An earthworm donning a white and powder-blue spacesuit always did garner attention. Upon Earthworm’s Jim initial release, I was but a wee lass who shied away at any mention of insects, arachnids, or creatures of the creepy-crawly variety. However, I made an exception for this vintage Genesis platformer. This worm spoke. I could dig it. And from the very first level where I launched a cow into the air after taking aim to a refrigerator, I knew this was something I’d come back to again and again. Luckily for me, the title has seen its share of incarnations of the years, even spawning a sequel that continued the run-and-gun legacy. Shiny Entertainment had a hit on its hands, if you don’t count the terrible excuses for games created without their involvement. Now, in an age that heralds the rebirth of classics we knew and loved in our youth, the original Earthworm Jim returns to consoles via the good graces of Gameloft in Earthworm Jim HD.
Of course, you’d do well to remember that this is not a ground-up remake like we saw recently with Konami’s Rocket Knight. It’s simply a re-issue in glorious HD, packed with dazzling new looks and a few extra treats to keep both old and new fans clamoring for more Earthworm Jim — not that we really needed any prompting, right?
Jumping straight into the game, you’ll choose a difficulty and eager beavers can worm their way right into the game’s first stage. Those with a little more patience who aren’t overzealously tapping ‘A’ to continue will be treated to an included motion comic that recounts Jim’s origin story. He wasn’t always a sentient earthworm, you know. It’s an interesting little addition that adds a dash of spice to a game that thrives on zaniness and the fact that it’s a little ahead of the game when it comes to challenge. This isn’t your typical “jump, stomp, pass Go” platformer. Jim can whip himself at enemies, blow them to bits (literally to bits, pieces of birds and dog skeletons will fly), use his wiry, fleshy body as a helicopter, and jump, of course. He may hook onto objects to jump across to them, all these abilities making comical use of his extremely strange form (really, how many heroes are worms?).
As early as completing the game’s first level, New Junk City, you’ll be filled with warm, fuzzy nostalgia washing over you like fear over a bugaphobic young girl with an ant on her arm. This is the very same game we grew up with, only with a little more oomph. Environments pop, the HD stylings giving it so much more of an edge over its previous incarnations. Jim and the countless on-screen enemies are lavishly smoothed over and almost watercolored into what used to be simple, jagged pixels. It looks fantastic. The jazzy tunes will tunnel into your subconscious and plant themselves there for days. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of classic gaming fun time and it just feels great.
Unfortunately, that happy feeling only truly lasts when Jim isn’t navigating any particularly rough terrain. It’s only then that you realize what a pain navigating this 2D fantasy land with an Xbox 360 controller really is. This isn’t the game’s fault per se, but the 360 has never truly been suited to “true” 2D platformers or fighters, for that matter. The D-pad is, in a word, nightmarish when mapped for these sorts of games and anything that involves shifting perspectives. Simply attempting to land a hook jump with Jim or navigate from a ledge from the background to the foreground is ridiculous. I wrestled with this so often throughout the game that I wondered if I could soldier on to even complete the adventure. It was tough, and one reason you might want to seek out the PlayStation 3 version instead of this if you have the option to do so — its D-pad has always felt much more natural.
Aside from the aforementioned control issues, Earthworm Jim HD is a fantastic little package for $10, or 800 Microsoft Points. Gameloft has graciously included three bonus stages that are unlocked by uncovering the items to correspond to the stages in-game. These items are quite simple to find, making me wonder why there need to be “unlockable” levels in the first place, but like the recent addition of levels to Doom II (also on the Xbox Live Arcade), there’s little reason to complain about more gameplay. You can access the three stages (albeit a little dull) from the main menu. In addition, unlockable avatar awards have been introduced. I was excited to see the opportunity to actually unlock an Earthworm Jim t-shirt for my avatar or his very suit! Very cool additions to the platform that I appreciated thoroughly — always good to see more disc-based titles jumping on the avatar award bandwagon. Really, shouldn’t it be mandatory by now?
In addition to these neat little extras, you can take your show on the road with the implementation of local and online multiplayer/co-op modes that allow your friends to join in on the fun. This is especially useful, as some of these levels can get downright tough. Some puzzles have even been manipulated to get your comrades thinking a bit more. The implementation of a scoring mode adds an element of competitiveness in the event you just don’t want to play nice. It’s good fun, especially when you have plenty of friends available to explore along with you.
If you’re looking to experience the magic and lighthearted humor of this classic platformer with a fresh, glossy coat of paint, Earthworm Jim HD is a great choice. Do be aware that there are control hang-ups, so if you don’t feel like fighting the 360 controller’s lousy D-pad, you might want to look elsewhere to get your fix. System-specific issues aside, this is a great port with useful extras that make those 800 points an easy spend. Hey, it’s worth it just to hear Jim’s hilarious cries of pain, right?