During the 16-bit gaming era, Shiny Entertainment’s Earthworm Jim made quite a splash. It boasted very unusual character designs, an off-beat sense of humor, and excellent graphics and sound. It was also frustratingly hard, but so were a lot of games back then. Earthworm Jim was such a success that it spawned a few sequels and its own cartoon series.
Fast-forwarding several years, Gameloft - the developer/publisher known for producing mobile clones of popular console franchises – has brought the original Earthworm Jim to Windows Phone as an Xbox Live title. Is Earthworm Jim still as groovy as he ever was? Yes and no. This version is pretty rough around the edges thanks to some poor design decisions from the ‘loft.Swing past the jump for our in-depth review.
From the ground he did grow…
Earthworm Jim has always lacked an introductory cinema, but the original instruction manual explained the hero’s origins. A stolen super-powered spacesuit falls to the earth and lands on an innocent earthworm, producing Earthworm Jim (or EWJ as I like to call him). The evil Psy-Crow is in pursuit of the suit; he works for the evil Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. The villains kidnap Princess What's-Her-Name and plan to take over the universe. Jim must stop them and save the princess.
Earthworm Jim is an action-platformer. Jim runs and jumps across expansive levels, but that’s not so unusual. What really makes Jim stand out is his earthworm head: he can use it to whip enemies, swing from hooks, hang from chains and similar overhead objects, and float around like a helicopter.
EWJ doesn’t just attack with his head, though. He carries a rapid-fire pistol to dispatch long-range threats. Ammo is limited but players start with a thousand bullets and ammo refills are strewn liberally about most levels. Jim can also find Mega Blaster shots here and there. They kill most enemies in one shot. However you only get one shot per pickup and you can’t choose to switch to the regular gun and save Mega Blaster Shots for later, so it’s tough to conserve them for tougher enemies and bosses.
An odyssey of levels
Possibly the most unique thing about Earthworm Jim are its levels. They all look completely different from each other and many have gimmicks that dramatically change how the game is played.
- New Junk City: The first level takes place on a giant garbage dump world with a distinctive green, brown, and purple color palette. Set pieces include mounds of tires that bounce Jim around, a conveyor belt to climb while avoiding falling trash, and a cow that Jim launches into space by shooting down a refrigerator – keep an eye out for the cow in the game’s ending.
- Andy Asteroids: These 3D bonus levels closely resemble the bonus levels of Sonic 2 and take place after every normal level. Jim rides his rocket scooter through wormholes in space, collecting bubbles and dodging oncoming asteroids. In the mobile version, players steer by tilting the phone. It actually works pretty well, though I couldn’t tell exactly how to manually accelerate. Unfortunately it’s often hard to see oncoming asteroids and find a clear path due to their small size and the crummy perspective. These races get really tough eventually, though it’s only a big deal for Achievement hunters as you don’t actually die for failing them.
- Psy-Crow: Take too many hits during Andy Asteroids and Psy-Crow wins the race. He then challenges Jim to a one-on-one boss fight against a space backdrop. Stun him with bullets and then score hits with head whips to win.
What The Heck?: The requisite fire level looks and feels rather hellish. The boss, Evil the Cat, dances around in the background as Jim dodges waves of fire and evil Insurance Salesmen. Just before the snowman mini-boss, there is a hook under the ground that savvy players can use to swing below the mini-boss and skip the battle.
The true boss, Evil the Cat, is annoyingly hard to fight. He jumps down at Jim from one of three directions overhead. This version of the game doesn’t give you enough time to spot Evil before he attacks, so it becomes a guessing game of shooting and hoping for the best.
Down the Tubes: This undersea lab consists of two portions. The first involves a lot of hiding from bruiser cats by clinging to ceilings as they pass below (a bit tough thanks to this version’s shoddy controls). Riding on giant hamsters that can bite enemies is one of the level’s highlights.
The second portion involves steering a submarine around a maze with very limited air. It’s possible to refuel the submarine’s air at certain points though it requires needlessly precise positioning. The stage culminates with a fantastically short boss fight against Bib the Killer Goldfish.
- Snot a Problem: This level consists of nothing but three rounds of bombat bungee jumping against Major Muccus. If Jim slams the Major into the wall enough times, his snot bungee will break and Jim wins the round – the reverse also applies. At the bottom of the snot pit is a mucus monster whose jaws mean instant death.
