Earthworm Jim 20th Anniversary Retrospective

Groovy!

When Shiny Entertainment opened its doors in 1993, it struck a deal to develop games for Playmates Interactive Entertainment, which was the media division of a prominent toy manufacturer. Its first project was none other than Earthworm Jim, a game that parodied popular character action games of the day using an original character designed by artist Doug TenNepal. Parody suited the team nicely, since a lot of the crew at Shiny had experience working with licensed characters, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 7 Up's Cool Spot, Disney's Aladdin, and the Terminator, for the better part of their careers, and they were probably ready for a bit of development therapy. Without the borders of a preexisting franchise to limit their creativity, Shiny Entertainment's designers concocted a surreal game that was unlike any other platformer that had come before it, and Earthworm Jim grew into a full-blown entertainment property that produced action figures and an animated TV series.

Sadly, Jim's time in the spotlight was brief, ending roughly six years after his arrival. There was talk of a new Sony PSP game back in 2006, which GameSpot editor Brian Ekberg had the chance to play, but it was mysteriously shuttered a few years later. The last time we saw Jim was in the Earthworm Jim HD remake on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, but for some of us, it has been far too long since we've had a proper new Earthworm Jim game. Still, we'll always have our memories of the original to look back on. With Earthworm Jim's 20th anniversary coming up later this year, here's what a few of us remember about our favorite super-suit-wearing invertebrate.

Maxwell McGee

Earthworm Jim and I were close friends growing up. I can remember my younger self, sitting on the lap of a jolly old mall Santa, asking for an Earthworm Jim toy for Christmas. Jolly old mall Santa stared back at me like I had earthworms hanging out of my ears. Clearly, he had no idea what I was talking about, but Santa was able to save face by reassuring me that one of his elves surely knew what I was talking about. Apparently he did, because on Christmas morning, I got that Earthworm Jim toy--and I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that my mother was with me during my chat with Santa.

The '90s were full of outrageous characters--from Sonic the Hedgehog to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--all vying to pollute kids' minds with their totally bodacious attitudes, man. Few, however, could compete with the sheer absurdity of Earthworm Jim. He was a talking earthworm wearing a special muscle suit. His catchphrase was "Groovy!" His nemesis was Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. Every part of his character and his world oozed with excess and sheer ridiculousness--and I ate it up.

While I loved Earthworm Jim the character, I was horrible at his games. To this day, I still have not finished either Earthworm Jim or Earthworm Jim 2, but I vividly remember my time with both. The stage Jim's Now a Blind Cave Salamander! stands out in my mind as being especially bizarre. True to its name, the stage finds Jim dressed as a blind salamander swimming his way through the intestinal tract of some unknown creature. Pinball bounce pads and tiny sheep bar your path, as does the lining of the intestinal wall, which damages Jim on contact. And did I forget to mention that a low-fi version of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" is playing in the background? Once you finish your gastrointestinal journey, you're unceremoniously dropped into a game show and forced to answer questions you couldn't possibly know the answers to. Do you know Jim's favorite fighting game? PROTIP: It's Samurai Slowdown.

Zorine Te

It was the junkyard dog that scared me the most. It was loud and erratic, and its presence in the first level of Earthworm Jim struck a fear into me. Much like the rest of the game, the beast possessed a unique look and sound that would not be easily forgotten.

My first encounter with Earthworm Jim was in the form of a demo. As I child, I did not understand that a full game existed outside of the level New Junk City. Regardless, the garbage-themed design entranced me with its unusual enemies and quirky humor, and it quickly became the playground I conquered again and again.

When my father gifted me with the full version of Earthworm Jim, I was blown away. An entire universe of varied worlds suddenly became available, each whackier than the last. As the levels progressed, so did the difficulty I faced in finishing them. Visiting friends would take turns with me to attempt to clear levels.

...I was blown away. An entire universe of varied worlds suddenly became available, each whackier than the last.

Of these attempts, one in particular remains vivid in my mind. It involved a particular cousin who always butted heads with me. As children, we often fought about trivial matters or wrestled over toys. Then Earthworm Jim appeared, and suddenly our differences were no longer relevant. He and I worked together in peace to clear the game.

It was on the level What The Heck that it happened. The level had stumped me for days, as I became stuck at a seemingly dead end marked with a large, slowly spinning gem. Back then, such dead ends were a source of endless frustration to me. After all, it was the time before GameFAQs, before the Internet provided the solution to all the mysteries of the gaming world.

