Review: Earthworm Jim HD (Sony PS3)


Earthworm Jim HD
Publisher: Gameloft
Developer: Gameloft
Genre: Action Platformer
Release Date: 07/28/2010

Earthworm Jim is one of those games that people have been talking about for the past decade and a half. All accounts were that the game was wacky, fun, and a great Genesis exclusive when it first came out. Add the show, which still has a following (a trip to the game’s GameFAQs page revealed a thread where posters were taking turns writing lines from the theme song), and it makes for a franchise that stands out.

Now, there hasn’t been a true Earthworm Jim game in many years, but that doesn’t mean the franchise is dead. Truly, it would seem as if the release of Earthworm Jim HD is perhaps a launching pad for the series’ return. Classic franchises like Sonic and Mega Man have been making splashes on PSN and Xbox Live, so why shouldn’t this series?

I was particularly excited for this game, as I can’t recall ever getting a chance to play the original when it came out or since. This was my chance to experience what everyone else was talking about.

Sixteen years later, is Earthworm Jim still a groovy experience, or is this one hero that hasn’t aged well?

Story/Modes

The story in Earthworm Jim is legendary for both its wackiness and the fact that the game doesn’t actually tell it. You get a brief thing at the beginning that tells you the most basic of the basics. There’s a worm. A powersuit falls from space. The worm lands in the suit and becomes an intelligent being with increased strength and a plasma gun. Then you’re told to save the princess. Not having spoiled the plot for myself, I was left to wonder “What princess?” The game didn’t answer that question until after the final boss was slain, but it still didn’t matter.

Some will say that the story is readily available to anyone who wants to look for it. The evil queen commissioned the creation of the suit so that she could use it to conquer the universe. Jim overhears this plan and deigns to save the world with his new found powers. However, the game doesn’t deliver almost any of this on its own. I suppose some explanation was available in the manual for the original, but this version doesn’t offer that.

Still, there is plenty of zaniness to keep you entertained. You move from location to location seemingly at random. One minute you’re in a junkyard fighting inbred trash and a garbage can come to life, the next minute you’re in hell trying to fend off a demented cat. Then, there’s the boss that is nothing more than a goldfish in a bowl. The music gets intense, the warning sign comes up, but all you really have to do is hit the bowl once and the fish flops around on the floor, doomed to a slow, painful death. I couldn’t help but laugh. The caveat is that this apparent randomness makes it hard to get invested in the plot in any sense of the word. Before long, you’re just along for the ride.

This re-release does offer some extras. For one, there are three bonus levels you unlock as you play the story. Also, there are online leaderboards to allow players to see how they stack up against the competition. The big addition is the four player online/offline co-op modes. Each level is redesigned to account for the extra players, and it’s all about mixing cooperation with competition. The goal of each level is to score the most points, but if you don’t work together, you simply won’t be able to make it through. Holding down a trigger so an opponent can get through a door is tough to do when you see all of the power-ups he’ll pick up that you can’t get to. It’s an overall fun mode that only suffers from the apparent lack of interest in it. I haven’t been able to get more than two people together at once, and most of my attempts to play online were met with empty cyberspace. The offline option does help though.

The game offers enough content to keep players happy, and the story mode is so off the beaten path that you’ll be sure to get a kick out of it despite the lack of exposition. The multiplayer, if you can find someone to play with, offers another nice option and overall, the game’s modes are pretty solid.

Graphics

With this being titled “HD”, it is clear that a big part of the sell was the improved graphics. Improved they are, as the game breathes life and color better than most modern games do thanks to attention to detail and some out of this world animations.

Jim is a freaking star thanks to his animations. Simply moving and shooting is one thing, but it is the gleeful murderous expression on his face as he blasts into enemies or the look of shock as he’s rocketed upwards by a bungee cord that sells the character better than any line of dialogue could. My favorite moment has to come when you’ve beaten Psycrow in a race and Jim comes out on his pocket rocket, swinging his head like a lasso. Its pretty sweet.

