Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Groovy!.....IN HD.

I have fond memories of the original Earthworm Jim. In a Sega Genesis-laden childhood formerly dominated by the Sonics and Disney characters, EWJ was a breath of fresh air. Featuring quirkky, odd characters, a strangely disjointed yet bizarrely cohesive collection of worlds, and a difficulty level that I struggled to keep up with as my friends fell prey to it one by one, I'd found my new favorite game. As someone who doesn't regularly play favorites, this is significant to me. I've played the original Earthworm Jim so much, I practically know it backwards, and welcome any opportunity to play it again.

So when an iPhone version was released, I was there, and was blown away by what developer Gameloft had done; this wasn't just a quick and dirty port, this was a redrawn from scratch, enhanced, high definition version of the game I'd grown up loving. Imagine my surprise when I heard it wouldn't stop there, and that a fully HD version would be released for the home consoles. Moreover, I'd heard that not only would it be based on the most amazing version of the game (Special Edition - Sega CD), but that it would not only have extra stages, but multiplayer!

How could I resist?


Earthworm Jim HD
For: Xbox 360, PS3 (PS3 Release: tentative, July)
Price: 800 MS Points, $9.99 PSN
Released: 6/9/2010 (Xbox 360)

I'll get the obvious out of the way first, I enjoyed Earthworm Jim HD. Was it the definitive, ultimate version of the game I was hoping for? No, that title still goes to the original Sega CD version. Is it a painstakingly remastered, remixed, content filled version of the game I know and love that isn't perfect, but will draw in a load of new fans? Most definitely.

The story hasn't changed any, and in a very welcome change to the original, moments after pressing start, you're treated to a redrawn version of the original Earthworm Jim origin comic as an intro movie. While it never really did provide context for the world hopping madness that is Jim's quest to rescue Princess-What's-Her-Name, it's a welcome setup for the rest of the game, which is remarkably intact for the most part. I say for the most part, because while the game does feature many things from the Sega CD version, two levels; "Big Bruty" and the secret "Who Turned Out The Light" are surprisingly absent. It isn't a dealbreaker, as the game still retains its trademark schizophrenic approach to platforming--one minute, you're navigating an underwater maze in a pod created by a fish, the next, you're bungie battling a booger--, but it's a loss that will sorely be missed, as the latter level was one of the most unique ones in the game.

What won't be missed however, is the original game's resolution. Seemingly not content to just upscale the game and throw a blurry filter on top, Gameloft actually redrew the game from the ground up, and it shows. Not only do the stages look sharp and crisp, but they found time to add new details as well; New Junk city has a light fog tracking the ground, Down The Tubes has bubbles and several schools of fish swimming around (look for a VERY special cameo!) and Andy Asteroids wouldn't look out of place in a 3D game. Unfortunately, some of the remastered animations aren't as well done as others, and you can tell some corners were cut, likely because the original was SO well animated, it would've been too massive an undertaking to redo every single frame in HD. People new to the series won't notice, but fans of the original definitely will, and it has the unfortunate side effect of occasionally making the game look unpolished, because some of the original frames ARE intact. (Giant Hamster, I'm looking STRAIGHT at you)

Sound was paid a similar amount of care as well. A ton of new sound effects and added voice work were added to the game, and in some respects it makes the game funnier. Strangely, some iconic ones have been lost (where's Jim's high pitched scream?) or replaced (PLASMA! instead of WHAM!). Tommy Tallarico's fantastic score also remains mostly intact, though some liberties were taken with some of the older tracks (title screen) and similarly what's been done with the new tracks sometimes stick out like a sore thumb. This isn't to say they're bad, but it's more a testament to the original score and how strong it was that the new tracks actually throw things off a bit. Music can really make or break atmosphere, and a few of the new songs actually throw off the psuedo-serious and dark, yet lighthearted humor of the original, making things just a bit goofier (Read: The EWJ2 humor problem**).

Control however remains flawless, and feels surprisingly tight, even on an HDTV. Weapon switch from the SNES version was also added, making the game even more fun to play, as managing your plasmas actually becomes a possibility, opening the game up to new strategies. Jim's helicopter no longer requires a thousand button presses, and the whip swing is faster too. These changes are not only well recieved, but welcome because even though new difficulty levels were added, the original's brutal difficulty is still a selectable option.

Multiplayer was also a pleasant surprise, and while the initial reaction would be to hiss at the fact that yet ANOTHER game has had multi shoehorned into it, it's actually pretty well done. With support for up to 4 players, and redesigned levels from the single player game featuring all sorts of clever co-op puzzles and situations that force teamwork, it's a real hoot. It's a real shame that hardly any people are playing it over live, but local is a blast, and definitely will distract for an hour or two.

Many of my comments on this game keep going back and forth, similarly praising and criticizing each aspect of the game, making it sound like a mixed bag, but it isn't as polarizing as seems. Overall, I was satisfied with EWJ HD. The high definition upgrade makes an artistically great game even better, the updated sound effects and voiceovers add a ton of personality to a title already brimming with it, and even though it wasn't necessary, the multiplayer is an absolute hoot and extends an already great title. I can't recommend it enough to fans of the original, and for new ones, I hope they're prepared to play one of the most challenging, personable platformers around.

**The EWJ2 humor problem is simple to explain. The original Earthworm Jim, and part of its charm was being a game that didn't take itself too seriously, though it's intimidating boxart would've had you thinking otherwise.

The game starts with Jim's pants falling as he showboats for the camera, and moments after you've pressed start, he's on-screen sporting the angriest "GET TO THE CHOPPA" look you could ever possibly imagine on an annelid. But this was the balance--for every clever 'serious' red herring the game threw you, there was a clever joke waiting not too far away. Jim fights his way through a rabid junkyard, then he's in hell listening to elevator music. One second he's working his way through an underwater labyrinth constructed by a fish, then he's caught up in a freefall battle with a robot chicken. The best part was, Jim for the most part did it stone faced, and carried himself like a champion, like he was embarking on the greatest rescue mission ever, and like he was going to succeed...somehow.

Then in the second, it seemed as if it were all about the punchline. Gone was the deathly serious Jim surrounded by absurdity, he was now consistently bug-eyed and jogging in place. The levels were clever, but one huge punchline. The enemies were punchlines. The puzzles, onscreen words--everything seemed like a setup for a joke bigger than the next, and while it's fine in the grand scheme for a character like Jim to occupy the role of Jester--it was the fact that he wasn't in the original that made his quest so endearing. He was ridiculous--but not as ridiculous as what was going on around him, and that's why the humor worked so well. The second felt juvenile and undercooked by comparison.

(This article's also on!)

1 comment:

  1. where is the equivalent of clicking the like button on facebook? lol