Earthworm Jim
  • Genre:
    • Run and Gun
  • Developers:
    • Shiny (GEN/SNES/SCD)
    • Eurocom (GB/GG/SMS)
    • Kinesoft (PC)
    • Rainbow Arts (DOS)
  • Publishers:
    • US Playmates (GEN/SNES/SCD/GB/GG/DOS)
    • UK Playmates (GB)
    • UK Virgin (GEN/SNES/SCD/GG)
    • JP Takara (SNES)
    • Brazil Tec Toy (GEN/SMS)
    • Activision (PC)
  • Released:
    GEN
    • US 08/02/1994
    • UK 08/05/1994
    • Brazil 1994
    SNES
    • US October 1994
    • UK 12/16/1994
    • JP 06/23/1995
    SCD
    • US 03/15/1995
    • UK 03/21/1995
    GB
    • US September 1995
    • UK 1995
    GG
    • US 1995
    • UK 12/14/1995
    PC
    • US 11/30/1995
    • UK 1995
    DOS
    • 04/30/1996
    SMS
    • Brazil 1996
Score: 75%

This review was published on 05/18/2017.

Earthworm Jim is a side-scrolling run and gun shooter video game originally developed by Shiny Entertainment for various platforms. The game was first released for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive in North America on August 2, 1994, Europe on August 5, 1994, and Australia and Brazil in 1994. It then came out for the SNES in North America in October 1994, Europe on December 16, 1994, and Japan on June 23, 1995. The Sega CD version, which was known as Earthworm Jim: Special Edition, came out in North America on March 15, 1995, and Europe on March 21, 1995. A Game Boy version was released in North America in September 1995 and Europe in 1995. Another version arrived on the Sega Game Gear in North America in 1995 and Europe on December 14, 1995. Then there's the Windows 95 version, which came out in North America on November 30, 1995, and Europe in 1995. On April 30, 1996, Microsoft DOS got a version of the game that came packaged with its sequel, which was called Earthworm Jim 1 and 2: The Whole Can 'O Worms. Finally, the game came out on the Sega Master System in Brazil in 1996. In other words, the game was very available.

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The game had different publishers and developers across many platforms and regions. In North America, the Genesis, SNES, Sega CD, Game Boy, and Game Gear versions were published by Playmates, and Activision published the PC version there. In Europe, Virgin Interactive published the Genesis, SNES, Sega CD, and Game Gear versions, but Playmates published the Game Boy version, whereas Activision handled the PC release there. In Brazil, Tec Toy published the Genesis and Master System versions. Japan only got the SNES version, which was published by Takara. Everyone wanted a piece of the publishing pie, and they got it. As far as developers go, Shiny Entertainment made the Genesis, SNES, and Sega CD versions, while Eurocom did the Game Boy, Game Gear, and Master System versions. Kinesoft did the PC version, and Rainbow Arts handled the DOS release. That's a lot of information to take in, so take some time to digest it all.

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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the toy company, Playmates, was licensed to make action figures based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. Following the success of that business endeavor, Playmates elected to try a similar thing on its own. However, instead of doing what most companies did at the time by making a toy line and cartoon simultaneously, Playmates took a different approach. Inspired by the success of the Sonic the Hedgehog series that Sega began on the Genesis in 1991, Playmates decided to start its new franchise as a video game, opting to do the toys and cartoon later. Playmates got in touch with David Perry, who was a programmer from Virgin Interactive, and gave him the funding to establish Shiny Entertainment. After that, Douglas TenNapel presented a simple sketch of an earthworm to Shiny, which impressed Dave Perry enough to buy the rights to Earthworm Jim from TenNapel. The game's development then began, with TenNapel working on game design and coming up with level ideas, while Perry and the rest of Shiny worked on everything else. This is the genesis of Earthworm Jim.

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As gleaned from the title, the protagonist of this game is Earthworm Jim. Jim was once an ordinary earthworm that got chased around by ordinary crows, but that all changed due to a certain intergalactic event. One day, a space bounty hunter with a crow for a head named Psy-Crow was chasing a small renegade ship in outer space. The ship's pilot had stolen Psy-Crow's special cargo, which contained an ultra high tech indestructible super space cyber suit, otherwise known as a "Super Suit." Psy-Crow corners the renegade ship and blasts it into smithereens with his massive gun, causing the Super Suit to fall gently down to Earth. Back on Earth, the suit suddenly lands on top of Jim, granting him superpowers and the ability to talk. Shortly thereafter, Psy-Crow arrives on Earth in pursuit of the suit. He takes orders from Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-Butt, who wishes to use the suit to become prettier than her imprisoned twin sister, "Princess-What's-Her-Name." Yes, those are actually their names. At any rate, Jim decides to find the Princess before Psy-Crow finds him and the suit.

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One of this game's main highlights is the way it looks. At the time of its release, this game's graphics were out of this world. They're similar to other games Dave Perry worked on while at Virgin Interactive, like Global Gladiators and Cool Spot. The reason for this striking similarity is because Earthworm Jim runs on the same engine as those games. Like those games, this one features highly sophisticated backgrounds, foregrounds, and character sprites. The environments have almost no flat surfaces, curving in various ways to create countless complex slopes. However, the most notable thing about the graphics in Earthworm Jim is how well everything is animated. Similar to Disney's Aladdin on the Genesis, another Dave Perry game, all of the sprites in Earthworm Jim were created by drawing artwork onto cels, just like real animated cartoons, before getting scanned into a computer. This was a fairly dedicated process; according to Perry, the giant hamster creature "was drawn by one of our guys at three o'clock one morning." Such dedication resulted in absolutely stellar 2-D animation.

