The Virtual Console eats dirt
Remember how we all thought Tiger Woods was this clean-cut sports role model so wholesome that even the thought of him having facial hair was appalling to people? Remember how that whole image evaporated when word let out that he had a mistress or twelve? And now how his prowess as a golfer was thrown into doubt because his trainer possessed growth hormone? That is almost somewhat kind of like my situation with Earthworm Jim right now. I used to think that the first two Earthworm Jim games were the bee’s knees, the tip of the top, the jolliest of the jolly. A pair of platformers so wonderful that they motivated me to collect all the action figures as a youth (including “Battle-Damaged Jim”, “Underwater Jim” and the rarity that was “Regular Earthworm Jim.”) But then I had an affair with just about every better sidescroller released in the past ten years, and my pituitary gland naturally released growth hormone that, in turn, made me no longer a child. Thus the Earthworm Jim games don’t quite have that same appeal that they used to. So indeed, in the vaguest way possible, me and Earthworm Jim are a lot like Tiger Woods and his vices.
Ever since Earthworm Jim 1 was released on the Virtual Console last year, I’ve been in a state of unseeing denial, telling myself “it’s okay that it didn’t age well, Earthworm Jim 2 was always the better game, everything will be right in the universe again.” And now, Earthworm Jim 2 is out, and while I enjoyed it plenty more, I doubt the rest of the world will share my enthusiasm.
Earthworm Jim 2 stars Earthworm Jim (I know, shocking, but in this day and age, games aren’t always named after their mascot hero. You don’t play as the god of war in God of War, nor do you play as a supernatural law of matter in Mass Effect.) He is a worm in a giant armour suit with a ray gun and a hard-on for an alien woman thingy called Princess What’s Her Name. The Princess gets unceremoniously kidnapped by Psy-Crow during the Sega Logo screen and Jim must make things right before Psy-Crow gets hitched with the princess on the Planet of Quickie-24-hour-Las-Vegas-Weddings. That is the honest-to-goodness plot.
In retrospect, if Earthworm Jim 2 has a flaw, it’s that the game lacks narrative. The above-mentioned plot, I took from the instruction manual…the original game’s instruction manual, not the Wii’s online instruction manual thingamabob. There’s no in-game story progression, just a series of random stages placed together with seemingly no rhyme or reason. I distinctly remember the instruction manual having some funky explanations for each stage (to be more specific, the levels are the summer-home of Jim’s arch-enemies.) that makes some sense of the impending madness. But without those explanations, the game is but a series of random sequences, all very different from the stage before them…though I guess the quirkiness can be viewed as a strength too.
Earthworm Jim 2 is a 2-dimensional sidescrolling shooter...sometimes. You’ll run, jump, whip your head out in a manner less revolting than I made it sound, and stand perfectly still while firing your giant machine gun. This isn’t so much Contra where your commando can leap and fire his gun in any direction while barrel-rolling in the air. Rather, this game is less about skill and reflexes than excess machismo for using too much firepower to destroy a small flying penguin. Earthworm Jim 2 lets the player collect new weapons, ranging from “useful” (like a homing missile shaped like a house. Get it?) to “useless” (A bubble gun!) and the thing about the Wii version that confuses me is that it’s a port of the Sega Genesis game. Why the Genesis version, I wonder? Why use the port of the game that didn’t have shoulder buttons to switch weapons with? Why the version of the game where you can’t press buttons between levels to make the end-mission cows say “Well Done” in different tones of voice? Why use the version of the game with the less-clear audio? The game’s famous Tommy Tallarico soundtrack doesn’t quite translate so well on the Sega Genesis’s ringtone-like audio system. My ears were in pain during the “cow level” and how its once elegant background music has become a high-pitched glass-shatterer.
The upside is that, as a Wii Virtual Console game, the once-pointless “password system” now makes sense. The game lets you start your adventure after any stage that you’ve collected three hard-to-find flags in. The issue was that the game never saved this progress, so flipping the system off meant that players had to start each new summer home-tour over. Now, with the Wii has it’s funky save-state system, Earthworm Jim 2’s password system will actually work when you walk away from the console to live life.
I mentioned before how Earthworm Jim 2 is only sometimes a shooter, because the game has a habit of transitioning into a completely unrelated gameplay sequence with different mechanics. One level, called “Earthworm Jim is now a blind salamander” has Earthworm Jim playing as a blind salamander, swimming through the innards of a giant pinball fish thingy. Another level has you flying on your spaceship through a medieval Warfield filled with mucus. And there’s on particular stage that you’ll have to learn to love or face the consequences; it’s called “Puppy Love”. Here, Psy-Crow is throwing hundreds of Peter Puppy’s children out the window, and Jim has to catch them with the MARSHMELLOW OF LOVE, lest they go splat on the floor in the most cruel of manners. If your apartment landlord forbids pets, it’s because he played Puppy Love as a child. Should one puppy too many taste concrete, Peter Puppy flips his lid and whoops your ass in a billowing dust cloud of Looney Tunes pain. And you’ll have to grin and bear this agony for three separate stages. The only relief to this pain and repetition is Mr Tallarico serenading your ears with a charming Italian medley.
So, is Earthworm Jim 2 worth purchasing? If you were a fan of Earthworm Jim 2 the first time around, well sure. It’s as effective a nostalgic release as any, even if it’s not exactly the right port of the game. On the other hand, I feel as though the oddball humour and random gameplay will be lost on today’s generation of level-grinding deathmatch players that crave either familiar military shooters or familiar space military shooters. But let us look at the glass from a half-full perspective. An upcoming remake of the original Earthworm Jim could make the series relevant again. The Earthworm Jim cartoon, a product of the Animaniacs-generation of WB shows, is still a fun, 90s rendition of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And in my time volunteering for a holiday toy drive, I had found that one person had donated an unopened Underwater Action Earthworm Jim action figure. I sure as hell hope that whatever kid that winds up with that present has a Happy Holidays. Even if he has no idea what an Underwater Action Earthworm Jim is supposed to be.
3 ½ stars