The levels are great as well, with detailed backgrounds covering all kinds of different terrain types. From deep space, to underwater, and of course, hell, the backgrounds look great and absolutely none of them look like the other. Variety is the spice of life, and that holds true here.

The only problem is that perspective in levels is off. There are spikes that damage you, for instance, but it is rarely clear which spikes are real and which ones are there solely for aesthetic reasons. As such, you’ll take numerous hits that you don’t see coming, or avoid a perfectly safe route due to some apparent obstruction. Still, this more affects gameplay than ruins the game’s visual style, so I can’t take too much off the score for this section.

Basically, the game looks great, even if it isn’t the best looking PSN title on the market. If nothing else, the animations makes this a visual treat from start to finish.

Audio

The music has also seen some upgrades in terms of quality. All of the game’s tracks are present, and they sound better than ever, but the still sound like something out of the Genesis era, meaning it isn’t exactly the best midi music money can buy. There were a few tracks that seemed a bit off as well, causing my speakers to buzz when no other track or even game has before. Still, there’s nothing quite like the wacky tunes that escort you on each level, and it is some good stuff.

The sound effects are largely hit or miss. Jim crying out “groovy” or “plasma” sounds great, but the incessant farting noises on more than a couple levels grind away at my brain in a way few games have. It goes to show you how kids were thought of back in the day. Nothing quite like potty humor, right? In either case, there are other examples as well. I like the sound of the gun, which sounds perfectly tinny (an oxymoron perhaps, but true), but the deflating noises some of the enemies make just doesn’t sit right with me.

In many ways, the game shows its age on the audio side of things, but there are still some good touches that work even more than a decade and a half later. If you can stand the excessive flatulence, all the better.

Gameplay

EJHD is a classic action platformer that combines basic shooting action with perilous jumps. The basic goal of each level is to navigate the course until you reach the end. Some levels have bosses and mid bosses. Others have special features, including one level where you escort a puppy to safety, only have him turn into a mutant monster if you let him get hurt. Another level has you piloting an underwater vehicle through tight twists and turns with a limited air supply. There’s some variety to say the least, and it stays interesting.

The basic setup only uses three buttons. X is your jump, which is pretty obviously important to the proceedings. Square fires your gun, while circle allows Jim to use his own worm head as a whip. The latter also allows you swing from grappling hooks scattered across the levels. For most areas, the goal is simply to reach the end, though there is a special space race level in between each themed world that you must win or else fight a boss to move on. The controls aren’t as good as something like Super Mario World, but they are pretty tight for the most part. The instances where you have trouble usually stem from awkwardly placed obstacles and the like.

This game definitely shows its age because it lacks some of the niceties you usually find in modern games of its ilk. There are chains and vines that you can grab and shimmy down, but you can’t jump over these. You can only jump down. Considering the former is instinctual when playing a platformer, it is an annoying problem. Also, you can’t shoot while moving, or use your whip in any but one direction while jumping. The latter is bizarre, seeing as you can whip in multiple directions while on the ground. These are the kinds of issues that would kill the game if it were new, but since it is from 1994, it can mostly be forgiven. It does hurt the game’s ability to stand the test of time, but not enough.

The big criminal of the game is the level design, as I alluded to earlier. Jumps are evilly placed, enemies that can kill you in one hit are in such a spot that you have to climb up to them before attacking them, and some obstacles/hazards are indistinguishable from the regular background. Over time, you get used these hitches, and they can be overcome, but they cause frustration, which is never good.

Overall, however, the game is solid fun thanks to tight controls and some wacky scenarios (I’ve written “wacky” more times in this review than I’ve said in my entire life!). It could almost hurt the game beyond repair, but there is still enough quality here to keep the game fun and entertaining rather than a chore to play.

Replayability

There are four available difficulty settings from the start. Interestingly enough, the hardest difficulty is labeled “original”, which means that even the hard setting is easier than the game was when it was initially released. Playing through the game multiple times does allow you to find the secrets and try your skill on multiple difficulty settings. The main campaign is short enough that this is easy to do.

The bonus levels I mentioned before are interesting in that they take place in a new themed world, but more than likely you won’t play them more than once before you’ve gotten your fill. It’s not that they are particularly hard or boring, but they are all stand alone and not very long.

