Earthworm Jim HD Review

By Ryan Kuo - Posted Jun 18, 2010

Everyone's favorite annelid is back in this HD remake of his first game. But the addition of multiplayer and new levels can't hide the fact that things have changed.

The Pros
  • Nice touchup
  • Multiplayer is surprisingly fun
  • Amazing new boss surprise
The Cons
  • Gameplay feels anachronistic
  • Multiplayer is unsurprisingly flawed
  • Not much replay value

Earthworm Jim HD is a fine revamp of the classic platformer. Thanks in no small part to Shiny's fresh art direction and Gameloft's respectful HD restoration, Jim fits right in with the likes of 'Splosion Man and Alien Hominid HD on Xbox Live Arcade. But despite the visual overhaul, he can't help but to show his age.

Not the Submarine!

It's easy to spot wrinkles through Jim's facelift. True to old-school form, Earthworm Jim threw you into its world without much explanation or guidance. Take New Junk City, the game's first level. There's no clear way forward, the path often branches unexpectedly, and it's hard to make out what is and isn't a platform. You don't complete most Earthworm Jim levels so much as stumble haphazardly to the exit.

Earthworm Jim HD

Although the new Easy and Normal difficulty settings make it harder for Jim to die, they don't take the edge away. You can technically finish the game in under an hour -- there's an Achievement for that -- but it's designed to confuse and frustrate you. If you played Earthworm Jim before, you probably remember guiding Jim through the spiky horrors of Buttville, escorting Pete the puppy through meteor showers and tentacle ambushes, and "steering" the glass submarine through tight rock tunnels and tighter time constraints. Ten Achievement points says you didn't even finish the game.

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Still, it's hard to deny that those cruel machinations were memorable. Earthworm Jim knew you hadn't played anything like its sadistic set pieces. Compared to today's games, it feels totally content to be weird for weird's sake.

Worm on Worm Action

Earthworm Jim HD adds three bonus levels and a short multiplayer campaign that remixes the original levels and enemies for up to four simultaneous players. The multiplayer levels take a cue from New Super Mario Bros. Wii and expand the playing field while doubling or tripling the obstacles. It's a frantic experience, since the game awards points for hitting items and Continue markers, and singles out the top player. While multiplayer in Earthworm Jim HD is more forgiving than NSMB Wii for not allowing players to block or push each other, it hangs up when anyone lags behind or won't cooperate on tricky switches or rotating platforms. Games alternate schizophrenically between working together and making a mad dash for the exit.

Earthworm Jim HD

Neither the bonus nor the multiplayer levels feel demented enough, however. In the former, computer chips attack you and 3.5" floppy disks get used as platforms. And the enemies, graphics and mechanics of the multiplayer levels are familiar sights. You'll face the shadowy beasts from Heck, the muscle-bound cats prowling the underwater tubes, and the nasty aliens in Buttville. But there's something sad about how these characters are taken out of their original homes, mixed and matched, reused and remade as units of game design. They lose a bit of their character. And there's something to be said about the character of the original game, as mean as it could be. 

Intergalactic Hero on Crutches

Earthworm Jim HD knows that it's bridging a gap between past and present. Besides giving the option to start from any unlocked level with a fresh set of lives and continues, it includes (optional) hint screens that spell out exactly how to defeat each boss. It's like Cliffs Notes for a game whose twisted logic you want to discover on your own. That's why, as good-looking and well-intentioned as Earthworm Jim HD is, the shiny remake tarnishes the past a little. When every game on the console enumerates your achievements, maybe there isn't room for something as weird as this anymore.