Game Reviews

Earthworm Jim

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Earthworm Jim

Retro remakes are a difficult subject for anyone to tackle. The developer has to deliver a game that's seen its popularity grow, organically, over a long number of years, with a lot of gamers harbouring very fond memories that this new version then has to live up to.

Often enough, a retro remake is also expected to add something to the original, though with a game like Earthworm Jim that's not necessarily the case.

Rather, we want a pixel perfect recreation of the Mega Drive classic that proved to be one of the highlights of that particular gaming decade. But the developer - Gameloft - also has to consider that it's introducing Earthworm Jim to a whole new generation, so it needs to compete with every other iPhone game on even ground. No small task.

And we need to approach the review in a similar manner. There's a slim chance that you've somehow managed to get to this point in your life without having crossed paths with the world's most famous worm. But before we finally begin at the beginning, retro heads and Earthworm fans should probably start the sizeable, 111MB download off running.

Jim was just an ordinary earthworm when Psy-Crow’s super suit fell out of orbit and transformed him into a powerful, hilarious, gun-toting superhero. Jim then sets off across the galaxy on a quest to rescue Princess Whats-Her-Name from her evil sister Queen Slug-For-A-Butt. It's a ridiculously amusing premise, and that Python-esque humour permeates every pixel of Earthworm Jim.

For the most part, Earthworm Jim would be considered a platform game, though it's also got more than its share of shooting, racing and dextrous puzzle solving, making it quite the Renaissance title and that appeals to a very wide audience.

The levels are beautifully designed, rarely feeling like an off-the-shelf platformer, and given that you can shoot in any direction Earthworm Jim also elevates itself above your typical scrolling shooter.

The gun isn't Jim's only weapon. Alongside being able to climb and swing, Jim’s super suit can take the worm by their head and whip its enemies in a deliciously hilarious ‘towel flicking’ manoeuvre.

During this long and immensely exciting adventure you ride giant hamsters, flying rockets, drive one-man submarines (which has a disturbingly fragile windscreen) and bungee jump into a pool all of snot, ensuring that Earthworm Jim really does have something for everyone (well, everyone who doesn't consider themselves aggravatingly mature).

Those who've played any of the previous Earthworm Jim games will be massively excited about this gorgeous-looking and accurate recreation of the original (and best). Yet you're probably concerned about whether the iPhone is capable of providing the controls necessary to make this difficult game playable.

Gameloft’s options were obviously limited, and it's opted for the on-screen D-pad with three action buttons (jump, shoot and whip) on the other side of the screen - a system that hasn't fared particularly well on Apple's platform so far.

Rather astutely, the developer has included two small variations on this control system. There's the typical four ‘button’ controller, as you would have used when playing the game on the Mega Drive.

The buttons are large enough to make hitting them reasonably easy, though diagonals do prove quite irksome. During the more intense passages of play (of which there are many) your thumb can stray very easily and cause death, mayhem and anger all around you.

The alternative is a virtual analogue stick, which is impressively ergonomic. Though I will say it takes some practice to really get used to it, the quality of this Earthworm Jim adaptation will ensure you're willing to give the controls the effort they demand, and by the end of the first level you will have forgotten all about them.

On occasion, when it becomes practical, Gameloft has also made the correct decision to switch to accelerometer controls. This doesn't happen very often (usually during bonus levels, such as chasing Psy-Crow through space), but it's good to see the developer has made the effort to adapt Earthworm Jim to iPhone as completely as possible.

It's a first-class conversion of one of the all-time great games, though anyone who finds twitch games or virtual D-pads to be a massive turnoff will be frustrated. But the truth is, those gamers would probably be just as frustrated playing the Mega Drive game, which ultimately leads us to the conclusion that Earthworm Jim on iPhone is nothing short of a groovy success.

Earthworm Jim

It’s the exact game you remember, with all the action and humour you originally fell in love with. The controls were never going to be perfect, but we couldn't have hoped for better on iPhone. Jim is back, and as groovy as ever
Spanner Spencer
Spanner Spencer
Yes. Spanner's his real name, and he's already heard that joke you just thought of. Although Spanner's not very good, he's quite fast, and that seems to be enough to keep him in a regular supply of free games and away from the depressing world of real work.