Earthworm Jim HD
Whether it’s down to the surreal sense of humour or the larger than life art style, there’s something instantly charming about Earthworm Jim. Picked from the collections of yesteryear due its smash-hit status, the game’s polished sheen serves only to improve on what came before, with an extra helping of fresh options and modes thrown in to sweeten the deal. At just 800 points it doesn’t take much to appeal to long-term fans, but will newcomers find enough groovy content to make this a can of worms worth opening?
From the very beginning, the game’s beauty will surprise. Even the title screen is spectacular – it’s glossy, animated and colourful. Such attention has been extended to the presentation as a whole with a short, skippable comic strip depicting Jim’s origins standing in as an opening sequence. To be clear, this isn’t a half-baked attempt at a rehash; there’s no smoothing option because the game simply doesn’t need it – this is HD in its truest form, making for a strikingly eye-popping world of wonderment. The animations are as solid as ever and the retooled colours, shades and effects provide ample support for the levels that fans will have spent their youth both cursing and adoring.
For all its merits, the original game was hard… almost impossibly so. It’s fitting then that Gameloft has opted to include it here as the insane difficulty setting, which is available alongside the freshly presented easy, normal and hard options. Those new to the franchise might want to begin the game on one of the easier settings, as despite having a fairly relaxed opening, the challenge ramps up considerably just a few stages on.
Jim encounters all manner of vicious life forms such as the deranged dogs of New Junk City, the sharp-toothed shadow beasts of Heck and even a few damned bankers complete with suit and briefcase. Enemies put up a decent fight on the whole, meaning Jim will have to make use of all his firepower and dexterity in order to progress. Favourites such as Evil the Cat and Professor Monkey-For-A-Head put in the odd appearance to throw a spanner in the works but rarely stay for long. It all leads to a tense showdown with arch-nemesis, Queen Pulsating-Bloated-Festering-Sweaty (it just goes on like this) Slug-For-A-Butt and while we suspect a tale is being told in some strange and deviant way, you can pretty much let your imagination run wild.
Between the main platforming stages, the game presents a recurring race with the yellow-clad bird-astronaut, Psy-Crow. Entitled Andy Asteroids, these levels see Jim hop on his jet to ride a psychedelic wormhole as he attempts to come out on top; shields and boosts are made available to make navigating the asteroids an easier task yet there are times when it can seem impossible to fly through unscathed. Jim’s celebratory dance is just another example of the charming touches on offer, even if these stages do wear out their welcome after the third or fourth occasion.
The majority of your time will be spent hoofing it through the levels with ray gun in hand. Initially, the lack of a double-jump and the general uselessness of the hover technique can be jarring for those unaware of what to expect but it soon becomes second nature, revealing the accessibility inherent in every good side-scroller. Getting around can still present its problems, with the whipping of Jim’s modest worm form (technically the supersuit uses him as a weapon) used to attach to hooks providing access to new areas. Each level features fantastic design and variety, so the game rarely becomes stale or overly cheap despite the odd maliciously placed enemy showing up to catch you off-guard.
The save system, level select and bonus stages are neat new additions to the remake. The three extra missions are all set in the same world and do a sufficient job of fitting in with the rest of the mythos despite being separate from the main quest. With some new enemies – such as keyboard cats and a nefarious grandma – the levels are certainly worth taking the time to complete, revealing renewed life in the old worm irrespective of his lengthy hiatus.
Multiplayer is accessible online and off, so there’s reason to return once the relatively short campaign is beaten. Up to four players can stand together in an impressive number of stages, taking on waves of enemies in a frantic battle to the finish line; the areas are all inspired by previously explored lands in the single-player but are still unique in their approach. Cooperation is required for players to have any hope of success due to the need to hold doors open for each other via switches and wheels. Increased waves of enemies make this mode noticeably more hectic, yet the levels lack the creative touch seen in the rest of the game.
Earthworm Jim HD is the very definition of a remastered classic. The stages are vibrant and colourful, the gunplay is satisfying and the world crafted is as tripped-out as ever. If we were to lay down one criticism it would be at the relative lack of stages leading to an abrupt campaign, though the bonus world will hopefully pave the way for downloadable content or perhaps an entirely new instalment. Certain sections could have profited from further attention – namely the maddening watercraft sections and the For Pete’s Sake escort mission – but when Jim is bungee jumping in a battle against Major Mucus or duking it out in the dark with a psychopathic feline, all is forgiven. Rejuvenated for the modern era, Jim HD offers a worm-whipping good time likely to appeal to anyone with an appetite for the absurd. Now let’s just hope that Gameloft has the same plan for the cow-centric sequel.
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