17th June 2010 - Growing up in the early 90s few games were staple: Donkey Kong, Jazz Jack Rabbit, Commander Keen and Earth worm Jim. Over 15 years later, Jim is back, rejuvenated and lacking none of his charm. The mad-cap adventure of a humble Earth worm saving his princess from an evil Psy-Cow have never been so much fun. Digitally remastered in High Definition; can one of the best games of 1994, ride again- Read on to find out.
The Character of 'Jim' first created by Doug TenNapel, goes a long way to evoke the feeling of similar games and animation around the start of the 1990s. Although primarily a side scrolling shooter of sorts, it presents more as a bunch of different game types and boss battles than anything else. Newly released on the XBOX Live marketplace, it is remembered almost exactly as is, in all it's glory.
Being a worm, inside a super enhanced special space suit; on the run from a bunch of crazy crows and a mad Space Cow, life can be tough. For this worm though, he has a few tricks up his proverbial 'sleeve'. Jim can shoot, use his head as a whip, swing using his head and otherwise at times have a very literal out of body experience and jump around. Progressing through the first level of New Trash City, the surreal comic book game opens out into space racing levels, underwater missions and general disgusting humour involving mucus, bowels and cows. The flow of the game is generally good, and in no way has been dummied down or changed to suit the current climate of arcade releases and generational expectations. This can actually mean that the game is rather hard, as back in the day what we perceive as an arcade smash hit was for all intents and purpose a full priced purchase. The levels are larger than they look, with multiple layers, hidden areas and health and ammo just out of reach. Jumping and timing is key and landing a swing at just the right moment will make the difference between success and failure. The environments are interactive in part, where Jim can climb, slide or play with switches.
Where the game switches it up, is in between the core 'story' missions. For what little story there is, of a mad cow losing a special space suit which crash-lands on Earth giving the worm his powers and generally transforming the surrounding areas; it would appear that between each level is a race to the next planet that progresses the adventure. If you lose the race, which rather than side scrolling is forward facing 3rd person, you face off against the Psy-Cow and continue ever onwards. As the game continues over roughly 7 stages, it insists on mixing it up with a variety of boss challenges including bungee jumping, space racing and under water navigation.
Earthworm Jim in the past has garnered 100% reviews. It has self referential humour and a parody that was seen a lot in 1990 games of both popular culture and movies. Gameloft have done an excellent job in porting it over to a high definition system but after so much time, perhaps some of the dirt, is starting to show.
Defeating the minions of Queen-slug-for-a-butt (yes,really) has never been so easy: using the analogue stick and face buttons, and yet given the fast pace and over exaggeration of the characters, it becomes a lot easier to sometimes use the DPAD, and therein lies the problem. Throughout play through, you will constantly feel like you should be moving using the DPAD but pointing with the analogue stick. Jumping can be much harder than it should be, and over and over again you will miss hooking swings because the timing was just off or you misjudged the gap. Trying to navigate underwater, in a sub is almost impossible using the analogue stick as it is not precise enough, but the DPAD is too slow, so instead a combination of both is required but awkward given their relative positions on the controller. Some minor issues for some players, however when the Arcade version now comes with achievements, including acing the game in total under 50 minuets, every second counts and there are simply moments that will make you want to throw the controller down and smoosh the annoying worm.
Despite this, it will also constantly remind you of a time, when full priced games were still platformers and nailing that perfect jump was a reward in and of itself, stupidly hard but necessary and otherwise fun. Earthworm Jim drives home that gamers today are spoiled and that some of the core difficulties of games are missing. You can always play the game on easy, however the classic play mode is actually the most insane and hardest. All in all you can expect 3 lives and only One do-over lest the can of worms run dry.
PRO TIP: Check out the multiplayer. There are new and additional levels to play and unlock with either 2 or up to 4 players. Scores are competitive but the levels have been specifically created for co-op fun!
Earthworm Jim simply evokes and typifies what cartoons in the 90s looked and felt like. With a combination of bad word phrases like 'groovy' and 'cowabunga' it's little wonder that games have come as far as they have. Visually, we had the likes of Beavis and Butthead and more specifically Ren and Stimpy, highly exaggerated, 'adult' gross-out mediums and Earthworm Jim sits somewhere in the middle. It may be overlooked today, but in the time this game was originally made in 1994, there were underlying adult themes and visuals throughout the game, which were not supposed to be played by young children. That said, the transition to High Definition has been a successful one and without changing a thing. It was not that long ago that a1989 remake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit the arcade as well and in a similar vein Earthworm Jim has retained the free form, sketchy uncontrolled art style.
