Earthworm Jim – Sega Genesis
Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Publisher: Playmates Interactive
Release Date (NA): August 2nd, 1994
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
It all started with a Taco Bell commercial. “What? Taco Bell? What does that have to do with Earthworm Jim??” Allow me to explain. Back in 1996, Taco Bell was offering toys for a video game character who was already about to take a misstep into the waning portion of his career. I got my first Earthworm Jim toy, and from there the obsession began:
“What is this character?”
“Where did he come from?”
“Where can I get more?”
From that point on I began a quest to do just that. Whispers around school indicated that Toys”R”Us carried a selection of action figures based on this peculiar hero. Then I heard talk of a video game.
A video game??
Of course. It all started as a video game, amidst the height of the 4th generation console wars.
I eventually found the cart resting comfortably within the confines of my Genesis Model 2 slot, ready to show me everything it was made of. And oh boy, let me tell you…
So what is it about this game that had such an appeal to the boy I once was?
Well, he used his head/body as a whip! And that’s awesome!
And still is to an adult in his latter twenties.
But as I grew older I noticed that there was far more to this screwball universe than the younger me realized.
With a cast of zany, creative characters you would expect nothing more than a goofy atmosphere. But there’s something else, something unexpected about the game which makes it stand out so much more.
It takes itself seriously.
It’s cool, it’s got style. Jim really is “a worm with an attitude… and a really BIG gun!” The fact that the game is serious in tone and allows for the absurdity of the world and characters to speak for its comedic element lends this title a subtle brand of humor rarely done right (I’m looking at you, Earthworm Jim 2!).
You look at Jim and you see the determined scowl of an ass-kicker. His enemies also appear to be the kind of mean customers you’d avoid eye contact with when crossing paths. There’s a grittiness to the art style that even translates into the brightly colored sprites you see on screen, coalescing perfectly with the sillier elements in the game. I mean, a character as weird as a monkey-headed professor cannot be taken seriously until you see the edgy lines in which this villain is etched.
The concept itself is a kind of absurd that cannot be done through formulaic means. It’s quite brilliant, really. Think about it; you take a creature as inane as a worm and stick it inside a super suit. Pit him against a giant crow, an evil cat, a ranked military officer from some mucus world, and send him after a Princess whose name nobody can seem to remember. None of it makes sense. But it works, believe me.
Aside from the wacky humor, creative concept, and gah-roovy toy line, Earthworm Jim looks amazing. From the cover art to that grungy, yet colorful wasteland we all know as New Junk City, Earthworm Jim is an incredibly, artfully designed game.
Using a technique dubbed animotion, the developers created the world you see before you by means of traditional cel-animation. Doing so gave this game a look that stood out far from most other titles of its time. As a bit of an animation zealot, I feel comfortable in stating that the character movement is incredibly smooth – a delight to watch. I often find myself gazing at the screen in awe of the skillful animation demonstrated before me. Plus an idle Jim will exhibit plenty of cartoony antics, peppering a little extra personality onto this finely crafted protagonist. Earthworm Jim is as fun to look at as it is to play.
Oh yeah, gameplay. I should probably get into that part now, shouldn’t I?
What, you want more?
To start off, the controls are very tight. Maneuvering Jim is a breeze, with a list of moves that’ll set him apart from your average Joe. You have a ranged weapon in his plasma rifle, which is limited on ammunition, but the limitless supply of fun (and hurt) your head-whip can deliver will keep you safe from being as forlorn as the suitless worm you will later on command. And his helicopter head brings a nice floating mechanic to the table, which both factors into the gameplay and adds a little more to the precision controls.
Now gameplay is where Earthworm Jim really shines. At its core you have an action platformer. But it’s so much more than that. You’ve got racing levels with Psy-Crow, unique boss battles (good luck against Bob the Goldfish), segments where Jim is separated from his omnipotent space suit, an escort mission, so on and so forth. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of platforming throughout. The game stays fresh without piling too much variety onto your plate (again, looking at you Earthworm Jim 2!).
On top of it all it’s challenging! And while I’m inclined to say that the difficulty is fair… I have to admit there is that submarine portion which I have only been able to pass after virtually memorizing the layout. Sooo…yeah. But really, Earthworm Jim offers the kind of difficulty that puts your skills to the test. Not the kind that will leave you screaming foul play (at least once you got that submarine part down).
How about sound design? The music throughout fits the tone of each scenario perfectly, ranging from intense driving rhythms to carnival music. And the unique soundscape breathes even more life into the atmosphere around you. Overall the game sounds as polished as it looks.
Earthworm Jim was/is available for many different platforms, but I’d say there are two major versions to look out for; one for Sega Genesis and one for Super Nintendo. And while I do tend to prefer the SNES port, I have to say… objectively… even though that one may have a slight graphical leg up, I gotta hand it to the Genesis on this one. It was the first to be released and thus feels more complete. Aside from missing an entire level, the sound design for the SNES edition is… how should I say this? God awful. Jim loses the personality he possessed in the Genesis version after his vocabulary is reduced to an empty “Yippie” in response to just about everything. While the noise from his plasma blaster on the SNES may seem cooler, it doesn’t sound as organic as it does on the Genesis. A terrible crash audio clip that’ll cause you to impulsively sigh every time you hear it is reused for most impacts and explosions, including his Pocket Rocket launch. It may be nitpicking, but just listen to the engine rev as Jim hoots “YEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAW” in Sega’s rendition, then compare with his feeble screech of “Yippie” while his engine explodes on the SNES. Really takes away from the experience, don’t it? Oh, and on the Genesis when you face Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, the snot platforms you stand on are animated. Yeah, it’s minor I know, but it’s those tiny missed details that make the Super Nintendo port…well, feel like a port.
So if you’re looking for a worm-tastic experience to pick up and play during your next retro binge, I can think of no better title than Earthworm Jim. The first one… not the second.
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