Earthworm Jim HD is a near perfect remake of a flawed game. You can't make an entire game based purely on bizarre characters and strange scenarios, but they came pretty damn close.
You may remember 'Earthworm Jim' from his initial appearance in 1994. It would be a surprise if you didn't considering just how bizarre the character is. The premise is really unimportant, but demands recounting because of just how strange it is. You play as a worm, who lucks into a power suit from space, which also gives you (Jim) a functional brain and a face. Because of this he has to save the princess. That's about all the story you get, or need really, from the HD remake, and it's infinitely more than you received in the original.
The original game received high praise for its excellent animation, character design, sound and control. The game looked and felt smooth, and it still does today. It seems that no new frames of animation or extra art assets were added to any element of the original game; rather, it was all just redrawn so it would look a lot prettier. Because there was no need to add new frames of animation, the game looks identical to the 1994 original, except a whole lot sexier. This is how all remakes should really be approached. No need to start from scratch, just work with the elements that have already been put in place, and make it fit into our modern HD world.
Jamming jams by Tommy Tallarico means mesmerizing music
The music was approached similarly in the sense that it does not receive exhaustive remixes of the original soundtrack. Originally created by 'Tommy Tallarico,' whose name is almost as fun to repeat, as his music is to listen to, the soundtrack is simply put -- awesome. If you played the original, it will only take a few seconds of New Junk City's awesome bass line to bring the nostalgia rushing in. If you haven't played the original, you will just have to enjoy it without the nostalgia element, which won't be too difficult, I promise.
The gameplay and control from the original makes its way to the Xbox 360 as well. It's a breeze to control Jim and you very rarely miss the jumps that you are aiming for. All this positive talk is probably making you wonder why I called Earthworm Jim a flawed game. Well sit tight, and I will get to it. I just wanted to get all the positive stuff out of the way first.
It's not all roses and Peter Puppies
Earthworm Jim looked great, sounded great and controlled great, but there were all these little problems that made the experience frustrating. Many of these have made it over to the remake, but thankfully many have been taken care of. Hit detection for one, was always a problem. A lot of crap got tossed your way, especially by the bosses. So much in fact, that dodging at times feels like an impossibility. For every item that hit Jim's face with seemingly no avoidance manoeuvre available, your fun quotient would drop. This has made it over into the HD translation.
Another problem was the pacing of the game. It can't be denied that the game was diverse in its challenges, but for some reason the difficulty would spike all over the place. Partner this with the unavoidable 'Andy Asteroids' level between every stage, and you ended up confused out the levels recurring appearance. Andy Asteroids feels like a fun mini-game, until you realize it can, and will lead you to game overs. As the difficulty ramps up each with consecutive playthrough, your dread of having to replay the level increases every time. This has made it over into the HD translation.
Perhaps the biggest of the original problems though, was the overall level design. Paths through the levels were not laid out in an understandable manner, and it was easy to end up in the right area, or the wrong area (usually the latter) with no real perception of how you got there. Couple this with sometimes ambiguous platforms, and you end making a lot of leaps of faiths. This has made it over into the HD translation, and it becomes very apparent when playing the new HD levels, which in comparison, are straightforward, fun, and very low on the confusing meter.
I hate that stupid submarine level
There is one level in particular that needs to be addressed specifically, and it ties in with another problem with the original title that has been fully and thankfully addressed in the HD update. There was a level from the original game that involved a glass submarine and a timer. I wouldn't be out of line to present this level as one of the most difficult challenges of the 16-bit era. I was never able to complete it, despite literally hundreds of attempts. Earthworm Jim was not an easy game. In fact, I would call it a difficult game, a very difficult game. As a child, I considered Earthworm Jim unbeatable and it was mostly due the stupid bubble submarine level. Clearly, I am bitter about it. You had to fill your glass submarine with air from available pumps, and you were on a timer to get to each one. Often, you would get to an air pump in time, but could not gather the precision needed to connect to it, bounce off the walls trying to get your needed air, and drown in the water. I hated it.
With the HD remake, this level is finally playable, and even enjoyable! I never thought I would be able to say that. The main change that was made was the connection to the pumps. It actually works properly, so it is finally fun to float through the level, exciting even! The reason this specific level ties into the whole game, is that the difficulty has been adjusted throughout making for a much more enjoyable experience. I was finally able to beat Earthworm Jim 16 years after it came out. It was a game related level of accomplishment that I have not felt in some time.
If you want to subject yourself to the torturous difficulty of the original, the option does exist. The game difficulties are listed as easy, normal, hard and original. That should give you an idea of what you are electing to subject yourself to if you decide to take on the challenge.
Earthworm Jim HD is a great update, one that other developers who are considering tackling an update should all take notice of. If you played the original and enjoyed it in any capacity, this is not a game that you should pass up. Everything you remember is there, but prettier, and there are three new levels and a surprisingly fun set of cooperative levels. I was skeptical about multiplayer Jim, but it works, and it's fun. If you've never heard of Earthworm Jim, I think it is still worth playing for the ridiculous characters and fun platformer gameplay. Just know that some of the levels aren't in line with modern gaming conventions, and you may get a little lost.
Final Score: 8.4
Reviewed by Kyle Hilliard | 06.17.10
- Blissful nostalgia leaks from every orifice
- Looks great and retains all the charm of the original
- New levels and co-op are both totally worthwhile additions
- The glass submarine level doesn't make the player hate themselves
- Greatest avatar unlock ever?
- Bizarre premise may terrify newcomers
- Some problems from the original are still present
- There is weirdly no achievement for simply beating the game
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