By John Kest
As the saying goes, “Inside every great worm there’s a larva yearning for an intergalactic space suit,” and Earthworm Jim is a superb example of games in the 90’s that trigger our nostalgia today. Well, for me anyway!
The developers of Shiny Entertainment and Playmates Interactive Entertainment released Earthworm Jim in 1994, and bless their souls. Shiny Entertainment was a software company just starting out and was backed by Playmates Toys Inc. However, Playmates Toys Inc. had their claws in the industry making toys such as the TMNT action figures among other franchise characters in the 80’s and 90’s. Playmates Toys Inc. later branched out making a video game publishing division, Playmates Interactive Entertainment, which is considered a sister company. This was to be a great partnership between Shiny and Playmates, which lead to creating an incredible and unforgettable franchise. Earthworm Jim was obviously Shiny Entertainment and Playmates Interactive Entertainment’s first game, and it panned out to be a great success in which they sold millions of units on various platforms such as the Mega-Drive, Sega Genesis, SNES, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, Gameboy Color, iPhone, and the PC, just to name a few. Sega was actually the first to release and publish the game on the Mega Dive/Genesis, and Nintendo soon followed on the SNES in 1995. A cartoon series was also launched along with merchandise such as Earthworm Jim action figures and comics. Groovy!
The two geniuses responsible for creating Earthworm Jim are designer David Perry, a game developer, programmer and head of Shiny Entertainment, and creator Doug TenNapel, an award winning artist and animator. Dave Perry worked at Virgin Interactive before he was given the money by Playmates Toys Inc. to start up Shiny Entertainment and it was his talent in programming that turned the game into such a smash hit. Also, it was Doug TenNapel’s incredible artistic skills that really brought the characters and environments to life. That’s why the game is praised for its sprites and graphics even to this day. Shiny Entertainment also had very creative and talented animators, programmers, artists and designers that worked on the Earthworm Jim game. They really did a great job making life fun growing up to games such as this.
Earthworm Jim is considered to be a 2D run and gun sidescrolling platformer on an acid trip! You have to hear this story: Earthworm Jim’s archenemy is none other than the evil villain, Psy-Crow, who is a hired bounty hunter working for The evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Puss-filled, Malformed, Slug for-a-Butt, who is the ruler of the planet Insectica. We’ll just call her Queen for short. One day, Psy-Crow was chasing a renegade ship in outer space flown by Snott –a bopper-being– who escaped from the Queen and stole a special space suit that was created by Professor Monkey-for-a-Head. Psy-Crow finally caught up with the ship that was retreating. That leads to the two ships having a face-off to see whose gun was bigger. Psy-Crow won the competition and proceeded to blast Snot’s ship to smithereens. In the process, the suit fell to Earth landing on top of an earthworm, spawning our protagonist, Earthworm Jim! Ta-da! So, basically, you have your classic ‘crow vs. worm beef’ in video game form. Psy-Crow wants to take the suit back from Jim, to give to the Queen because the Queen believes that the suit will make her more beautiful than her imprisoned twin sister, Princess-What’s-Her-Name. Jim’s mission is to find the princess before Psy-Crow and an army of villains who want nothing but to catch Jim and reclaim the suit.
The game is really out there and very comical in its crazy atmospheric world where you control the protagonist, Earthworm Jim. The game consists of 7-8 levels depending on which platform you are playing. The SNES version was missing a level, “Intestinal Distress,” due to size restriction issues. The level backgrounds for both the Genesis and SNES are very colorful, well shaded and detailed for its day. There’s a secret level in Earthworm Jim called ‘Who turned out the Light?’ The secret level is a very nice bonus board with great graphics. The bonus stage consists of you controlling Jim through pitch black rooms that are lit from time to time by a spotlight. You have to run and jump over enemies and the only thing you can see is Jim’s eyes along with his enemies eyes. Visually this stage is really beautiful. The objective of the bonus stage is to find the exit door. The game encompasses all types of clever scenarios that Jim has to go through in order to complete each level. The game designers really came up with some great mission objectives and, when playing the game today, it really amazes me how much you have to do in order to complete the game. The game is definitely not straightforward and has you running all over in each level: hitting switches, jumping gaps, fighting bosses and sub-bosses, riding hamsters, driving submarines, launching cows, bungee jumping against Major Mucus –a very large and annoying snot– and the list goes on!
