Earthworm Jim is the end result of 45-minutes worth of work listening to Fleetwood Mac. Thats according to series creator Doug TenNapel, who created Jim in 1993 after a rough patch with Virgin Games. TenNapel was looking to get a job with Shiny Entertainment as an animator, and came up with Jim in order to have a character to make a mockup for a demonstration piece. Little did he know that the company would take to his creation with such enthusiasm, as they loved Earthworm Jim and wanted to use him as-is. Thus was born the world’s toughest anthropomorphic earthworm and one of the most memorable series in videogames!
Part of Shiny’s reason for being so keen on Jim was that Playmates Interactive Entertainment was looking to find a compelling videogame mascot to turn into a multimedia empire. They’d singled out Shiny as the studio best equipped to come up with such a character, and when TenNapel showed up with Earthworm Jim, Shiny in turn knew they’d found their man. From there, developing the actual game was the next step, which was made easier by TenNapel’s great enemy designs. Characters like Psy-Crow, Major Mucus, and Peter Puppy were also brainstormed in those fabled 45-minutes when Jim came to life, so the team primarily had to focus on story and gameplay.
The premise for Earthworm Jim is fittingly bizarre; Jim was an ordinary worm who stumbled across an alien space suit that grants superpowers to its wearer. Donning the suit, he unwittingly draws the ire of villainous Psy-Crow, who had wanted the suit for himself and will stop at nothing to get it back. In order to lure Jim, Psy-Crow takes hostage the love of the worm’s life, Princess What’s-Her-Name. The zany story and colorful cast were a perfect match, but it would have been meaningless if the game didn’t play and look equally compelling. Luckily, Shiny had a few tricks up their sleeves for Jim’s debut.
For those who played Earthworm Jim on the SEGA Genesis and SNES, one of the most memorable things about the game was its incredible animation and graphics. Earthworm Jim was a visual feast, and was in no small part due to the incredible effort put into its creation. Much of what appears on screen was actually hand drawn and scanned into the computer, resulting in finer visuals than simple digital rendering would have yielded. Earthworm Jim is a truly psychedelic videogame experience, as the environments are colorful, twisting, and in many cases organic looking, eschewing any rhyme or reason for pure spectacle. Shiny took a leap making a deliberately abstract game like Earthworm Jim, and it paid off for everyone. If nothing else, you’ll never look at cows the same way again.
In terms of gameplay, Earthworm Jim is a 2D run-and-gun platformer with different variations appearing throughout to keep things interesting. The action is primarily Jim running, jumping, shooting, and using his worm body as a whip/swing. The game controls solidly, as combat is fun and responsive. The interspersed gameplay deviations are also well done, like the times Jim has to escort Peter Puppy across a stage; if Peter gets hurt, he transforms into an enormous, purple rage beast and wreaks havoc! Lots of games try to spice things up with arbitrary races/puzzles/etc., but Earthworm Jim is one of the rare few that succeeds at it. This perfect mixture of the two is what made Earthworm Jim so compelling to gamers.
Earthworm Jim has reappeared on a number of videogame services in recent years, so whether you track down a Genesis or SNES copy or download it to a modern system, you can’t go wrong. The SNES and Genesis versions of Earthworm Jim are interesting because they’re both good in different ways. The Genesis version isn’t quite as pretty as the SNES one, but it features a level that the SNES doesn’t (Intestinal Distress). More content or better graphics; not an easy choice to make! Ultimately, most gamers would argue that Earthworm Jim is a SEGA classic before calling it a Nintendo one, but to each his own.
Before we go, it’s also worth noting that Earthworm Jim was made into a cartoon series that lasted from 1995 to 1996. It’s an interesting adaptation of the source material and also yielded some cool action figures. Playmates was very pleased with the success of their deal making Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys, and their deal with Shiny was intended to land them their own franchise that they didn’t need to license. Some say that Playmates’ approach was unorthodox, but considering TMNT came from a comic book, it’s really not that big of a stretch!
Released 1994. Developed by Shiny Entertainment and Playmates Interactive Entertainment. Published by SEGA.
Earthworm Jim is available on SEGA Genesis, SNES, SEGA CD, and PC. It has also been ported to Game Boy, Game Gear, and Game Boy Advance. Finally, a modern port of the game is available via download from DSiWare, mobile, PSN, and XBox Live.