RETRO REBOOT - Earthworm Jim (Sega Genesis)

I think hyperbole is an overused literary device in regards to labeling 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 one of the coolest run’n’gun action platformers of the 16 bit era from an artistic standpoint, and was a game that began to define the mid 90's.

Developed in 1994 by Shiny Entertainment with programming headed by David Perry (one of the first game programmers' names I recorded to memory back in the day, that's how influential EWJ was to me as a kid), with artwork by Doug Steve Crow, Mike Dietz, and Ed Schofield, with music supervision from Tommy Tallarico, Earthworm Jim gained notoriety for its solid gameplay, level design, and memorable sprite animation that just brought a lot of the personality to life.

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. 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, which deserved better. I've heard it's coming back, I'll wait and see...

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. 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. It's trickier than the seaweed in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

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! Yeah, that's a lot of fun to experience. The level variety is creative, never gets repetitive, and keeps the challenges coming.

I do prefer the Genesis version of Earthworm Jim to the SNES version. EWJ was built initially on the Mega Drive and the other versions are based and modified from it. The redrawn visuals may look nicer on the SNES, but to me, the Genesis version gives it more of a comic book appearance.

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. Try this one out for a real definitive slice of 90's gaming.

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