Wait. Wait. I know you’ve played this game. In fact, I hope you’ve played this game. I hope you’ve played both Earthworm Jim games, and you love them to death.
I also hope, however, that you don’t realize just how original, unusual, and cross-genre the sequel to Earthworm Jim really was. If you can truly fathom just how incredibly clever the mishmash of puzzle solving, platforming, action, racing, and old Game and Watch titles that comprise the entirety of Earthworm Jim 2 are, then this forgotten game article might feel a little bit redundant.
However, I feel relatively confident that the majority of those who have played Earthworm Jim 2 really don’t understand just how incredible it is. A side-scroller that refuses to stay in one videogaming genre for more than a level at a time, Earthworm Jim 2 is a classic, by any standards.
A few weeks ago, I said that my three favorite SNES platforming games were Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and Aladdin. The only reason Earthworm Jim 2 isn’t at the very top of that list — and I do mean the only reason — is the fact that to call Earthworm Jim 2 a simple platforming game would be like calling Scarlett Johansson “kind of attractive.”
Hit the jump for the deets.
Following the defeat of Queen Slug-for-a-Butt in the first EWJ title, Jim looks to settle down for a nice marriage to Princess What’s-Her-Name. Unfortunately for Jim, however, the evil Psy-Crow kidnaps her before the two can tie the knot.
Assumedly, Psy-Crow intends to marry Princess What’s-Her-Name after kidnapping her (the last level is a literal race to the altar between Jim and Psy-Crow), but why he doesn’t just immediately marry What’s-Her-Name after kidnapping her is beyond me.
Either way, Jim and his newfound (totally unexplained) sidekick, Snott are forced to race across the cosmos to get What’s-Her-Name back before Psy-Crow can marry her.
The first Earthworm Jim was pretty damned fun, I’ll give you that. The controls were tight, the humor was great, and the platforming was fun — but what really made the first EWJ title stand out from other 2D platformers of the day were its zany, almost minigame-esque levels.
There were only a few of these unusual stages, but levels like “Snot a Problem,” wherein Jim and Major Mucus duel each other whilst bungee jumping, or “For Pete’s Sake,” where Jim has to protect Pete the Puppy from danger, really helped break up the gameplay and give the player something truly original in what could have otherwise been a pretty monotonous action-platformer.
What makes Earthworm Jim 2 so great is that it is comprised almost entirely of levels like this. Looking at each level in the game individually:
Anything But Tangerines
While a typical platforming level in most respects, Anything But Tangerines includes a few pretty awesome moments. The hidden Granny Bonus Level, where Jim has to ride a stair lift and dodge falling grannies, is an exercise in absurdist brilliance. The pig puzzles, where Jim has to grab and move hogs to defeat enemies and open up passageways, set the stage for the slightly-more-elaborate cow puzzles to come in “Udderly Abducted.” The end-level boss fight — if it can even be called that — is a slice of referential irony, as Jim squares off against Bob the Evil Goldfish in what at first seems to be a Mortal Kombat-style faceoff (the word “FIGHT” flashes on the screen a few times), but turns out to be abruptly cut short when Jim simply yanks Bob from his bowl and eats him.
Finding himself in what seems to be a gigantic ant farm, Jim has to use his blaster (now modified with unlimited ammo for the purposes of obliterating dirt) to dig himself from one end of the level to another. What makes this level so memorable is how wonderfully deep the blaster-digging mechanic is: just by shooting at a clump of dirt (and I use the word “clump” mildly — pretty much the entire level is filled to the brim with dirt), the dirt will gradually wear away (thus clearing a vertical path Jim can use to progress through the level) and accumulate on the ground below (thus raising the height of the floor and giving Jim a progressively higher platform he can jump from). In all honesty, the mechanic works so well that they could have easily based an entire game around it. For Earthworm Jim 2, however, it’s just another intelligent and unusual level in a game chock-full of ’em.
