Earthworm Jim 2: It’s The Super Surreal, Super Sequel!

Earthworm Jim 2
Indeed.

Last week we covered classic 2D platformer Earthworm Jim, so it’s only natural we take on the surreal sequel, with the rather predictable name of Earthworm Jim 2. This was to ensure gamers didn’t get confused with other popular titles such as Super Mario Kart, which also has three words in it. A huge worm in a robotic suit on the front cover of a games box just didn’t stand out enough.

Anyway, the sequel was better than the original and that’s quite some statement, as the first game launched developer Shiny Entertainment into the limelight. It had to deliver for the followup, and it did so with a heady mixture of surreal humour, rampant imagination, and some truly inspired level design. It was another classic!

Earthworm Jim 2

There’s a slight tone shift for the sequel which is just about perceptible, namely in the form of advancing the surreal humour. Whilst the predecessor had a tongue-in-cheek sensibility, the sequel ramps up the silliness and the surreal – not in a childish sense, it’s all just completely inexplicable, such as the Peter Puppy levels where you bounce baby puppies off a giant marshmallow. This all makes the game a touch more fun to play.

One of the big differences to the first outing is the drastic improvement of the soundtrack. The first one was strong enough, but composer Tommy Tallarico ramped up the brilliance. The result is fantastic, with elements of several Beethoven compositions (mainly from the 8th Symphony) mixed with uplifting and emotive original pieces. Oh look! There’s one below.

Players in ’95 were also treated to this joyous bit of music upon arriving on the title screen. Imagine listening to this on a 50 hour loop! You’d be cackling like a maniac before you knew it.

The graphics still look fabulous to this day (true to form – the 16 bit era has aged wonderfully well and many titles could be released now as indie games with no issue), but it’s the gameplay which is what we want to discuss. The level design was outrageous for the time and some of the ideas are still fantastic – you can see they inspired the likes of the truly wonderful Rayman Origins.

The imagination on display remains impressive, too – Shiny Entertainment pushed the limits of the SNES in every department. The result stands as a lovingly crafted title which didn’t lazily reel off a sequel to cash-in on the success of the first game. Although the same bizarre lack of a save option remains (leaving players stuck with a clumsy, archaic password system), picking it up and playing through remains as fresh today as it did over 20 years ago. Marvellous!

Legacy

Sadly, the series took a nose dive after this. After the sequel was released, Shiny Entertainment (headed by Dave Perry) was purchased by Interplay Entertainment and half of the original department left. A reasonably well received third person shooter called MDK followed in 1997, plus a largely panned Matrix game, before merging with Double Helix Games in 2007 – it’s since been responsible for a batch of PS3 and Xbox 360 titles, although hasn’t released anything since 2014.

For Earthworm Jim, it was a meteoric rise before trailing off into oblivion. A 3D outing followed on the N64 (made by a different developer in 1999) which was poor, as well as an appearance in awful fighting game Clayfigther 63 1/3 in 1997, but since then he’s been involved in a few remakes but little else. With Jim snubbed from the 21 games included with the SNES Mini Classic, it seems unlikely we’ll be seeing him in any new titles. It’s a shame as a modern 2D romp in indie game form would be more than welcome right now.

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