You’re put in charge with coming up with a new heroic character for a potentially groundbreaking game. What are your first thoughts? Ex militant out on the rampage, seeking revenge? Nah. Why not rather go for an earthworm? An earthworm that uses a robotic suit that in turn uses the earthworm as a whip. All this while riding on hamsters and wielding a gun. The 90’s era was glorious.
From the start of the first level you know that you are in for a unique experience. The animation runs fluidly over a level design that is both all over the place as well as a pleasure on the eyes. Stand still for too long and Earthworm Jim busts out a humorous animation, a big trend in games at the time. The difference here is that it is clear that each and every movement of the main character and enemies alike have been prudently designed in every way. The levels don’t only look the part; they are cunningly designed with Jim having to whip his way across a number of sections in order to enter a seemingly unreachable area.
The movements of our groovy hero also stand out from traditional platformers. Not necessarily all for the greater good. Jim handles awkwardly. His jumps hover over short areas with the precision of a fish out of water. After a while you get used to the odd timing of his jumps but it seems like an unnecessary period to become acquainted with this dynamic – by this point platformers were commonplace. Jim also moves substantially quicker than most enemies making some gun and whip attacks moderately inaccurate.
Most of the gameplay revolves around grappling from platform-to-platform while avoiding enemy attacks and collecting ammo and health. This is intervened by some contrasting gameplay at the end and occasionally during a level. When a level has been completed Jim races on a pocket rocket against a rather disturbed character named Psy-Crow. There is also a brief snotty bungee-jumping section and an under-water hamster cage just to change things up a little.
Earthworm Jim can’t be faulted for a lack of originality. The often grim levels are a seamless contrast to the protagonist’s enthusiastic southern charm. If taking on manic villains with names like Psy-Crow, Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, Evil the Cat, Bob the Killer Goldfish, Major Mucus, and Professor Monkey-For-A-Head isn’t a fitting barge-pole to the games distinctiveness then you can call me ‘Nelly’. In an era of games that thrived on toilet humour and over-the-top wackiness Earthworm Jim still managed to make its mark on the gaming industry and stand out from the crowd. Despite some control issues Earthworm Jim delivers an addictive and challenging take on the platforming genre providing a perfect balance of visuals, sound, gameplay and humour. Jim’s adventures are nothing short of groovy.