Review: Earthworm Jim (Sega Genesis)

In this review, things get groovy as we play the Sega Genesis game Earthworm Jim. We find out if this adventure game is worth a play.

This game was released in 1994. We previously reviewed the sequel, Earthworm Jim 2. That game got a pretty positive review around here. So, we thought we’d try the prequel to see where this series began.

The mission is to rescue Princess What’s-Her-Face. Psy-crow is also attempting to steal back the power suit. Beyond that, the game itself doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of storyline.

There are a number of features that have since gone on to the sequel. One of the features is the various blue atoms spread throughout the level. Each one increases your health a little for a maximum of 100. Run out of health and you lose a life. A free life can be obtained by collecting the Earthworm Jim icons hidden throughout the levels.

Another collectible item is the red atom. Collect this and you obtain full health.

In addition, you have your weapon. You can replenish your ammo by collecting the guns. Also, if you run low, you can allow the gun to recharge to a small amount of ammunition. A special power upgrade is the plasma gun. This is denoted by the sparkling guns. Each sparkling gun collected will give you an additional shot. The plasma gun is substantially more powerful, but you only get a very limited number of times to fire it throughout the game.

While there are a number of standard platforming levels, each level is divided by a warp sub-level. In this level, you are racing against Psy-Crow. There are three items you can pick up throughout this level.

The first is the blue bubble. While the most common, the effect of this is not always immediately clear to the player other than they can be accumulated. If, however, you collect 50 or more during the sub-level, you’ll get a can of worms. This is also known fondly as a continue. One thing to keep in mind is the fact that not every warp level contains 50 bubbles. So, collecting them ends up being a waste of time. This, of course, generally happens for later levels, so collecting as many as possible early on is an absolute must if you are not a super skilled platforming player.

A second item you can collect is the shield. These shields can also be collected. During the level, you can collect use them to grand yourself temporary immunity from the endless asteroids.

The final item in these levels are the red rocket items. These items not only give you a speed boost, but also grant you temporary invulnerability. One thing to keep in mind is the fact that Psy-Crow can also collect these and speed off into the distance.

Moving back to the platforming levels, players will get a set of moves. They can jump, fire their weapon, climb, or initiate a whip move.

If you jump, you can repeatedly tap the jump button to execute a helicopter move. This move allows you to hover through the air on a downward trajectory.

Firing your weapon does simply entail tapping the fire weapon button. However, one important thing to know is that if you are firing your weapon, you’ll remain stationary. This is very useful if you need to aim in many different directions (which is pretty mandatory in some parts of the game).

The whip move grabs the worm part of your character and whips forward. You can also jump and whip or even aim up to whip directly above you. The major positive to this move is the fact that you have unlimited ammo. An added bonus is that if you whip a special object (like a hook or an eye), you can lasso that object and swing from one location to another. You can jump and whip again after this move to form a chain reaction if you wish. You can even swing underneath spiked walls (not that this happens all that often, but the move is there).

There are two kinds of climbing. One is the more traditional form of climbing. You simply jump to a ledge. If you just miss it, your character will grab it and pull himself up. The other form of climbing is less obvious. In some areas, you can jump up and press up. This allows Jim to climb up walls that face the player. It sometimes unclear when you get this opportunity, but if you find yourself stuck and unable to move forward in a level, this may be the move you need to execute to get over an obstacle.

Another thing to keep in mind while pushing your way through each level is the fact that there are a few special levels with specific objectives. In one level, you have to bungee jump and defeat an opponent. In a similar level, you have to free fall and defeat an enemy. In another couple of levels, you actually separate Jim from his suit. One final level is the ever annoying Pete level where you need to let Pete the Puppy walk across a dangerous level to the other side.

In the bungee jumping level, you can move in any direction while you jump up and down. You can also attack your opponent. If you attack him enough times, he will fall into the drink, allowing you to win. The challenge is that he has a spin attack that can hit you. Uniquely, your health is denoted by how much your string is damaged. Your opponent will feature a similar health bar.

In the similar levels, you can move in any direction. The difference here is that you retain both of your attach moves.

There are a couple of levels that feature Jim separated from his suit. In this state, you lose all of your moves save for ducking and jumping. The goal is obviously attempting to reunite with your suit, but how to do so involves differing strategies.

Probably the most frustrating special level involves Pete the pink puppy. Pete will walk carelessly along a path oblivious to the dangers ahead of him. Jim will retain all of the basic moves regardless, however, you can manipulate Pete’s movements. If you shoot Pete with your gun, you’ll cause him to stop and duck. If you whip him, you’ll send him flying up in a particularly large jump. One thing to keep in mind is that if Pete falls off a ledge or get attacked by the many enemies on the stage, he will turn into a flying mutant and send you back a distance. Get Pete to safety to beat the level.

One thing I really do think is great about this game is the diversity of the different levels. While the levels feature slightly different controls from time to time, there is enough consistency to allow players to understand quickly what needs to be done. The variety itself keeps this game fresh throughout.

The problem with this game is the tough difficulty. Levels like the last level, underwater level, and a number of other levels seem to offer some pretty tough courses to complete. In a lot of cases, you end up needing a little bit of advanced knowledge just to stand a chance. I think the game leaned a bit too heavily on being a difficult game. This disallows players with minimal platforming skills from advancing very far as they will no doubt grow frustrated and quit early on or cheat to win.

What I do like is that a lot of the basics are pretty easy to understand. So, it’s not as though you are practically learning a whole new game every 2 or 3 levels.

Generally speaking, the biggest pitfall is the difficulty. This tends to not only hurt the overall enjoyment a player can get out of the game, but also hurt potential replay value. Do you really want to play a game again after you wanted to send the controller through the screen half way through last time? Still, the diverse levels and easy to understand basics do help this game along.

Graphically speaking, this game is pretty good. The cartoon style is very well realized. In addition, the variety of art between each level works very well in this games favour. The thing to remember is that there is a lot of stiff competition on this release year, so it isn’t the only fish in the sea sporting some pretty solid graphics. Still, the graphics are solid enough to be a great visual experience for a game of its time.

In numerous Sega Genesis games, audio has been a very big weak spot. This is largely thanks to low hardware capabilities for a system of its time. As a result, a lot of games suffered in this area. Even games that sport an amazing soundtrack on the SNES that got ported over to the Genesis suffered greatly in this area. While I won’t say this game featured the best soundtrack of the year (Uniracers and Final Fantasy III had way better soundtracks for instance), I will say that this game is a pleasant surprise. The game features some pretty solid tracks on some of the levels. Not all of them were big hits in my view, but there is some good stuff in this game. The sound effects are pretty decent as well. This game gets a thumbs up from me in this area.

Overall, this is a pretty solid game. Probably the biggest turn off for this game for me is the difficulty. Unless you are a seasoned player who knows how to quickly adapt to a difficult game, this game will end up being little more than a one big frustrating experience for most. Still, I can’t ignore the big range of levels that are in here. The easy to understand controls for a lot of levels works in this games favour. Meanwhile, the graphics are great thanks to diverse levels and cartoon style animations. The audio is also a pleasant surprise given other games I’ve reviewed in the past on this system. If you can see past the steep difficulty, there is a pretty decent game underneath that.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game on normal difficulty.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 78%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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