Multiplayer is bound to give you a few hours extra playing time. There are plenty of levels, and playing with other humans can be a blast. If you can get someone else to play with, it is a worthwhile distraction.

All told, the game probably won’t last you more than ten hours before you’ve played it to death, but for a downloadable title at a reasonable price, that isn’t too bad.

Balance

Some of the decisions they made to affect difficulty is bizarre. For example, I played through the story on normal for my first play through. After that, I jumped straight to original. I found that they removed attacks from the final boss to make her easier. This is especially weird considering that if you know what you’re doing, the boss only takes one hit! Beyond that, it mostly came down to enemies taking more damage from you. The big trick here is that the game pretty much tells you how to kill the bosses if you play on the lower difficulties. Once you know the trick, those encounters are blatantly simple.

Running out of lives costs you a continue. Running out of those gives you a game over. However, you won’t have to start the game from the beginning. Rather, you can start from the level you died on. Basically, you have unlimited continues, and leaving that old system in is a head-scratcher. There is a trophy that asks you to beat the game with only one life, but none for one set of continues, so it’s just an archaic system that was left in for no reason.

The original game was notorious for having a tough challenge, and its easy to see why. Most bosses are tough until you figure out the trick, how to progress is never clear, and the end game throws the most annoying, and sometimes unkillable, enemies at you. The escort level I mentioned before tasks you with, at one point, whipping the puppy up in the air so he lands on a platform, shooting down a vine that is threatening to grab him, making those same jumps yourself, hoping that the vine doesn’t spring back up and throw you down a pit, AND attempting to dodge interspersed meteor showers! There were so many cheap deaths, I’m almost unable to talk about it now without feeling frustrated.

There’s some challenge to the game. Make no mistake about that. You just have to wade through some frustration in order to get to it.

Originality

Well, this is a port of a sixteen year old game. They spruced up the graphics and added a multiplayer component.

You can’t have expected high points for originality.

Addictiveness

I’ll admit it. The sheer absurdity of the “plot” progression kept me hooked from beginning to the end. Every time I’ve played through the game, I’ve done so in one sitting, whether it was the few hours it took the first time, or the much less than that for every subsequent playthrough. Despite the frustration, the game is still fun, which I can’t say for dozens of other games I’ve played.

Still, unless you’re insanely into the game, you’re not likely to get too much play time out of the game unless you get into the multiplayer. Even there, the drive to play for more than an hour or so at a time is minimal. The game just runs out of tricks.

It’s a great game to pick up an play through once in while, but don’t don’t expect to be glued to your chair for a week playing nothing else.

Appeal Factor

Retro gamers will no doubt eat up the chance to play a true classic in HD. The game may not be racking up the sales that something like Mega Man 9 did, but it is doing all right. If the price where just a tad lower, perhaps there’d be a spike.

One thing the game has going against it is the fact that it has been ported numerous times before. Even the Xbox Live version came out more than a month before the PSN version. The big selling point for this game is that it is downloadable and in HD. If that isn’t enough players will likely stick with the cheaper Virtual Console version on the Wii, or perhaps an older port, like the one for the GBA.

If the activity on the multiplayer front is any indication, the game isn’t quite the hit it could have been. Still, anyone looking for a 2D action platformer will have trouble finding too many games as unique and fun as this.

Miscellaneous

I don’t have really much to add here except that the game is enjoyable, but with some frustrating moments. I’ll certainly say that I’m glad to have finally played through an Earthworm Jim game and that I wasn’t disappointed.

Let’s just hope the next entry is a new game designed for the modern era.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Very Good
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Very Poor
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Though some of its mechanics are archaic and its exposition head scratching, Earthworm Jim HD is an enjoyable game thanks to fun gameplay, bonus content, crisp visual, and a mostly great sense of humor that keeps the player amused from start to finish. If you go into this expecting a modern game, you will be disappointed, but as far as retro game ports go, this one is pretty solid and is something most people should try, if only so we can get a new Earthworm Jim game sooner rather than later.

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