Niche Game: Earthworm Jim 1 & 2

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing mecause they’re something different, something special.

Earthworm Jim is a side-scroller action science fiction game with a ridiculous sense of humor. It was released in 1994 for the Super NES (and many other systems about the same time). The following excerpt from the story is typical of the style: “Psy-Crow is chasing a small renegade ship. The ship’s pilot has stolen an ultra-high-tech-indestructible-super-space-cyber-suit. Psy-Crow overtakes the renegade ship and they face off head-to-head. Psy-Crow pulls his gun. The renegade pulls an even bigger gun. Wrought with gun envy, Psy-Crow pulls out a huge monster gun. The renegade, realizing he has been outmatched, pleads for mercy. But Psy-Crow, under direct orders from the evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-behind, blasts the renegade and his entire ship to smithereens. The suit falls gently to a strange planet below. The strange planet is our planet. PLANET EARTH.”

As it turns out, the suit is indestructible as advertised, but the person wearing it can still be blown to smithereens (oops, bad design). The suit happens to land over the top of a typical earthworm. The suit is so powerful it mutates the earthworm so that it grows much larger and (somewhat) more intelligent worm. Even though he’s wearing a human-shaped suit, Jim is still an earthworm, which becomes obvious when he uses his worm whip. The hand of the suit grabs Jims neck and pulls the worm out of the suit, cracking it like a whip to attack enemies, before replacing it back in the suit. He can also spin the worm like a helicopter to extend his jump a bit. His other usual weapon is his blaster gun which regenerates ammo up to a certain level, though if you drain it the recharge time can cost you. He can also pick up gun power-ups like mega shot and homing missiles.

The stages and villains of the game are weird and varied, Psy-Crow being the least interesting of the group. “What the Heck?” takes place on a Hell-like planet called Heck, which is ruled by Evil the Cat (we all knew a cat was behind it, admit it). The background music for that one involves elevator music and tortured screams. The level is patrolled by briefcase toting lawyers who use their briefcase to block your blaster fire, and also snowmen. In the end you face off against Evil himself. Then there’s Major Mucus, a being made entirely out of phlegm. You have a bungee jumping battle where each of you try to knock the other into rock walls to break the other’s cord.

My favorite character in the game is Peter the Puppy. Peter skips happily along, oblivious of the many dangerous enemies and obstacles along the way. If he gets hurt, then he loses his temper mutates into a bloated purple monster, grabs Jim and chomps away a huge chunk of his health. Then he reverts to his cute puppy form and continues on. To make it through the level alive, Jim not only has to avoid danger himself, but he has to keep Peter safe as well. Besides destroying enemies, he also needs to use the worm whip on Peter, which will make him jump in the air. If timed right he will clear gaps and the carnivorous plants along the way.

Between each level, Earthworm Jim jumps on his Pocket Rocket (an actual rocket, get your minds out of the gutters) and races Psy-Crow on the ways between planets. This offers some welcome variety to the gameplay.

Earthworm Jim 2 was released in 1995, and was a very worthwhile sequel. Jim is back with some changes in play control. Instead of using the worm to whip and to helicopter down, he has a new buddy he keeps in his backpack called Snott who performs similar functions.

Many of the villains from the original game return here in different forms. This time instead of bungee jumping against Major Mucus, you are flying your Pocket Rocket, transporting a balloon-lifted explosive to Mucus’s headquarters. You have to keep the explosive in one piece despite enemy attackers, and blow up Mucus with it.

Again, my absolute favorite level in this game is the one with Peter the Puppy. In the year that’s passed, Peter Puppy has had a litter (puppies having puppies!). Psy-Crow has broken into Peter’s house and kidnapped the baby’s.

Being the evil creature he is, he is tossing the little doggies out the window one by one as Peter watches from the other end of yard in dismay. Luckily Jim happens to be carrying a giant marshmallow that he can use the bounce the pups over to their father who will catch them and set them down gently.

If the pups hit the ground they go squish, and too many dropped pups makes Peter lose his temper and chomp on Jim. You have to keep this up until Psy-Crow tosses out a bomb. When you bounce the bomb to Peter he will chuck it back at Psy-Crow again (You’d think he’d be blowing up his own children that way, but whatever). The concept makes no sense, but that’s okay, Earthworm Jim doesn’t HAVE to make sense, and it’s extremely fun and a good challenge.

Shortly after the second game, a TV series was spawned that lasted about a year. I’m afraid I’ve never seen it, so I can’t comment on its quality. That sounds like a mission for Hulu!

1999 marked the most recent entry in the series with Earthworm Jim 3-D for Nintendo 64. It was.. okay. I liked the animation, which was a well-done 3-D rendition of Jim and his friends and enemies. The plot is silly as ever: a cow has landed on Jim’s head, fracturing his brain. The game takes place inside his damaged brain. Jim is tasked with collecting his marbles, and finding golden udders to allow him to give them to the Sacred Cow of Contemplation to unlock new areas. The levels were okay, definitely weird, though they got a little long. But the thing that really broke my enjoyment of the game was the boss battles. In the previous EWJ games, each boss battle is very different from one another. In this one they are all too similar and last WAY too long. In each you are driving around an arena, as is your opponent, collecting marbles. To complete the level, you must get every marble, including those held by your opponent. Attacking your opponent makes them drop some marbles, and vice versa. Each of these fights just lasted forever as you swap a few marbles back and froth. Way too much of a time sink, even when I was in high school and had nothing better to do with my time. I doubt I’d ever have the patience nowadays to complete one of the boss battles, let alone to battle through the rest of the game. Also, I reached a point in the game, where there didn’t seem to be enough marbles to pass on regardless of what I did. I don’t know if that was something I did wrong, or if there was a glitch in the game, but after spending days trying to move on with no success I gave up and had to return to the game to Blockbuster. So I wouldn’t go out of your way to find the 3rd game, but the first two in the series are rock solid.

Finding Earthworm Jim 1 and 2 is easy if you have a Wii, as both are now available for Nintendo’s Virtual Console. If you’re willing to pay a little money for it then you can download it onto your Wii hard drive and have it forever. An eBay search also came up with quite a few hits for various systems. So you shouldn’t have a problem tracking it down. Try it out. It’s hard, it’s fun, it’s totally worth it. Enjoy!