This repeating level is basically a retooled version of that old Game and Watch classic where the firemen have to use a trampoline to bounce falling babies from one side of the screen to another. Of course, you’ll have to replace “firemen” with “Earthworm Jim,” “babies” with “puppies,” and “trampoline” with “Giant Marshmallow O’ Love.” Additionally, Jim doesn’t choose to rescue the puppies simply out of the goodness of his heart so much as the fact that if he lets more than five hit the ground in one stage, Peter the Puppy turns mad with rage and knocks off about half of Jim’s health bar. The level is slightly disturbing, to be honest — if Jim doesn’t catch a puppy, it hits the ground and splats into yellow goop. This mildly unsettling image is set off by the fact that the level is scored to a classical Italian opera song whose name totally escapes me at the moment. The Grape Escape commercial ripped it off. The title will come to me eventually.
Jim, inexplicably disguised as a blind cave salamander, has to float through a cave and/or human intestinal track, avoiding exploding sheep and the deadly villi that line the walls of the level. Upon reaching the end of the stage, Jim participates in what may very well be the most nonsensical trivia game in the history of videogaming — the questions make no sense (“Can Jim speak French?”), and factually correct answers are never right. The whole level is rounded out with one big game of Simon played on a bunch of oversized pinball bumpers.
Oh, and the entire level is set to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Which is absolutely awesome.
The Flyin’ King
The game suddenly switches to a 3/4 top-down isometric viewpoint. Jim, now riding his turbine-shaped spaceship, has to manuever a large bomb from one end of the level to another whilst avoiding cannon fire, snot rockets, and catapulted pigs — and he’s gotta do it all without accidentally shooting the bomb and ending the level.
In an almost nonlinear level, Jim has to grab cows and drop them off at milk gates (the door open once enough milk has been sucked from the cows), all while avoiding evil penguins, abduction-happy UFOs, and the occasional exploding bovine (dip them in the enormous bath to stop the fuse!).
After ingesting helium for no good reason, Jim’s head inflates to ten times its original size and he begins to uncontrollably float upward through a level filled with a metric asston of pointy objects that can easily pop Jim’s cranium and send him plummeting back to the beginning of the level. Adding to the difficulty is Evil the Cat, who occasionally pops out of nowhere and either tries to divebomb Jim with his claws outstretched (difficult to dodge), or pop his dome from afar with a blowgun.
Jim runs through a world of evil accountants, hamsters inside symbolic, spherical cages, and literally climbs mountains of paperwork. Functionally, the level is a totally standard platforming stage, but the incredible visuals (tax forms blow around in the background, and the entire level feels like an accounting-heavy dystopia) and unusual score by Tommy Tallarico give the level a very stark, surreal quality. That, and the end-level “boss” is one of the most unusual I’ve ever seen in a game.
Earthworm Jim versus Junk Food. Whether you’re using pepperoni slices as platforms while traversing a deadly pizza, jumping over pointy forks, or running from a gigantic, sentient salt-shaker (defeat it by running past a snail — the salt shaker, working on instinct, will get distracted and attack the snail instead of you), the level is a hell of a lot of fun. And more than a little hunger-inducing.
See Jim Run, Run Jim Run
Considering this is the final level, one might expect a lot of enemies, or a climactic boss fight — after all, what mid-90’s 2D side-scroller doesn’t include some sort of explosive, action-packed conclusion? Thankfully, however, EWJ2 ends in a way wholly consistent with the game that precedes it: the last level is narratively bizarre and unusual from a gameplay standpoint, but totally satisfying in its execution. Jim and Psy-Crow engage in a footrace through an enormous, 24-hour church, each hoping to reach Pirncess What’s-Her-Name before the others. No enemies. No big boss fight. Just Jim, Psy-Crow, and one challenging race against the clock.
As you can hopefully see, no two levels are really the same, and the game takes on an incredibly unusual and satisfying quality because of it. Hell, half the fun of each level is figuring out exactly what you’re supposed to do. I’d write more about the gameplay itself, but (A) I’m extremely tired, and (B) you should really just play the game yourself and re-live it, in all its absurd (yet absolutely brilliant) glory.
Why You Probably Haven’t Played It:
As I said, you almost definitely have — but on the off chance that you’re one of those poor souls who hasn’t, I highly recommend purchasing it. If you NOT emulate it, almost all of the really cool sound and voice effects — like, for instance, the different varieties of the word “groovy” spoken by two cows after each level — are missing. Not to mention, of course, Doug TenNapel’s vocal performance as Earthworm Jim is missing from pretty much every NOT emulated copy I DIDN’T emulate to write this article.