When the very first Earthworm Jim game came out, I was in junior high thinking video games would never get better than the 32X. I’m not afraid to admit I was a Sega fanboy growing up. Fanboy may be a little harsh though, considering I just played whatever system my parents happened to get me for Christmas without a complaint, and then stuck by that system until the bitter, bitter end. I’m getting off topic. I’m supposed to be talking about Earthworm Jim, one of the most humorous and unique platformers to have ever graced a console. More importantly, I’m supposed to be talking about the recent high-definition remastering of Earthworm Jim, and whether or not the HD version could possibly do the original any justice. I can tell you that it does. For better, and worse.
Earthworm Jim is a game about, well, an earthworm. A stolen spacesuit falls from outer space, and happens to land on a hapless earthworm minding his own business. Energized by the suit, Jim sets off on a journey across space, junkyards, Hell, and a few other locales in order to save Princess What’s-Her-Name from the clutches of Psy-Crow and Queen Slug-For-A-Butt. Sound like a game you want to play? Good, because it’s a really fun game with a great sense of humor. Unfortunately, not much of an effort has been made to create any real semblance of a plot. You’ll be changing levels and locations with little to no reason other than the developers had a really great idea for a level they wanted to make. Back in the day, that sort of inattention to detail was fine. By today’s standards, Jim’s pencil-thin plot doesn’t really stand up. That’s not to say the game isn’t enjoyable, but without any real clarity as to why events are unfolding the way they are, it can be tough to find the motivation to continue on, particularly when playing through some of the game’s more difficult levels.
Known for its staggering difficulty, Earthworm Jim’s revivalists over at Gameloft have taken the liberty of including three new difficulty settings, with the game’s original difficulty being the hardest. To those of us who grew up with Earthworm Jim, these new difficulties will make playing through the game a breeze. That said, there are still some nagging issues that continue to plague this update. Jim has three basic abilities: jump, shoot, and whip. You can’t jump and shoot at the same time, and the directions you’re allowed to whip when jumping are limited. It’s a shame the controls couldn’t be updated to accommodate an analog controller because as nostalgically fun as it is to play a game that relies solely on its original control scheme, games today afford us so many more control options that when taken away, are sorely missed. It doesn’t help that the level design, while quirky and cool to look at, is extremely dated. I’m not saying the game’s levels aren’t creative, but I am saying that even though the game has been given a graphical overhaul, it’s still tough to discern just where you’re allowed to jump, and which environmental hazards are aesthetic and which will hurt you. If you’re able to overcome the challenges the platforming presents you, you’ll have a great time. If not, you’ll become frustrated rather quickly. And I can’t stress enough just how insanely difficult the submarine level still is to this day, even on easier settings. I got stuck there forever fifteen years ago, and I got stuck there forever last week.
On the plus side, the game is absolutely beautiful. Seeing Doug TenNapel’s creation brought to life in high-def with completely redrawn characters shows just how talented a designer he is. Animations are clear and crisp, and the new much more vibrant color scheme pops off the screen. The score still sounds as wonderful as it did when I was growing up, and hearing the remastered soundtrack really brought me back to a simpler time in my life. In addition to receiving a graphical overhaul, Gameloft took the time to not only create a handful of new bonus levels for the single-player campaign, they also reappropirated many of the original levels for use in four-player co-operative play. Teaming up with even just one other player is incredibly fun, but when you’ve got four people running around Hell, the enjoyment reaches new heights. The co-op is available online and offline, but I found that game mode is best played with everyone sitting in the same room. I don’t usually compliment a game’s achievements, but there is an easily attainable avatar award that gives you Jim’s spacesuit, making any fan purchasing the game very happy.
There’s no doubt that playing Earthworm Jim with updated graphics and game modes is a treat. Even though I had a lot of fun reliving my younger days, the game shows its age, and despite all the additions made in both the single and multi-player, I have a hard time recommending this game to newcomers. Held back by the constraints of a different generation, Earthworm Jim HD fails to be anything more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and that’s truly a shame. It’s worth checking out it out if you never had a chance to play it in its original form, but sadly, it’s not the “must play” game it once was.