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Earthworm Jim 2

Suit up....again


Sequels to great films and games often come in one of two categories: either surpass the original, expanding the franchise exponentially, and take the series to new heights like Terminator 2 or Zelda: Ocarina of time, then you end up with recycled ideas and waning interest like the Police Academy or Need For Speed series. Whichever the case all of these titles share the same common source of joy or grief, and that is an original title that is so unique and memorable, that a sequel would run the risk of hurting the initial releases reputation, rather than expanding on the once great idea and driving the series into new and exciting directions. Shiny’s love child Earthworm Jim is such a title, as the first game was such a success both in style, humour and riveting gameplay that to go back and make a similar game could end up rehashing old ideas and stopping the series right in its tracks with no room for expansion. So how did Shiny overcome this all too common occurrence?

To answer this question we must first look at what made the first game so successful: the side splitting humour, the departure from standard side scrolling cliché’s with levels streaming backwards, forwards, upwards and onwards, and of course the tight controls, gripping challenge and the silky smooth visuals that inspire the most surreal and vivid imagery that would make Salvador Dali weep in the presence of such brilliance. Of course these may be over exaggerations but it is often the effect such original titles leave on our minds and to challenge that brilliance with a sloppy second coming could all but ruin the once rosy picture we have painted in the first place.

Spider Pig enjoyed a day at the park

Way cool!

Treading the fine line between comedy and tragedy we once again find our hero Jim serenading the love of his life Princess What’s-her-name and to his blissful ignorance she is kidnapped right in front of him during his beautifully terrible serenade – playing the piano accordion – and it is up to him to once again come to her rescue and save the universe from impending destruction. This is where Earthworm Jim 2’s brilliance begins to shine, as normally rehashing the same story often is so badly executed, but with Jim, it simply heightens the fact that he is as hopeless as a protector as he is a musician. The old adage comes to mind “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”.

Being a traditional action platformer EWJ2 blissfully capitalizes on the successes of the previous adventure by once again taking some of the basic concepts of side scrolling adventures and expanding upon that idea, adding tweaks to the basic core architecture making the whole challenge of the level more than simply “killing everything” in Jim’s path and collecting all the coins. For instance, Jim comes up to an electric chair lift where he must ascend several floors to reach a waypoint to advance through the level, but the challenge lies in avoiding all the falling grandmas who are all too happy to beat Jim silly with their purses and returning him to the start, albeit with a percentage drop in health. This kind of design manages to humour us while removing the frustration element of coming so close to achieving the goal only to be sent back to the beginning only with less health.


Eager for Jesus to return, Jim stood vigilant

But Jim’s second encounter lies in more than just covering up any difficulty with priceless humour. The second level features an underground level where Jim must shoot his way through the soil profile to reach platforms covered in dirt. Instead of simply obliterating the soil, it instead falls to the ground below Jim’s feet, decreasing the distance necessary to leap to higher platforms, or obscuring enemy spawn points or environmental hazards such as fire, and having a timer element to the proceedings makes the urgency of reaching the next waypoint all the more challenging all the more enjoyable and rewarding. While it may seem fairly elementary in design, the reality is that the such simple implementation of the ‘geo modding’ to progress through the level that it puts the similar concepts seen in Red Faction and Fracture to shame, as Jim pulls this off effortlessly and with a brilliance that is so endearing, rather than having this ‘feature’ as nothing more than a selling point and a useless in game feature.

And it doesn’t stop there, Jim must also save puppies being thrown from a shack populated by Psycrow, and bounce them across the screen to the saving grace of Peter Puppies sack, and seeing Jim as he dives to make the save, only for him to scramble back to his feet only for the puppy to unceremoniously go splat on the pavement makes the whole situation both hilarious and cruelly funny.

Eat dirt.........dirt!​

Worm’s gotta do...

