Earthworm Jim HD
Picture it; an earthworm clad in a Super Suit whipping a pink puppy with his head as he tries to guide it through a psychedelic space stage. Flying cows, characters made out of snot, Professor Monkey-For-A-Head and a Hell stage scored to the sound of elevator music; these are all normal sights in the world of Earthworm Jim. It’s a franchise that revels in its own silliness, a fact that lends the series much of its appeal. This is the sort of title where fussy gameplay mechanics can, and do, play second fiddle to pure comic hilarity. As such, for those unacquainted with the series’ Ren and Stimpy-esque humour, or indeed, those wondering what sort of game tasks you with whipping a puppy, perhaps some explanation is in order.
Relating any of Earthworm Jim’s back story in an intelligible manner is perhaps an exercise in futility. Suffice it to say that Jim is an ordinary earthworm who has stumbled across the “Ultra-high-tech-indestructible-super-space-cyber-suit”. Blessed with the power this grants him, he takes it upon himself to rescue “Princess What’s-Her-Name” from her evil sister “Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-Butt”.
As you do.
What all of this insanity translates into is a typical 2D run-and-gun platformer, albeit one filled with surreal locations, strange enemies and elaborate set pieces. For better or for worse this is the same game it was sixteen years ago; Jim fights his way through a series of bizarre stages using a mixture of his plasma blaster and whip-like head to dispatch enemies. Said whip is also utilised in platforming, with Jim able to swing across gaps by latching on to hooks (or, for some reason, moose heads), as well using his head as a helicopter-like gliding ability.
Each level is given its own distinctive flavour due to both a wide range of colourful environments and a large number of inventive set pieces. These range from riding a hamster through a series of underwater pipes to the “Andy Asteroids” racing minigame, which utilises Jim’s rocket ship to navigate an asteroid-filled course. Lack of diversity certainly isn’t a problem here and the game’s wide range of ideas prevent the otherwise straightforward platforming and combat from becoming tiresome. Put simply, if you’re not having some sort of fun by the time you’re in Hell whipping bankers to the sound of Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bald Mountain, then what hope is there for you?
Although the core gameplay remains the same, Earthworm Jim HD’s most significant change is evident in its name. While the original was always a colourful and visually distinctive title, the game is given a new life with a complete overhaul of its environments, characters and animations. Everything remains devotedly faithful to the original game, yet the detail in both the visuals and sound has been ramped up significantly. It looks superb, and somehow manages to put even the Earthworm Jim cartoon series to shame in terms of sheer character.
Snot a Problem
Earthworm Jim HD irons out a few of the original game’s niggles with the addition of tweaked difficulty settings (it says something that the hardest is named “Original”). Bosses now display health bars in these lower difficulties and the game’s save system does away with the frustration of starting from the beginning after every game over. A small but welcome addition.
But the changes are not just aesthetic: Additional content has been added in the form of three bonus stages. These place you in a typical Earthworm Jim-esque environment filled with floating floppy disks and other computer-themed components. They fit the game’s bizarre theme visually (particularly with the battle against a jetpack-wearing granny) although their overall design is arguably not as distinctive and varied as the original title’s stages. The new multiplayer mode is also a welcome addition, requiring a degree of both cooperation and competition as you take on completely redesigned stages both online and locally.
So then, if you ever wanted to participate in a ruthless bungee jumping competition over a pit of snot, this is your game. But if there is one key problem with Earthworm Jim HD it’s that it makes very little effort to convince those not already endeared to the franchise. All of the original game’s flaws remain: Platforming can be extremely vague, with an often crippling lack of clarity in regard to what you can and can’t walk on. Using your hook-swinging ability also feels completely unintuitive, with many of the more complex swinging and jumping sections requiring a degree of precision that simply isn’t present in the loose controls. Trying to get Jim to whip a series of hooks or traverse slippery platforms can lead to a lot of frustration, particularly in the last few levels of the game as failure often results in a significant loss of health or even instant death.
It’s telling that Earthworm Jim HD is most fun when it’s playing with ideas that go beyond its core gameplay mechanics. But it’s also telling that this wide range of inventive ideas manage to elevate the game far above its obvious flaws. Nonetheless, those who enjoyed the original game in 1994 will no doubt get the most from Earthworm Jim HD. For these people the game is a welcome, and perhaps overdue piece of software that remains faithful to the original title, while also updating it with a great degree of polish. But for everyone else? Well Earthworm Jim HD’s value will be directly proportional to their fondness of flying cows and keyboard-playing cats.