I think hyperbole is an overused literary device in regards to labelling what is the best and the worst of things, but in the case of describing in short detail a game like Earthworm Jim, I don’t saying that this is not only one of the best run’n’gun action platformers of the 16 bit era, but is one of the greatest video games ever made. I’ve spent years replaying this game over and over, and though I just beat for the very first time an hour before writing this, I have an urge to go back and try again, as the game is littered with secrets, alternate paths, and cleverly placed hard-to-reach items that taunt you.
with responsive controls and Earthworm Jim is about as smooth as they come. Using the head whip does take a little bit of time to get used to as you traverse over long gaps that require several carefully placed whip shots to get across. If you want to conserve plasma blasts, you can get skilled enough to use it as a primary means to dispatch common enemies. You can whip in seven different directions, much like Simon Belmont in Super Castlevania, except you can’t whip straight down while standing or just over your head while jumping. Those are very minute details and only seldom do they come to mind, and in the long run, you can shoot in all directions. The plasma gun can only be used while stationary and you can’t fire while jumping, so careful positioning, timing, and decision-making are essential if you want to survive and make it as far as you can and dying as little as possible.
It’s a very nice attention to detail and teaches you ways to get through tough battles carefully instead of mowing everything down while getting damaged heavily, as health power ups are sparse in certain stretches and most foes do 10 points of damage. Since you aren’t handicapped by faulty controls, you are left to your own reflexes and acquired knowledge to get better.
VISUALS (10/10) The graphics are stunning. Jim is beautifully animated and moves fluidly. Pause and wait to see one of several comedic playlets he has, like jump-roping with his own head, twirling his blaster, and so on. Every stage is bright and vivid with its own unique set of enemies exclusive to that level. From New Junk City to Snot a Problem and the hidden stage Who Turned Out the Light?, no bad guys repeat, and that’s a nice touch to Earthworm Jim’s graphical appeal that has gotten lost with the passage of time. Nowadays most stages in video games all kind of look alike. I recently finished two Red Faction games that take place on the desolate wasteland of Mars, and going back and playing this and soaking up the environment. I didn’t notice in What the Heck? the stone demon faces in the background when you’re fighting Evil the Cat when I first played this game. It’s visual gags and comedy help make this a timeless classic that spawned a much deserved cartoon series (Keeping fingers crossed for DVD release) that ran for two seasons.
Stages like Who Turned Out the Light? leave you shrouded in complete darkness. Now in most games during a stage like this, you would be able to make your way by following a silhouette or you are surrounded by a halo of light with a narrow field of vision in front of and around you. Not here! You are literally encased in COMPLETE DARKNESS! The only thing you can make out without stepping into a spotlight are Jim’s eye’s ala Looney Tunes style.
DIFFICULTY (8/10) Kids today sure have it easy, what with auto save and self-replenishing health bars, they don’t know the meaning of difficult! This is a pretty challenging game, but it’s not as ruthless as Battletoads or Castlevania III, where a great deal of luck is required. Some strokes of fortune come into play with Earthworm Jim, but constant repeated playing and aquiring skill will bear fruit as you will get better the more you play. Learning enemy boss patterns, shortcuts through stages, finding extra lives scattered about here and there, and earning continues in the Andy Asteroids bonus stages (You need to collect at least 50 bubbles, AND it gets more challenging each time) makes your romp easier. That being said, some points will have you tearing your hair out in frustration! I spent the longest amount of time on Tube Race, a scenario where you have to navigate a single passenger underwater vessel through rocky caverns in 99 seconds. Hitting the rocks a certain number of times will implode your sub and you die. The real tricky part is getting the hang of piloting the sub; holding down B propels it forward and left and right on the Dpad controls the direction. If you’ve never played this part of the game, good God, it’s frustrating. I got could enough that I could get through it dying ONCE, and you can only afford that so many times early on.
Navigating Peter Puppy across deadly terrian in For Pete’s Sake will put quick decision making and judgement calls to the test. Not only do you have to whip Peter over cliffs and obstacles, but these annoying ass flying saucers will damage you as well as halt your progress for a second or two. Brief, yes, but every second counts as your protectee will plung over an edge. so NOW not only will Peter hurt you, but also drag you back to the last check point of the stage!! I partially have this stage to thank for a receding hairline at age 12!
IN CLOSING: Earthworm Jim is a rare 10/10 treasure. This is indeed an epic video game experience that everybody should try at the nearest opportunity. It’s art style is fantastic and pleasing to the eyes with great level design and beautiful character animation. It’s controls are tight and responsive, utilizing a simple button layout, so it’s very easy to pick up and play, and the difficulty has a fine seasoning of frustration while providing a legit challenge that takes practice and the best of your gaming senses to accomplish. If you have an SNES or a Sega Genesis, hunt this one down, or download the HD edition for Playstation Network or XBox Live.