Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Memory Lane: Earthworm Jim

In this feature, Humor Tumor looks back fondly at an old Sega Genesis classic: Earthworm Jim.

I once said nostalgia was an iffy thing. It serves to rose tint our past, making us believe that things were fun, or even good. One example that springs prominently to mind is Encino Man. I watched that movie all the time as a kid. A few years ago I had the chance to watch it again...and regretted it dearly. I figured I was an idiot for liking that movie as a child. Watching it years later only proved that, yes indeed, I was a moron.

 But then again I thought this was an amazing movie when I was that age...

Yes, that's Leslie Nielson dressed as a Samurai Warlord. Yes, that's a GameGear that can control reality remotely. Yes, that is Rob Schneider....and yes, there was a musical number with "Barbara Anne" (its muted in the video to prevent copyright violation).

As I said, I was a stupid child.

But Earthworm Jim is still amazing to this day. Tough as nails, gorgeously animated, and funnier than many games of it's time. It was a game that prompted much joy, or red faced yelling at a TV screen. I can promise you I'm not the only person who dreaded the underwater  sections of that game. Any one who played this back in the early 90s can tell you those sections were frustrating and impossible. These days, they are much easier. Probably due to the maturity of the player, we're now used to taking our time, or being a little more careful.

But screw being calm and collected when you can do this...which I'm sure was pretty much the ire of parents of the time

And despite my playing the updated version on XBLA (which sports amazing drawn art and I think redone sound and music) even just watching videos of the older versions, this game is gorgeous. Maybe it's because of the sprite based games being prominent when I was growing up. But they still look so god damn good, and I always get a nice feeling seeing them no matter what.

What really gets me about the game though, is not the gorgeous sprites, the tight controls. But the charm, the humor, the style. I mean, yes, games still have all that (or some do). But for some reason they never resonate with me as much as the early 90s Genesis/SNES games. And even those pale to Earthworm Jim, which always struck me as so unique.

And sure this is an example from Earthworm Jim 2....but it still very much relates to the humor of the game. And so far I don't think I've ever seen any game replicate something like this

But not everything in the game is perfect. The aforementioned water levels aside, there was also an escort mission of a sort. And even to this pisses the living hell out of me. It's not that the escort is weak....but that it's so god damn stupid. This little dog thing just skips along, oblivious to the world around it. You have to whip see saws to arc him over chasms. Shoot meteors out of the sky to prevent them from crushing him, and he just skips along. If he falls, or gets hit, he hulks out and thrashes you, costing you dear life. And maybe that's the joke. He isn't helpless at all, in fact he's more than capable of defending himself. But you messed up, so he takes out this anger on you for messing up. Looking at it without playing it does seem kind of funny. But playing it is a testament in patience and frustration. I don't know how many times I shut off my Genesis and Xbox combined at this section, but it's innumerable.

Rest in piece Shiny
It's sad though, to see that Shiny (the people behind Jim's adventures) seems to now be dead. The last game of theirs I played was Wild 9, which I found funny, but not fun to play. The humor Shiny once tapped went the way of Dangerfield and died, and they went into a spiral of a few licensed games, and for all it's worth, that's the place developers go to shrivel away.

I would love to see Jim revived; not as a HD update, nor a re release. But rather a brand new adventure. I feel that he is not so rooted in the humor of a certain time (like a certain Duke Nukem, or Toejam and Earl), and given the right treatment he could come back.

Will Jim ever make a return? I doubt it, despite all my wants for him to come back to us. But he does have a legacy that is worth revisiting, a couple of damn good games. So if you never have touched an Earthworm Jim game, I would highly recommend you do so as fast as possible. It's a classic from a bygone era, and unlike many games from that time, this one has aged wonderfully.

Humor Tumor is currently on a trek to find all the blasts from the past he can.


  1. Part of what made Jim and those early Shiny games so special was through the imagination of one Doug TenNapel. Currently a graphic novelist, TenNapel was a young animator when he joined Shiny, bringing the character of Earthworm Jim with him. He was as responsible for much of the character animation in those first two games as he was for the creation of the mad, mad world that game took place in. Earthworm Jim & Earthworm Jim 2 were really his babies, and after her left Shiny the franchise kind of fell apart. I'd be on board if TenNapel were brought on to help develop it if only because it was through his very strange lens that everything in those games was created.

    Great game and a fun retrospective!

    1. thanks Humor Tumor! At the time this game was around, I A) didn't own it, and B) didn't know shit about video games. That being said, I remember many afternoons at a friend's house playing this, and I remember it being awesome as hell!

    2. It still is pretty damn amazing. I think this and Gunstar Heroes were amongst my favorite Genesis games.

    3. Doug TenNapel is a pretty crazy Christian. Other than that though, I love a lot of his illustrations. One of my favorite results of his imagination is Sockbaby.
      I discovered it about 8 years ago now, but it's a great little low-budget absurdist... thing.

    4. Yeah, he is a nutjob right-winger, but he's a really creative guy, too, and (for the most part) keeps his opinionated politics out of his work (again, for the most part). He makes it pretty clear that when he's making comics or games, his number one job is to entertain rather than to "instruct." It makes being a fan of his kind of a tight-rope walk, to a degree. Can you be a fan of somebody with whom you disagree personally/politically? He is a smart guy and a raging activist for creator's rights and originality, but with that comes all the other stuff. I have managed to kind of tune that stuff I don't like out while appreciating what product he does put out.

    5. I can't separate creators from their ideals sometimes. I am totally aware of them the entire time I'm experiencing their work. For example, nearly every Frank Miller work is now tainted for me due to his slide into crazy old-man status. Same with Alan Moore. Also, to a lesser degree: Thomas Kinkade. That guy is such a wreck in real life, it makes his schlocky Christian Wal-Mart art even more unappealing.