Game design isn’t the only aspect of this sequel that has been given an overhaul, as Jim himself has undergone a few updates. Jim no longer uses his head like a helicopter, instead he uses Snot, his backpack dwelling chum as a parachute or to swing from mucus sprayed ceiling to mucus sprayed ceiling like a very juvenile Tarzan. Jim still retains his really big ray gun and his head whipping attack, but is not as heavily featured like in the first game, which only proves that this sequel only wants to move forward and try new ideas, even if they are only simple changes.

Keeping with the same visual style, EWJ2 has instead had more focus played on more supportive features that make 2D games feel that much more alive – animation. As smooth as EWJ was to see in motion EWJ2 manages to top it, with what feels like more frames being added to each animation. Jim’s standing animation for instance is him running on the spot, looking all chipper and goofy, but the way he moves is so smooth that you get the feeling that he really is alive. Most games from the SNES era were unable to reach this level silky smooth animation, but Shiny managed to achieve something really special in this regard.

The musical element is another piece of the action that has undergone some further special treatment and the energetic techno track reflects the happy go lucky attitude of Jim and the levels he so desires to concur. Where Jim has to save the puppies for example, a hilariously cliché’d Italian Pizza restaurant piece of music plays on as our hero so valiantly tries to save those helpless little creatures. The link between tossing pizzas and puppies is so cruelly hilarious in its design and execution it is painfully obvious that the writers never ran out of gas when it came to new ideas. Jim’s voice work is also critically funny, with violent screams bellowing from him every time he is hit by an enemy, or lands into an electric chair, or to the delightful ‘way cool’ phrases that flow when he picks up a screen clearing mega weapon, and let’s not forget the straining noises as he struggles to pick up a ‘really heavy pig’.


"SAFE!"

Still...weak....from....cheese

You would think that at this point that the sequel to the now legendary Earthworm Jim hits all the right buttons that makes a sequel so successful and for the most part you would be right, but there are a few underlying issues. First of all, visually the game just doesn’t seem to be able to reach the reach the same level of visual bliss as its predecessor, even though Jim himself has seen some noticeable upgrades, the environment has taken a small step backwards in terms of detail and subtle animations and as a result begins to bear the nasty teeth of sequel-itis. Likewise the transition between stages feels a great deal more jarring as the delightful space race that broke up the stages in the previous game were missing. Although a good idea not to recycle the same idea and brand the designers as being lazy, without some sort of inter level mini game the transition just feels a tad too abrupt.

Groovy!

All things considered though, Earthworm Jim 2 manages to strive and reach a status that so many sequels fail to achieve. EWJ2 is as much fun as the first game, has the same laugh out loud comedic elements that leave vivid images in your mind and a warm smile on your face and a difficulty that means completion of the whole game is a real achievement of skill and dedication. Jim’s second adventure has most of the hallmarks of greatness yet no matter how great it is in its own right, it just is not as good overall as the initial release. If the first game should have not been created and this was a first release then of course EWJ2 would be branded a pioneer of its field as the first game was so called for, but the uniqueness of the first game leaves the second time round not feeling as special. Still, in the end a magnificent achievement in the action platform genre and a truly fitting sequel to one of the 90’s greatest stuper heroes.

Visuals – 86
Audio – 94
Gameplay – 92
Overall – 90


A very solid sequel that somehow suffers from being ‘the least attractive twin’ syndrome.

Game experienced on SNES
 

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you should try the mega drive/genesis version, it has very responsive controls (except the bits with the bits with large mushroom, still it is more responsive than snes), so much so that i havent seen another version that compares to responsive controls including psx as well.... also i was lucky to import it from usa to play it in my mega drive on the same day it was officially released (i knew it will be a incredible game), i was even more lucky to find a shop that sold hard to find cart adapter to play it on australian mega drive... i was lucky to import it because it was never released on the mega drive in australia and to me genesis version is the best version of ewj2 to this date
 

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Another excellent review, i like how you use a technical/specialized language while integrating notes of humor without ruining its rhythm.
(i hope i expressed myself correctly in english with this sentence)
 
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