Level 5: From here on out, the mobile version of the game tends to be more frustrating than fun. This factory level requires a couple of precise head-swings which are maddeningly hard to perform due to the game’s touch screen controls. At several points Jim separates from his suit and must navigate deadly conveyor belts before returning to it.
Professor Monkey-for-a-Head pops up to attack mid-level, though mercifully the part where he throws bombs at Jim on a conveyor belt has been removed from this version. Instead of fighting the professor as a boss like one would expect, Jim battles a robot chicken both on the ground and in free-fall.
- For Pete's Sake: Earthworm Jim is the first platform game I know of to feature an annoying escort mission. Jim must help Peter Puppy return to his home by knocking him across gaps with head whips and killing enemies. If Peter falls in a hole or gets hit by an enemy, he hulks out and drags Jim back a screen or two. The player often has to knock Peter from platform to platform with little or no time for error. This level just goes on and on and is no fun at all.
- Intestinal Distress: Jim ventures inside a giant creature or something while dodging brown boulders and killing flying fish. Annoyingly, there is only one mid-level checkpoint and it’s possible to reach the boss, Doctor Duodenum, without even finding it, so try not to die. Not a horrible level, but it’s easy to see why it was cut from the Super NES version.
Buttville: This level starts out with one of the most frustrating, least fun segments in all of video gaming. Jim has to helicopter down a narrow path of spiked walls. Touching the spikes (on Original difficulty) kills Jim in two or three hits. The mobile version places Jim so far down on the screen while helicoptering that the player has virtually no time to see oncoming spikes and react to them – an unforgivable development mistake. It took me over an hour of repeated tries and swearing to reach the end of the relatively short path.
The rest of the level consists mostly of normal platforming. It culminates in a mini-boss fight against J. Alfred Maggot and final boss Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, who is surprisingly easy after such a tough level start.
Programming for dummies
Some patience is required to enjoy the Windows Phone version of Earthworm Jim. First off, the frame rate is rather clunky for no discernible reason. Even the credits scroll poorly. It’s off-putting but you do get used to it. Oh, and even though the game is called Earthworm Jim HD, the graphics are clearly based on the 16-bit versions and not the Xbox 360 HD remake.
Worse are the game’s horrid touch screen controls. The virtual pad/stick is placed too far from the edge of the screen and can’t be moved. As a result, I often hit diagonally down while trying to move Jim right or left. There are three action buttons on the right side of the screen: head whip, pistol fire, and jump. Head whipping at the peak of a jump is often required in order to swing across gaps. Unfortunately the maneuver is way too hard to do here, adding unintended challenge to the game’s levels.
Tougher than a can of worms
Earthworm Jim has always been a tough game. Gameloft sort of realized this and added three easier difficulty levels in addition to Original difficulty. Easy is a big improvement as enemies do far less damage than normal and the game auto-aims Jim’s attacks. Unfortunately, the Hard and Original difficulties each have their own Achievement, so completionists will have to suffer through them instead of sticking to Easy.
Map courtesy of VGMappper.com.
Gamers should earn about half of EWJ’s Achievements by beating the game on any difficulty. Several poorly conceived Achievements require extra effort though. A true hero never dies requires the player to beat the entire game in a single play-through without dying. Forcing someone to play a phone game for several hours at a time is rather inconsiderate, but at least you can pause and restart a level if you die and still get the Achievement. Star Ruler is similar in that Jim must win every single Andy Asteroids race, and you can restart them if it looks like you’re going to lose.
Hard work and Never give up! Are the two toughest Achievements, as players must beat the game on both the Hard and decidedly not fun Original difficulties. It will take at least three total play-throughs and tremendous dedication to 200/200 this game.
Gameloft seemingly did everything they could to ruin this version of Earthworm Jim. It runs very poorly and the touch-screen controls are as bad as it gets. It feels like the game wasn’t tested on actual Windows Phone hardware prior to being released. The addition of easier difficulties is welcomed, but the evil Achievements still make you play the harder difficulties.
Despite the bad port (and the too-high $4.99 price tag), Earthworm Jim on Windows Phone is kind of fun. Creativity and personality abound, the graphics are sharp (except for the frame rate), and the music, sound effects, and voice samples all charm. If you can get past Earthworm Jim’s controls and difficulty, the core game is still pretty groovy.
Earthworm Jim costs $4.99 and there is a free trial. Grab it here on the Windows Phone Store.
Update: As of April 2013, the game now costs just 99 cents!