My cousin, whether by a stroke of brilliance or sheer luck, suddenly solved the puzzle by running on the gem and turning it into a floating platform that would carry Earthworm Jim to the next part of the level. I was so ecstatic, I cheered loudly and almost hugged him (I did not).

That victory brought an ongoing truce between the two of us, and I'll never forget Earthworm Jim for that. Thanks, Jim, for forging peace between a duo of fighting children.

Peter Brown

I first set eyes on Earthworm Jim when I was in the fourth grade, and it couldn't have come at a better time. By that point, I had spent the better part of a year playing Road Rash II and ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron on the Sega Genesis, both of which I loved, but I was ready for something different. Now, no reasonable person would argue that Panic on Funkotron wasn't an unusual game, but its strangeness paled in comparison to Earthworm Jim's surreal sci-fi tale.

After all, you play as an everyday worm who happens upon a super suit that grants him vertebrate-like posture and movement, and during your journey, you fight unreal enemies like Professor Monkey-for-a-Head and Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. There's even a boss enemy that rides a zip-line while projectile-vomiting rotten fish. Need I say more? At the time, I was also in the throes of a crippling Nickelodeon cartoon addiction, particularly The Ren & Stimpy Show. John Kricfalusi's twisted world view was both confusing and amazing to 9-year-old me, and Earthworm Jim bore those same qualities, which made it an easy sell.

Of course, it was more than just Earthworm Jim's odd art direction that drew me in. The character animations were exceptionally smooth, and while most levels stuck to the side-scrolling, run-and-gun design, there were a few that deviated in new and interesting directions. Bonus levels put Jim on a rocket flying into Z-space, and another hooked him and a boss up to bungee cords where they battled while bouncing up and down. Earthworm Jim is a series that I will always remember for its concentrated, unbridled creativity, and it's a shame that the series has been dormant for the better part of 15 years.

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Zorine

Zorine Te

Zorine “harli” Te is GameSpot Australia's associate editor.
Earthworm Jim Special Edition

Earthworm Jim Special Edition

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44 comments
justing16
justing16

got this game for xmas 95 on sega genesis. happy memories. took me few months to finally complete. finished earthworm jim 2 swell. i think the first was the best. slightly

sonic_rareware8
sonic_rareware8

Now whatever company Earthworm Jim belongs to, keep making Earthworm Jim games, just thinking of some video game franchises I would love to see have more games. :)

RaiKageRyu
RaiKageRyu

Had Earthworm 2. Good times. The EB Games guy recommended it to me over Super Metroid. Back then at my age, it was probably the correct call. Wouldn't have figured Metroid out.

playstationzone
playstationzone

remenber playing this game when rent game and play game on my super nes it good game.

cboye18
cboye18

Earthworm Jim was my second video game I've got for my SNES. Very fun game though I never finished it because of the difficulty for me at the time... 

DrKill09
DrKill09

Yuck, SNES footage.  Couldn't stand that version.  The sound was muffled, several graphics effects were missing (wavy screen in underwater level), the Peter Puppy level and the last level lacked the color of the Genesis version, and Intestinal Distress was missing.

DrKill09
DrKill09

Man, Earthworm Jim HD sucked.


The best one was Earthworm Jim Special Edition for Windows 95/98.  It was the same as the Sega CD version, but had a 256 color graphics.

benleslie5
benleslie5 moderator

I used to love playing Earthworm Jim back on the Genesis, so many awesome memories favourite level is Stage 2- Kitty Hell

hitomo
hitomo

this was actually the first Video game that felt like playing a actual Cartoon ... and it was developed for Genesis


this and abes oddysee are examples for gemstones of a former digital age, not even their creators are able to reproduce anymore

jharring
jharring

These games were just bursting with creativity.  A one-on-one fight that's happening as you're using snot for a bungie cord.  Catching and bouncing puppies from one side of the level to the other.  A Zaxxon-inspired shooting level.  Nowadays only indie games have this kind of creativity. 

xOmniCloudx
xOmniCloudx

I still have my SNES copies. Would love an Earthworm Jim 2 HD remake.

barrylarock
barrylarock

Great Article, loved that game also. Playing it and attempting to get some of the humour made me feel like i got the in jokes the devs had. 

tom_cat_01
tom_cat_01

I played Earthworm Jim HD on my Ps3 a couple of years ago - always disappointed that they didn't do a HD version of Earthworm Jim 2. :(

sladakrobot
sladakrobot

I liked the game.

Still have the Sega Mega Drive game aswell as the Sega CD version.

