torstai 19. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Earthworm Jim 2 (1995)

Genre(s): Action / Platform
Released: 1995
Available on: GBA, GEN, PC, PS1, SAT, SNES, Virtual Console
Developer(s): Shiny Entertainment, Screaming Pink, Super Empire
Publisher(s): Playmates, Virgin, Majesco Games
Players: 1

Thanks to the enormous success of the first game, as well as the cartoon that launched in 1995, the arrival of Earthworm Jim 2 was inevitable. Although the game didn’t sell quite as well as its predecessor, it was stacked with more stages, humour and addictive gameplay than the first one. Earthworm Jim 2 is a true classic, sadly overshadowed by its predecessor and forgotten by many.

Leave no cow behind

Ever since the demise of his employer Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-Butt, Psy-Crow has been searching for a loophole that would make him the ruler of the royal family. He kidnaps Princess What’s-Her-Name with plans to marry her so he would automatically be crowned king one day. Earthworm Jim gives chase to the loony bird and his reluctant bride-to-be, and deals with some twisted occurrences on his way to Lost Vegas.

Earthworm Jim 2 is pretty much the most visually impressive Genesis game there is. One of the last, too, marked by its eventual release on Sega’s then brand new Saturn console as well. No needless effects containing risks to look bad due to an obsolete processing unit, just very smooth and colourful animation, and still some superb, technically generic effects that seal the fine legacy of the Sega Genesis. The visual design of the game is off the charts. The music by Tommy Tallarico is equally awesome; there are some remixed classical tunes such as Moonlight Sonata, as well as some rearranged folk songs to go with the magnificent, original earthworm groove. Marvellously produced voice samples and sound effects seal the deal – we have come a longer way from the first game than expected.

Aliens obsessed with the abduction of cows, angry grannies falling down staircases, lawyers gone mad over loads of paperwork, a crazed game show host whose questions don’t make any sense IN any sense, a stage based on soaring through a theme park with a head full of helium gas... yes, Earthworm Jim is back! There is only one single straightforward platforming stage with a standard boss in the whole game, which consists of nine stages overall, plus a recurring “bonus stage”. I will go over this counterpart to the first game’s Andy Asteroids? stage soon enough. In every other stage, there’s a special task, a stipulation or mean to progress. The developers went a few extra miles by cooking up some craziest ideas ever for this game. Some of these ideas work, but some take away from the intensity that’s supposed to be present in an action-oriented platformer. You see, the game starts out really slow. The first stage, Anything But Tangerines, is fun – but after that, two very boring stages turn up, back to back. After you’re done with those, you’re introduced to this game’s counterpart to Down the Tubes, a flying stage named The Flyin’ King. What I meant by the comparison to one of the toughest stages in gaming history is that it’s the turning point for a lot of players; the kind of stage you’ll get stuck in for a long while. Considering what the game has offered up so far, many players probably want to ditch it altogether. My advice: don’t do it. The Flyin’ King is the last test of mental strength on that scale in the whole game, just like Down the Tubes. The game gets better towards the end, in every single sense; more comfortable, more diverse AND better than the original Earthworm Jim.

Don't you worry, milk machine. Earthworm Jim
to the rescue!
So, before we take a closer look at the stages and settings – I feel obligated to do so since each stage differs so much from the last – let’s go over Jim’s items and abilities. The blaster can be upgraded this time, in addition to the enhanced atomic blast. There are actually many different weapons, such as a homing missile (which looks like a house; get it, HOMING missile?) and a bubble gun, which has no use at all. It’s a pure comic relief. Although you can still use Jim’s physical body to whip enemies, you can’t use it to grapple or hover in the air. Instead, you use Snott for both of these tasks. Snott is literally a living, breathing piece of mucus attached to Jim’s suit – according to the storyline, he is the space pilot who stole Jim’s suit from the Queen and was then attacked by Psy-Crow, which resulted in Jim becoming the superworm he is. Anyway, Snott can be stretched to great lengths and morphed into a slimy parachute. He’s way more practical than Jim’s earlier methods, in my opinion. For example, you no longer need to mash the C button to hover, you just hold it down like in any other game.

On to the stages. Anything But Tangerines starts out quite straightforward on a Jim scale, but soon you’ll have to carry pigs around for no apparent reason, cleverly dispatch Drone Cats by taking advantage of your junk-filled surroundings, dodge cranky old women falling down large staircases and finally defEAT Bob the Killer Goldfish in what is perhaps the most hilarious boss “fight” ever. In Lorenzen’s Soil, you have to make your way through some muddy pipelines and defeat Pedro Pupa within a time limit, which is actually pretty forgiving, and you’re able to replenish the timer with clock power-ups along the way. Like I said, this isn’t my favourite stage, but the next one’s even worse. The extremely weird Jim’s Now a Blind Cave Salamander! looks much better than it plays out like; it’s probably the most surreal stage in the game. Jim is disguised, for no given reason, as a salamander called Blind Sally, and he makes his way through intestines, bumping into house interiors on the way and some stuff that came out of a pinball table. Deeper down, there’s also an unnamed game show host, who asks totally random questions with less than random answers. For example, one of the questions is: “What colour is Jim’s red gun?”, and the possible answers are “a. Blue, b. Green, c. Yellow”. Cooky! I love the surreality in this, but the stage itself is a boring stop along the way as far as gameplay is concerned. Then, The Flyin’ King. It’s hell. Jim must use his pocket rocket to fly over a tropical holiday resort and constantly push an airborne bomb forward to blow up Major Mucus, whose lair is on the other side of the area. Manouvering the bomb and fending off enemies at the same time is very difficult, frustrating as hell. You can die from enemy attacks on this delightful little trip, and you can also inadvertently blow up the bomb yourself, which means you’ll have to travel back to the beginning of the stage to get a new one and start the trip from scratch. Just before encountering Major Mucus and after surviving all those pig cannonballs and airborne battle robots, you’ll have some flying barricades of snot coming your way from random spots. These push the bomb back and you over the edge, mentally. Once you have beaten the stage, however, which is absolutely possible and eventually even likely, breathe deep, ‘cause you’ve just completed what I think is the most difficult stage in the game.