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Thanks to the Super Suit, Jim is capable of doing many things. First of all, he's able to use the suit's legs to run, jump, and crouch like a human being. Secondly, he's able to use the suit's arms to grab onto and climb up ledges. The worm part of Jim is still relevant, however, as he can use his wormy head like a whip to attack enemies and swing from hooks. His head can also be used as a propeller to slow down his descent while falling. Jim can even climb some horizontal chain-like objects using his noggin'. Lastly, he's armed with a deadly Plasma Blaster that he can fire in eight directions. It's got limited ammunition, but will slowly regenerate ammo if it runs out. Besides regular ammo, you'll sometimes find other types of ammunition for Jim's gun, like explosive shells. The Super Suit is the best thing to ever happen to Jim.

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Mechanically, this game has some problems. First up, you can't switch between ammo types, so you'll always be forced to waste the more powerful ammo whenever you pick some up. This is likely an oversight by the developers, because it makes no sense. Additionally, bullets aren't visible on the screen when Jim fires his gun with regular ammo. Coupled with the gun's short firing range, this makes aiming rather difficult. Speaking of difficult, the unresponsive controls also make moving Jim around a difficult task. You'll likely find yourself wrestling with the controls at various points in the game. Getting the timing down on Jim's whip move is particularly tricky, which is in part due to his over-the-top animation. That's not the only time this game's technical prowess hinders its design, either. The complex visuals often make it hard to tell whether you can stand on something or not. All of this results in a subpar playing experience.

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Another big draw to this game is its bizarre sense of humor. Previously, Playmates was always restricted to working on licensed games, like 7up's Cool Spot, forcing them to conform to the limitations set by other companies. With Earthworm Jim, however, Playmates had the freedom to do whatever it wanted, which resulted in the game's odd atmosphere and off-the-wall humor. The story is a good indicator of this humor, but the stages and bosses do a good job at demonstrating it, too. For example, there's a hellish stage called "Heck" that is inhabited by corporate lawyers, has dreaded elevator music playing in the background, and is ruled by a feline named "Evil the Cat." Then there's a boss named "Professor Monkey-For-A-Head," who's a mad scientist with a monkey for a head. The sound also reflects this humor, particularly with Jim's voice. Not only did TenNapel work on designing the game, but he also did the voice for Jim's character. Jim's catchphrase is "groovy," which he says quite often, and it's done in such a delightfully silly tone that it's sure to put a smile on anyone's face.

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Outside of the humor, there's not much to say about most of the game's stages. Most of the regular stages are bland, using humor as a crux to justify their existence. A fair amount of the stages contain gimmicks in an attempt to make up for the dull game play, but these range from tedious to frustrating. For instance, there's a stage where Jim must guide his temperamental pal, Peter Puppy, through various hazards. However, if Peter is injured at any point during this eerie jaunt, he'll transform into a terrifying monster and attack Jim, reducing a good chunk of his health. Basically, it's an irritating escort mission. Another infuriating stage has Jim navigating underwater tunnels within a Bathysphere-like contraption, stopping along the way to get oxygen. If you collide into too many walls, the glass will crack open, killing Jim instantly. Then there are sections where Jim rides his Pocket Rocket through outer space with a behind-the-back viewpoint, dodging asteroids while racing Psy-Crow. These bits are fine the first time around, but quickly lose their appeal by the second one onwards, and there are a lot of them.

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All versions of the game are based on the Genesis original, but there are quite a few differences between versions. The SNES version generally has superior graphics to the original, featuring more defined colors, extra special effects, and additional background layers. However, the SNES version is missing a single stage from the Genesis release, and lacks some sound effects. The Sega CD and Windows 95 versions, both subtitled Special Edition, contain all the stages from the Genesis release, many of which have been extended, plus there's an entirely new stage, a new ammo type that shoots homing rockets, and the soundtrack has been completely redone with Red Book audio. The Sega CD version has a password system, whereas the Windows 95 version has slightly better graphics. The DOS port is similar to the Windows 95 version, but it lacks all the Special Edition content, and is missing the same stage the SNES release lacked. The Game Boy, Game Gear, and Master System versions have all been so stripped down that they're barely playable. Ideally, you should play one of the Special Edition versions of the game, but the Genesis and SNES versions are also adequate.

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While rare, there were other franchises that attempted what Earthworm Jim did by starting out with a video game, like Battletoads by Tradewest and Rare, and Accolade's notorious Bubsy. However, what separates Earthworm Jim from those games is that it isn't terrible. That said, it isn't exactly great, either. Strip away the gorgeous graphics, awesome animations, and heinous humor, and Earthworm Jim is nothing more than an average platformer. The unresponsive controls, busy backgrounds, and occasionally tedious stages prevent this game from being a true classic. It is, however, one of Dave Perry's best games.

Word Count: 1,915

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