I remember hearing sometime in the 90s that a new video game came out in which you play an earthworm. That made me curious, if only because of the sheer absurdity of the idea. The worm is put – as it turns out – into a fancy power suit and is also equipped with a small pistol that can even be converted into a rocket blaster via power-up. The worm's origins are unmistakably the world of colourful, funny cartoons that popped up like mushrooms in those times. My surprise just increased as I heard about a version of that game for my little monochrome Gameboy.
This firework of humour and sparkling gags was already an exciting thing to see on more advanced systems such as SNES, Mega Drive, Windows 95 and MS-DOS. Reception of the Gameboy version are frankly strongly diverging: some consider it ugly (the hell level is admittedly a bit pale without the colour red) and even unplayable due to the high level of difficulty. However, I am an advocate of the praising voices and consider the implementation on this particularly resource-poor system to be a masterpiece, because the technical implementation was certainly an extremely tricky affair that seems to have completely exhausted the Gameboy's capabilities.
Compared to the – well-known – platform classic Super Mario Land, Earthworm Jim seems to come from another dimension in terms of content, gameplay and technical brilliance. The levels scroll smoothly in 4 directions, the animations are fluid and easily recognisable, the controls are to the point, the speed of the worm is without flaw, the structure of the huge levels is only marginally downscaled here and there and otherwise, apart from the lack of colouring, it is damn close to its big console brothers. In addition to the cool sound effects, each level is equipped with well-adapted background music.
On the other hand, as a third fire-button is missing, there is the tricky double-allocation of the B-button. Since this is already the preset for gun-shooting, the player has to manage to press a combination of a directional button and synchronously the B-button for using the whip.
In the game, Earthworm Jim is similar to Mario driven by the promising prospect to claim the attention of a really hot bee called Princess What's-Her-Name and instead sees himself confronted by the consequences of a catapulted cow in the course of an absolutely absurd end-sequence.
But to finish the game, you really have to be a damn good player. Although there is a choice of three difficulty levels at the beginning, there is unfortunately no save or password option. The levels only contain continue-save points here and there or you collect a few extra lives. The opinion that the Gameboy version is – to put it mildly – uninviting for beginners can easily be justified. Nevertheless, the conversion to the Gameboy, which is so accurate and overwhelmingly well worked out in every other respect, deserves much more attention than has been given to its relatively unknown existence so far.
If only because the rather curious, almost surreal universe of eccentric diversity which was created around the unparalleled character Earthworm Jim. The jump'n'run genre has been altered in many ways. In the end, there are only 2 of 5 levels which have the classic design. Already in the second level, Earthworm Jim is not jumping and running anymore, but has to be directed through a long corridor system sitting in a funny submarine. Level 3 is an unheard-of bungee jump duel against a snot ball, which you push against the wall while falling to cut off his rope. And in the next level, Jim saves a sleepwalking puppy from dangerous gaps while lifting him up with whip lashes. Between the levels, there is a race against the arch-rival Psy-Crow in a wormhole.
Finally, the question: if such a groundbreaking and outstanding game was released in 1995 and Earthworm Jim even had its own TV series, why has almost nothing come around about this unique super-hero today?
Very much of the persistence of this character seems to depend on the involvement of its creator Douglas TenNapel, who was involved in both successful first parts. The sequels and spin-offs that followed without his collaboration were not worth mentioning, bad interpretations of his brainchild. However, TenNapel has been hired again for an official 4th part, which is announced for the newly released Amico console.
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