When people are asked about some of the videogame heroes of yesteryear, Earthworm Jim will likely make anyone’s list. The original was praised for its great graphics, quirky art direction and bizarre levels. Most importantly it had personality all its own, something rare in games these days.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Earthworm Jim is an action platformer that will take you through many bizarre locals, from a junkyard to Heck…. and that’s only the first two levels. Between each stage is a space race through an asteroid field, with conditions to win lest you fight Psy-Crow, one of the recurring villains. There’s also bungee jump fights, a submarine, and giant hamster riding. Each level packs a new surprise, and much of the appeal comes from seeing what the next level will throw at you.
Jim’s abilities include jumping, shooting, and whipping, in which Jim will grab is head and swing it like a rope. It can be used to attack enemies and to swing from various hooks scattered throughout the game. The gun will be your primary form of attack, with two types of ammunition; the standard rapid fire bullets, and the explosive plasma rounds. New to this version is the ability to toggle between the two ammo types. This is a welcome addition since the plasma rounds can eliminate tougher enemies that standard ammo can’t, as well as make quick work of bosses.
However, while the game has been faithfully remade in glorious HD graphics, the gameplay doesn’t seemed to have aged all that well. Small factors that may not sound like a nuisance on paper end up hampering the controls of our hero Jim. For example, you can only fire your gun in place and on the ground. The whip, which can swing in several directions on the ground, can only be swung horizontally in the air. These problems are most apparent when enemies start to gang up on you. Another annoyance is not being able to jump from a hanging rope, considering almost every other platformer out there lets you do it.
The charm of the original is still prevalent when it comes to the presentation. Level music is still as catchy as ever, now remixed to sound even better. From Ride of the Valkyries that turns into elevator music in Heck to the rodeo styled theme of Andy Asteroids, there’s a wide variety of songs that you will be humming long after the game is over. The entire game has been smoothed out and the sprites have been redone with new animation. The developers did an incredible job to make a game that came out over 10 years ago look just as good as some of the newer Xbox Live arcade games.
There are some quirky new additions to the game. The first are 3 bonus levels, all themed as the insides of a console. They must be unlocked first, and then selected from the main menu. Unfortunately, they don’t really add much to the game, and I beat the levels on the first try. The only notable and hilarious thing about them is a parody of Keyboard Cat (called Pitch the Cat) who is the boss of the final bonus level. Besides that, they’re pretty forgettable.
For some reason, co-op has been added to the game. It plays exactly like the main game, with new stages modeled after the old ones to accommodate up to four Jims. Players need to work together to open doors by pressing switches and hitting levers to open doors and activate contraptions. If a partner dies, they will respawn when someone touches any continue point. The mode is mildly entertaining, if formulaic. With infinite lives, me and a partner completed it with little trouble. In the end however, it feels tacked on and the time spent on this could have been better spent on other new features.
Playing through the game, you can earn profile pictures and avatar awards, including Earthworm Jim’s nifty super suit. Leaderboards will keep track of best times and other little things. Beyond that though, there isn’t anything else to do with the game once you beat it, other than play it on a higher difficulty. Earthworm Jim still manages to be fun after all these years, but this game has been remade over ten times already. Two stages, Big Bruty (from the PC edition) and Who turned out the Lights (a hidden level) are missing in this version, most likely because there wasn’t time or money to redo the graphics. The new voice for Jim isn’t terrible, but doesn’t have the same punch as the original.
While I wouldn’t mind if Earthworm Jim 2 HD comes out in the near future, I hope the developers try harder to create a definitive version of it than they did with this game. After being ported to just about every platform out there, there’s no reason that they couldn’t simply build on the previous versions and combine the best of all of them. Instead, Earthworm Jim HD can be added to the pile of remakes that fail to add anything exciting to the original. It’s good fun if you never played the original, but even a big fan of the original can’t recommend this version. If you want a good version, track down the PC edition.