It was far better back than then today...i tried the EJ HD version on the X360 and the game didnt aged well IMO.

blazinpuertoroc
blazinpuertoroc

Still one of my favorite video game characters ever. Great article that pays homage that to this forgotten legend. Good stuff, Zorine.

phbz
phbz

Just a few weeks ago I plugged my Megadrive just to replay the original. It still is an amazing game. 


(On a side note: I hope some day they re-release Giants: Citizen Kabuto.)

n0xinab0x
n0xinab0x

As long as Interplay owns it there won't be any remake. 

MJ12-Conspiracy
MJ12-Conspiracy

Earthworm Jim was really cool, it's too bad his time went so fast but I think that's the price of the industry going polygonal 3D.......

when I was introduced to it a friend described it and I was like WHUT? a worm in a power suit, how does that work? then i played it and I was like this game is sick.....

it was super inventive with it's levels.....that's I think one of it's coolest bits.....of course the humor was hilarious and off the chain always something to laugh at.....

peacewalker001
peacewalker001

I'd like EWJ3 to have music by Tommy Tallarico, art and/or cutscenes by Doug TenNapel, and maybe Dan Castellaneta as the voice of Jim. Jim's theme should be the music from New Junk City  ;P

bluehawk-55
bluehawk-55

An EARTHWORM JIM game with RAYMAN ORIGINS engine.

chev9390
chev9390

I want to know what Tommy Tallarico has to say about this.

og_bladez
og_bladez

20th Anniversary you say? I smell a game comin'! I'd love to see EJ on next gen hardware. Oh, I can just imagine the near limitless possibilities.

EasyComeEasyGo
EasyComeEasyGo

Earthworm Jim, I started watching the cartoon series before I play the SNES Earthworm Jim back in the 90's. I really hope in the distant future, Jim would make a return in the current gen. Happy 20th Anniversary.

My most regret was that I never got a chance to play Earthworm Jim 3D on Nintendo 64.

donjuancorleone
donjuancorleone

whilst this game looked amazing, it came out at the same time as Donkey Kong Country and Nintendo and Rareware were way ahead of the game here. I remember showing someone Earthworm Jim and then putting in DKC and they were blown away with the graphics. I never finished EJ but finished DKC the full 101% even at the tender age of 13 i still thought Earthworm Jim was over rated.

Shakezulah
Shakezulah

I really hope to see an Earthworm Jim comeback someday, somehow. The second game is was one of my favorites as a child. The first game...not so much. I could never get past the third level where you drive the bubble submarine. Holy hell, that was hard. I finally beat the game when they released the HD version a few years back and honestly didn't think it ever got any better than those first two levels. EJ2 had such superior level design. I remember being blown away by Lorenzo's Soil and Level Ate.

hystavito
hystavito

I never played any, but I'm substantially older than these people :).

Aelfredus
Aelfredus

In my opinion both games Earthworm Jim and Earthworm Jim 2 are masterpieces. The gameplay is simple and fun and each level has a unique style and awesome music. I recommend those who haven't played them to do so, although keep in mind that both games can be pretty difficult.


Another awesome game from Shiny I recommend is MDK. It also has very fun and unique gameplay and the game looks completely awesome considering it came out in 1997.

Pawfalcon
Pawfalcon

Well that gave me the nostalgic warm and fuzzies. Played it at a friends house and it made a lasting impression. Plus it was all over the place for a little while. Wonder what a current take on it would be like.

nayce54
nayce54

By the way, Zorine Te, will you marry me? I can give you an earthworm ring!

nayce54
nayce54

I always loved Earthworm Jim!  I can't believe they never took off to generation consoles

mled
mled

@phbzgo to Good Old Games, they sell Giants: Citizen Kabuto for $9.99 (or on promotion days for $5.99 or less).

Smosh150
Smosh150

@EasyComeEasyGo  You can always play it on the Project64 emulator for free, still reliving games like goldeneye, podracer, and Star Fox 64. Nintendo 64 was a pretty awesome console, still my favorite.

Aelfredus
Aelfredus

@Shakezulah I played EJ2 before EJ1, but I like both games equally. The first one has a darker theme while the second one has a wackier theme. Both are uniquely great. The second game had smoother animations, though.

And yes, that submarine level is one of the hardest and most frustrating levels in gaming. If it wasn't for the sonic games, people would fear water because of that level.

xOmniCloudx
xOmniCloudx

@Aelfredus  Wild 9 for the PS1 was a hidden gem. Reminded me a lot of Earthworm Jim and highly recommend t.