Platform: Sega Genesis
Hey all! Doug here (taking over for Slewo this week), and I’ve decided to bring you one of MY favorites from the last 20 years for this week’s Ghosts of Games Past.
Earthworm Jim was one of the first games I ever rented from Blockbuster Video (yes, I’m old) for my Sega Genesis. While it’s never been one of those games that really had any kind of huge following, it got some great reviews out of the gate when it released in 1994.
For those of you who may not have ever played this diamond in the rough, let me recap its plot a bit for you. Jim (our annelid protagonist) is just a regular, everyday worm, when *BAM* – a mechanical super-suit falls out of the sky, giving him abilities far beyond that of your average, mild-mannered worm. The suit acts as humanoid arms and legs for him, while Jim uses his head as a whip to strike at enemies and grapple parts of the environment. Jim is also given a gun which he uses to blast enemies from a distance, and which really ends up becoming his primary weapon. Jim must then go on the adventure of his life, and face off against some crazy enemies (like Evil the Cat, and Psy-Crow), and save “Princess-What’s-Her-Name” (yes, that’s actually her name in the game).
One of the great things about this 2D side-scroller, is definitely the comedic punch that the game contained. This may be my inner 12 year-old (who still laughs at fart jokes) talking, but there were just a lot of REALLY funny things in this game. From Jim’s trusted friend and ally named “Snott”, to the fact that launching a cow in the beginning of the game would later come back into play with “smashing results”, and even the name of the final boss: Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed Slug-For-A-Butt – I was never at a loss for something that made me laugh. It’s this kind of sophomoric humor that provided (and still provides us) with a valve to blow off the steam of worrying about the seriousness of our everyday lives. In a sentence, Earthworm Jim was basically Beavis and Butt-Head, but with a spacesuit-wearing, blaster-carrying worm with an attitude.
Along with the game’s in-your-face humor, Earthworm Jim also contained some pretty clever satire – poking fun at other games of its era, and at society at large. Take the character of “Princess-What’s-Her-Name”, for instance. Her inclusion in the game was done as Shiny Entertainment’s way of parodying the expendable (and oft-overlooked) “damsel in distress” characters that so many games included as a McGuffin to be saved by the protagonist(s). Additionally, the entire game was basically a send-up of all of the other platform-style games of the time. There had been several games licensed from other properties (like 7Up’s Cool Spot) coming out in the mid-90s), with the developers of those titles having to stick to some fairly rigid guidelines. So, Shiny Entertainment used that opportunity to make Earthworm Jim a wacky and outlandish IP; pretty much doing whatever they wanted with the world and characters they’d created. It was this kind of developer mindset that, at least in my opinion, made this game such a rousing success.
Another really unique aspect of this title, was the fact that it featured a hand-drawn art style. With great shading and slick (for the time) animations, the style of art in Earthworm Jim allowed for some hilarious facial expressions for Jim himself, and just added to the immature, slapstick, absurdist, gross-out style of comedy that the game exuded (did I mention I have an inner 12 year-old?). Aside from simply adding to the allure of the game itself, the design style for Earthworm Jim was also just pretty to look at. In fact, the art of Douglas TenNapel (Jim’s creator) is still celebrated in gaming circles today.
This was also one of those games that used a familiar control scheme, so everything still felt easy to do. The controls were by no means slick or revolutionary, but their ease of use made it comfortable for anyone from the casual gamer to those of us who were really coming in to our passion for video games. The controls led to some top-notch play mechanics, with everything in the game feeling very fluid and well-balanced. Add to that the fact that the game’s level of challenge was deftly constructed to be not too hard, but just enough to keep young gamers interested, and we were given a real winner in Earthworm Jim. While more adept gamers could complete the whole thing in around an hour of continuous gameplay, it still provided a lot of fun for those of us teenagers who had a lot of things on our plates at the time. While we didn’t always have a lot of time or patience to devote to a video game, this was still one of those games where you could sit down on a weekend and just have the time melt away. Granted, Earthworm Jim was also released back in the days before games regularly came with the ability to save your progress (although there were cheat codes out there which gave you the ability to level warp), so a lot of us wanted to get as far as we could in the time we were allotted.
All in all, Earthworm Jim was (and remains) a favorite from my youth. I was even a fan of the 1995-1996 animated series (wherein Jim was voiced by The Simpsons’ Dan Castellaneta), and I had quite a few of the action figures as well. Any time I get a chance to play this one, I will – plain and simple. Therefore, it’s always high on my recommendation list for others. While it’s somewhat difficult to get one’s hands on a working Sega Genesis and an original copy of the game these days, there are always emulators out there that will allow you to experience Earthworm Jim in its awesome 16-bit glory. In addition, there was an HD remake of this title released in 2010 for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows Phone (no, I don’t know anyone who had one either).
Did you ever play Earthworm Jim, dear readers? Let us know your memories of this fun game down in the comments below!