If you've never played Earthworm Jim in any of his incarnations, I feel for you. Truly. Being no spring chicken, I hit up most of his adventures way back in '94, when he first graced a console, in the good old days when games came on cartridges. To the uninitiated, how could one describe the overall experience? Imagine a midget monkey on acid gallivanting about with a typewriter and that's about as
cohesive as the plot gets. As for how it plays, think about an ex-girlfriend you had that started out all as rainbows and puppy dogs and then turned drastically into a bunny boiler and you're on the right track.
Earthworm Jim HD is mental, bonkers, a few sandwiches short of a picnic, more suited for a straightjacket and padded cell. The gameplay is classic old school with some of the most aggravating, tear your hair out level design to date. You either love it or hate it, and the satisfaction that comes with knocking it out is both well-deserved and a relief. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me break down the tale of this wacky superhero.
Told via comic book panelling is the origin of Earthworm Jim - a mere Oligochaeta hounded by crows and other winged creatures in a cruel harsh world until fate steps in. Much like the Green Lantern, a downed spaceship crashes near our hero, and donning the super duper exo-suit he is imbued with fantastical powers. The simplest are the addition of mere extremities, but he can now run, jump, shoot his
awesome 1950s styled ray gun and use his own body to whip enemies. In true classic video-game fashion he has to rescue a princess and that's about as coherent as it gets. Seriously. From that moment on each level and stage gets wackier and zanier by the minute.
At its core Earthworm Jim is a platformer - and a tough one at that - with traditional boss battles at the end of each stage and then a racing component between worlds. Very stylised in a Looney Tunes kind of way, the revamped version of the game is simply gorgeous. The tone is infantile at best, with many levels having fart or burp like sounds accompanying fire spouts and the like, or with level names like "Butt-hole" you know what you're in for, and I had absolutely no problem with this as I involuntarily giggled through the majority of the game.
Jim's expressions are priceless. Whether it's him gritting his teeth as he blasts away enemies or hanging on to a ledge with his head as he lifts his backside up to avoid detection, you're sure to get a giggle out of him. Stand in one position too long and you better prepare to crack up, I sure as hell did, as I gleefully watched him jump rope with his own body, pull a superhero pose only to have his pants drop, or deftly spin his ray gun Doc Holliday style only to fluff it up and shoot off his own head. It's stupid, puerile and a goddamned hoot! And the insanity only went up exponentially from there.
Each new stage ups the ante with some challenging platforming and swinging using your own body as a whip. It starts off fairly easy and manageable but around the halfway point the difficulty ramps up significantly. They mix up the pacing with some underwater sections, where you navigate against the clock in a glass-domed transport that will push your soft touch to the limit. You travel to each new section via a race through an asteroid belt versus Psy-Crow, and if you fail, it evolves into a mini boss fight, where you defeat him and move on. The whip mechanic is a little off at times and in certain sections you'll wish they'd included a little more precision. In particular, the final stage nearly put me in a homicidal rage, requiring many moments of measured breathing to enhance my calm.
Without spoiling too much, it's one of the most frustrating levels I've ever playing in my entire life. I should have remembered from the original, but Iím pretty sure I blanked it from my memory and now I know why. Most of the stage is populated with spikes, and you need to use Jim's head as a rotor and negotiate downwards to one of the few solid landings. The problem is that hitting a spike in one of the many narrow corridors causes Jim to do a star-jump as he yelps in pain, leaving you helplessly bouncing around like a pinball as your health rapidly deteriorates. I lost count at how many times I continued and restarted the level, and making it to the final boss and taking her out was a very welcome relief. Those with low tolerance thresholds best avoid the final stage.
To bolster the package they've added three bonus levels and the spectacular four-player co-op. The extra levels are quite fun, with an interesting musical cat boss to knock out and I had a blast playing through them, but it paled in comparison to the sheer insanity of the co-op. These reworked levels have four times the enemies, double the bosses, shields, competitive scoring and are an absolute riot. This was by far the best component of the game and I strongly urge you to grab some mates and give it a whirl. You won't be disappointed.
Though its fundamentals are starting to show their age, Earthworm Jim HD was really satisfying to knock out. Though relatively short, coming in at only a couple of hours, the memories it brought back were well worth the price of admission, as was the new co-operative mode. If you've never played it before, I entreat you to take it for a spin, and prepare yourself for a laugh out loud riot.