Also graphically, some minor issues do present themselves, usually in the form of: “I can see what I am supposed to do here, but there is no clear explanation”. It is not immediately obvious that a giant green crystal is meant to be run on, to levitate it and get to a higher area. Switches and doors area bit easier. Also some hooks are hard to find or use and again unless you are familiar with the game, you may not relies that the sparkle on a mooses' horn means you can grapple it. Discovering these strange gameplay of Earthworm Jim is probably what Gameloft were hoping for though; with a new generation the time taken to finish a level is increased. The frame-rate for the Game is also very smooth except on racing levels, where asteroids appear out of nowhere and you simply can't see the next one until it is too late.
Reviewing Earthworm Jim only brings up more memories, of games that you used to play that we can only hope are picked up and renewed. Don't expect any cut scenes, with some written level text and one quick cartoon at the start.
In one word: “Groovy”. There is not a whole lot of sound to Earthworm Jim, but for a worm who just discovered he could speak he generally provides a lot of entertainment. The selling point here, really is reliving the soundtrack of each and every level song, which has been retained faithfully. Ambient sounds are otherwise of the 'gross' variety consisting of farting noises, belches, squashes and everything in between. Some of the music is largely forgettable though some are well conceived remixes of actually popular tunes, which seemed throughout the start of the 90s to also be common fair in video games.
To be fair in this day and age, Earthworm Jim himself sounds like a cross between Bugs Bunny and a young boy who's voice hasn't broken which just adds to the mad-cap nature of the game. As the game wears on, there is enough to like in our Earthworm to keep coming back. The music never gets annoying and the worst part would have to be the deliberate 'Goovy's yelled at the player whenever you die and start over. Curiously, it used to be that sounds and music were inserted into games as a literal file, and when the music track ended there would be a rather silent pause until the files looped through again. Gameloft have kept this to be so, and you will notice that for no reason the sound cuts out and for a time there is no music, until it starts again. Rather than a glitch this is a deliberate suggestion by the developers that you probably should have finished the level, by the time the song runs out.
On top of a heavy dose of nostalgia, come 2 very easy Avatar awards, which can be activated very easily throughout the new bonus levels included. Not to rest on the laurels of an excellent game, the 2 awards 3 new bonus levels and 4-player multiplayer are all new features to the game. Depending on how much you enjoy the game, being able to take your old favourite and now share it, with 3 other people in a race through space, might just be the selling point.
For 800 MS points, this HD remake is certainly different to high budget games like Epics Unreal powered side-scroller last year, but no less satisfying. The level of polish that has been included is apparent and at the low price point is more than enough game to keep the kids happy over the holidays.
Earthworm Jim still works on multiple levels, for different ages and it is the little incidental things that make it a good game. Matchmaking and Quickmatch now has a third staple Party match, which is excellent if you just happen to have 4 friends in a party with the game and want to play privately. The avatar awards include an Earthworm Jim T-shirt and the suit itself, and although a little emasculating for your avatar; has it's uses.
PRO TIP: Check out launching the cow in the very first level. In a later game re-made; Earthworm Jim 3D the cow was replaced with Fridges, which would drop and squash Jim throughout the game...
Ultimately, Earthworm Jim is an old school game. In the sea of arcade titles, it is possible that it may be overlooked as a confusing cartoon platformer with no real sense of direction. Hopefully this review changes your mind. With companies like Gametap rejuvenating old favourites, like Sam and Max and the series of Monkey Island, our gaming history is in good hands. Others like Abes Odyssey are still waiting for the green light, but in a year where both Jurassic park and Back to the Future are being remade for games, where a system like XBOX Arcade can bring back Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Gamelofts Earthworm Jim is King.
AAG SCORE: 8.75/10
+ Faithful recreation of a 1994 classic
+ Zany humour and good character design
+ 4 player co-op multiplayer competitions
- Annoyingly hard at times
- Odd sound effects and music
- The game is over 15 years old
Reviewed and Written By Ian Crane