 9.2
Overall : 8.6


The SNES port excludes some minor graphical effects used in the original Genesis game, but that doesn’t mean the game is stripped; far from it. First of all the grain of Genesis graphics in general is gone. The 3D effects work much better on this bigger capacity, the animation’s even smoother, the sprites are bigger and just about every audiovisual element’s a bit more polished. However, some of the funniest phrases and sound effects were disgracefully cut out from this port – Jim’s a lot less talkative than in the original game.

As far as gameplay’s concerned, these two versions are as identical as they come. I personally feel more at home with a SNES controller than the Genesis’ love handle, that’s probably why I enjoy the SNES version a slight bit more than the original. The developers didn’t make any major practical changes, which means Down the Tubes is still living hell among the rest of them.

Evil the Cat's on the prowl.
I feel that I’ve said everything necessary regarding the game’s level of difficulty, and moreover, some CERTAIN STAGES. The SNES version still gives you that one measly chance to continue, no more and no less, and thus you must cope with the fact that if you screw up enough times in Down the Tubes and beyond, you’ll be forced to start the game all over again.

Yup, Earthworm Jim’s still a great game, regardless of which version you play and curse at. This version was one of the first SNES games I bought, and therefore it has special significance to me as a person and a gamer. Everyone else seems to take sides with the Genesis version, when it comes to the superior port. There really ain’t much but audiovisual differences. The Genesis game is a bit funnier with its exclusive sound clips, the SNES port looks better. So, they both have their minor qualities over each other, if you ask me.

Graphics : 9.1
Sound : 9.2
Playability : 8.4
Challenge : 9.2
Overall : 8.6


GameRankings: 60.00% (GB), 66.13% (GBA), 82.93% (GEN), 71.00% (PC), 82.58% (SNES)

Nintendo Power ranks Earthworm Jim #114 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

The game spawned one official sequel developed by Shiny Entertainment, two more sequels for PC, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color which weren’t authorized by the developers of the original games, and an animated TV show which ran for two seasons in 1995-1996.

The music of the Sega-CD version of the game was composed by Tommy Tallarico instead of Mark Miller. Tallarico went on to compose the music for all ports of Earthworm Jim 2, released in 1995. He is the cousin of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler (a.k.a. Steven Tallarico).

An enhanced remake of the game, entitled Earthworm Jim HD, was released on the Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network in August, 2010. This version of the game was developed and published by Gameloft.

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