There are also sub-levels in Earthworm Jim called ‘Andy Asteroids,’ which consist of a race between Jim and Psy-Crow. There are 7 Andy Asteroid levels throughout the game after each main mission. You can argue that there are 14-15 missions in total depending on which console you’re playing, anyway. In Andy Asteroids, you control Jim on his rocket through a portal collecting power boosts called Atomic Accelerators, which make Jim’s rocket travel faster, all while dodging asteroids in the process. If you collect the Asteroid Shields the asteroids themselves will have no effect on you making you invincible. When you defeat Psy-Crow in the race you will put a stop to his pursuit and he’ll become less of a threat throughout each level. However, if you fail in the race, Psy-Crow will be a pain in the neck all the way until the end levels. If you collect 50 Fuel Pods you will be rewarded with an extra can-o-worm, which is a free continue.
What can I say? The game was way ahead of its time. The controls are pretty much the same across all of the platforms of the game, consisting of the directional pad and three buttons, Jump, Shoot and Whip. A special move that Earthworm Jim can perform happens when you press the jump button repeatedly while in flight, which causes Jim to spin his head like a helicopter propeller making him float. This allows Jim to glide across the screen collecting ammo and health in hard to reach areas. Jim can also use his head as a whip allowing him to either strike an enemy or swing from hooks, kind of like Indiana Jones. Jim can take out most enemies with one swing of the whip, which helps in conserving Plasma Blaster rounds. Shooting Jim’s Plasma Blaster is pretty straight forward as the directional pad controls are. However, the Plasma Blaster is Jim’s main weapon of his Super Suit, and it is very satisfying to turn your enemies into Swiss cheese with it. One of its cool features is that it recharges back to 100 rounds if it hits 0 rounds. This is great if you’re in a bind and have to deal with enemies that are a pain in the neck, you can hang back for a bit letting the Plasma Blaster charge, and then proceed again through the level. If you’re wise, you will conserve on ammo so you will be thankful later when it’s much needed. Also, it is not wise to stay idle for too long while playing the game because Jim is a much more difficult target to hit while moving. Another tip is to do a lot of exploring in the game because there are a bunch of hidden areas and secrets scattered out inside each level. Overall the controls are very responsive and solid, making the gameplay fun and interesting. The graphics of the game are top notch for the 16-Bit era: colorful sprites, well thought of and cool enemies plus super detailed levels, really set the tone and mood in the game. The game captivated me with its animation-like style characters, vibrant colors and humor, as I was fourteen when the game was released.
There is a very large cast of characters in the game, and Doug TenNapel did a phenomenal job drawing them up. Some cool characters besides Earthworm Jim are Evil the Cat, Psy-Crow, Bob & #4, Doc Duodenum and Peter Puppy. Although the Mega Drive/Genesis version uses it’s highest resolution for the game, I still think the SNES has greater detail for both the characters and backgrounds. Some of the backgrounds in the game look alive because they’re drawn and animated so well. At the time, I really understood that Earthworm Jim was a special game, which made a lasting impression on me. Another great element in the game is the music compositions and sound designing. The voice-overs may consist of one or two words, however, they’re very funny, whether Jim is saying Groovy or Whoa Nelly! The voice-overs and sound effects of the enemies also bring out the humor in the game. The sound of the Plasma Blaster is very cool, loud, obnoxious, and satisfying, along with the sound of the crack of the whip, Jim’s cranium. The music in the game is very well done and really shows the game’s personality and attitude. The songwriter who composed Earthworm Jim in its humble beginnings was Mark Miller and Neuromantic Productions and, later, Tommy Tallarico who produced the music on the Sega CD, Sega Saturn, and Earthworm Jim 2 for the SNES and Genesis. Mark and Tommy both worked on the Earthworm Jim HD version. The game’s soundtrack is very eclectic ranging from classic compositions, electronic, ragtime, bluegrass, etc. It’s very energetic and gets your blood flowing when you’re playing. The classical arrangement in the game was taken from Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain’, a powerful piece of music. The arrangement is tense and scary and fits the level, What the Heck? The ragtime song in Earthworm Jim is Scott Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’. Scott Joplin wrote it in the key of C and it was published in A flat Major. However, Mark Miller transposed it higher to the key of E flat, as well as a few slight changes making it sound comical. The audio also showed how advanced the sound engines of the Genesis and SNES were for the time. This always led to an argument between friends on which sounded better. Personally I like them both. Disputes on the graphics between the Genesis and SNES consoles were also another subject of debate. Ah, the good old days! Earthworm Jim was crowned in 1994 as the Best Genesis Game of the year by EGM.
In conclusion, Earthworm Jim is a pure classic! The gameplay and well-drawn characters will leave a lasting impression on any gamer young or old. David Perry recently told Eurogamer at a conference in England that he is sure another Earthworm Jim game will be created, and that a kickstarter campaign might be considered. Let’s all hope and pray that another installment will happen. I hope we can see the franchise come back to life and get the recognition it deserves.