The game's quite a TRIP...
Udderly Abducted is perhaps the funniest stage in the game. Here, the central theme is the common myth of aliens being obsessed with cows, that are already another Earthworm Jim staple. You’ll have to carry cows, that strangely enough are trapped inside flowers (?!), to the safety of their pens to proceed in the stage. Some of the cows are rigged with bomb fuses, and when you grab a fused cow, you must first throw her into a conveniently placed bathtub to put out the fire. Add in some possessed cow udders trying to kill you and you’ve got yourself a ball, Earthworm Jim style. The stage looks much stranger than it sounds like, believe me. In Inflated Head, Evil the Cat makes his glorious return and literally attempts to pop Jim’s head. You see, you’ll be travelling upwards through a theme park with Jim’s head full of helium. Evil does everything he can to pop your “balloon” and send you back to the beginning of the stage, forcing you to do it all over again until you can figure out an effective way to get past each obstacle in one run. This stage, on the other hand, is much more fun than it sounds like, and of course, I’m a fan of Evil. ISO-9000 is a very LSD induced stage, in which you are trapped inside the infernal world of paperwork, chased by crazed lawyers and filing cabinets. Level Ate is the only wholly straightforward stage in the game, in which you must clash through tons of large portions of fast food before becoming fast food yourself. We’re in the last stage, which is a simple, yet very challenging gauntlet run against Psy-Crow – aptly titled See Jim Run, Run Jim Run!. Be prepared to laugh your ass off or just glare at the screen with your mouth wide open – the ending is probably the most fucked up 16-bit scene ever. The ridiculous and somewhat enigmatic amount of cows in the game – including the ones that pop up after each beaten stage to mutter the compliment “well done” – is a clue to the big finale, but I won’t give out more. You’ve got to see it yourself.

I almost missed something which I already mentioned: the so called “bonus stage”. Puppy Love replaces Andy Asteroids? as the minigame. It has to be beaten every time in order to make progress in the game, but you don’t have to do it more than three times during the course of the game. In Puppy Love, you are put through four rounds of saving Pete’s puppies from getting splattered across a courtyard by the crazed Psy-Crow. To do this, you must use a giant marshmallow (?) to steer the puppies towards Pete’s doghouse whenever Psy-Crow throws them out the window of his tall shack. Whenever you fail to save four puppies from their demise, Pete does you-know-what, if you were an avid player of the first game or watched the TV show. So how to beat this stage? Once in a while, Psy-Crow throws out a special item instead of a puppy. They’re usually ordinary collectables, sometimes they’re bombs. Whenever Pete sees a bomb fall into the doghouse, he frantically grabs it and throws it back into Psy-Crow’s shack, effectively ending a round. So, you don’t have to do anything except steer your makeshift trampoline – but be warned, the going gets pretty tough towards the end. It’s fun, though.

Overall, though it begins a bit slow, Earthworm Jim 2 is an amazing, amusing, rad action platformer, which is not to be ignored in any name by those who already loved the first game, or newbies that are not yet familiar with the Earthworm brand. It’s not as hard as the first game, there’s nothing as difficult as the first game’s planes of Hell which I’ll gladly leave unmentioned by name at this point, but there are few stages which will give you plenty to curse about; The Flyin’ King and the final gauntlet being the worst of them. The game is difficult, yes, but not impossible by any means. Unlimited continues for the win!

Yes, I do think that despite the fact it didn’t garner in nearly as much attention from the media as the first game did, Earthworm Jim 2 is better, less frustrating and a more casual game than the first one. More jokes, better gameplay... the game might lack some intensity during the first half an hour into it, but it never stops entertaining the player in at least some sense. One of the less heralded gems of each platform it came out on.

Graphics : 9.5
Sound : 9.3
Playability : 8.6
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 8.8


The SNES version looks 99,9% identical to the Genesis version except for some colour schemes and the checkpoints, which are now very distinct signs instead of those things that look like eyes. The lack of graphical development is kind of a shame, because I know for certain they could’ve pushed the envelope just a bit further. The sound effects and music are slightly remixed and polished, yet once again, some clips were inexplicably cut from this port.

I love this part.
Once again, the controls are perfectly identical, just slightly modified to match the SNES control scheme, of course. I might feel more at home with a SNES controller, it’s a personal thing. Yet, I think the Genesis version was more playable by a small, tiny hunch. That’s rare coming from me, so write it down! Perhaps the most notable difference in the whole game is that the stage originally called Jim’s Now a Blind Cave Salamander! is renamed The Villi People. How radical!

The two games are practically 100% identical, and there’s really nothing new to say about the SNES version, that hasn’t already been said about the original.

Graphics : 9.2
Sound : 9.1
Playability : 8.6
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 8.8


GameRankings: 37.56% (GBA), 90.00% (GEN), 77.50% (PS1), 85.00% (SAT), 87.50% (SNES)

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