Retro Review: Earthworm Jim 3D (Nintendo 64)

Earthworm-Jim-3D-Nintendo-64-ReviewWhich came first - the bear or the worm? On the Nintendo 64 Banjo-Kazooie wins by a good year, but if we are harking back in time then Jim wins by a good five years. Our pesky invertebrate hero ran rough shot on the 16-bits systems - arguably two of the finest platform games aside from first party Sonic and Mario exploits. Jim was so popular at the time that he was also ported to numerous systems. He was so in demand during the mid 90s that he even spawned a Saturday morning cartoon series - voiced by no other than Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) - this was big stuff!

So what happened? In the two year gap where Jim had vanished into obscurity (1997-1999) gaming trends had shifted astronomically. Everything was 3D this, polygon that. The day of the sprite was numbered and with that Earthworm Jim dwindled into the ether. Games such as the iconic Mario 64 and (getting back to my original point) Banjo-Kazooie were now considered the benchmark in platforming. Sadly, this is where Interplay throws Jim to the wolves as a cheap mess of a cash in.

So the story as far as I can make out: Jim is playing the accordion when he is suddenly crushed by a cow. He is rushed to hospital where he is bed ridden in a coma. The game is set inside Jim's mind where you have to go through different themed stages of his brain (happiness, fear etc). The premise is pretty cool as it gives the developers carte blanche in what content they can put in the game - the Earthworm Jim cannon is already pretty out there so so far so good!

An udder mess?

Sadly, this is where the innovation ceases and the blatant Mario 64 / Banjo rip off begins. Take the hub for example, inside Jim's head - you unlock more stages by collecting golden udders (sounds daft but remember where you are!) where as in Banjo you collect jiggies. In Earthworm Jim 3D you have to find - wait for it - your marbles, where as Banjo you collect musical notes. It all reeks of over familiarity. A nice touch though is that the more marbles you collect, the game tells you how smartererer you are. It always brings a smile to see what is next. My favourite was being as 'smart as a waffle.' Also the marbles open up more areas within a stage to get those elusive udders.

I don't claim to be a fan of Banjo-Kazooie - far from it. I generally loathe games that are colossal collectathons. But where Banjo succeeds and Jim fails is down to the broken camera - it is very close to making it completely unplayable. The camera is controlled by the C buttons on the gamepad. But you have to keep pressing the buttons to turn the camera - it doesn't swing round. Also it doesn't stay behind Jim. You have to hold the R bumper to force the camera to follow him else it goes all over the place. This is maddening when trying to do even the simplest of jumps. This is the key factor in breaking the game compared to its contemporaries where controls are tighter than a retro gamers' wallet!

Graphically the game is a mixed bag. Jim no longer looks like a superhero, but a fat mess more like Johnny Vegas stumbling about after ten pints of Guinness. In the original games it was Jim's facial expressions and detailed animations that sold the comedy. You can barely make out his face in 3D. His movement is also slow and sluggish - not unresponsive as the analogue stick is a delight - but it constantly feels like Jim is working against you.

Earthworm-Jim-3D-Nintendo-64-Screenshots

Earthworm Jim 3D has a varied mix of enemies - cows, chickens, aliens and even potatoes with googly eyes stuck on, but it just isn't fun. Even classic Jim characters make an appearance (Psycrow, Professor Monkey for a Head) but it feels like there is a distinct lack of cohesion. Speaking of Psycrow - he is the stage 1 boss. You have to surf around a muddy sty on your trusty pig surf board whilst your nemesis rides a hovercraft. There are 100 marbles and the first to get them all wins. You collect missiles to force your opponent to lose marbles and vice versa but the controls are more a hindrance than the munitions constantly bombarding you. It's the first stage boss! It should be a breeze but no, it is an udder (get it? puns!) mess. These potential game breakers are constant throughout (see the stage where you collect tins of beans to jetpack fart yourself to higher ledges - near impossible).

If a game has an awful camera, would you include massive drop damage when you miss a jump? No. Taking that into account, would your game have a quick restart point if you did make an utter hash of it? Yes. Well guess what? Earthworm Jim 3D makes you start the entire stage again! Spend 40 minutes edging around a badly constructed stage only to fall into a water trap by accident - do it all again. You do get to keep any udders you may have amassed but the 100 marbles per stage (many of which want you to be dangerous to collect them) reset and you have to go and get them yet again. I don't mind a game punishing me for sucking at it but when it is the fault of the camera or instant enemy fire killing you when you enter a room - it is simply unfair and broken.

The main draws for the Earthworm Jim games was the solid platforming mixed with frenetic shooting. Jim's blaster became iconic with all his wacky power-ups he had at his disposal (bubble gun!), in 3D, however, it again feels underwhelming. You have your standard blast and you gain powerups by head whipping (your helicopter head spin doesn't last long enough by the way) vending machines scattered about the stage. Gone are the laughs and in come the frustrating times - the biggest issue being that you can't cycle between weapons! (I couldn't figure it out if you could) You only get limited ammo for each power-up so you have to use each stage specific maguffin to solve the puzzles and shoot the enemy. If you run out you have to traipse back to the vending machine and repeat the process. It is so tedious. Like writing this segment or you having to then read it. One such power-up is a meat cleaver - which works like a boomerang and it chops enemies heads clean off! You see the neck bone on the torso and everything - but don't worry, no PEGI or BBFC or ELSPA could be bothered to get that far so clearly they didn't want to play the game either!

Conclusion

I know looking above there aren't that many plus points and it all seems very negative. Well the music is awful too! The tracks immediately set the scene for each stage but then after thirty seconds it loops and loops just increasing the madness - or is that the point as you are in the mind of a clearly deranged earthworm! Stick on the 'Happy Happy Joy Joy' track from Ren and Stimpy and it would be less rage inducing. Still, the voice acting is great - it has the full cartoon cast after all!

Earthworm Jim was a pretty big part of my childhood. The original games were simply brilliant for the time and are still excellent today - a true testament to their quality. Sadly, 3D on the N64 just wasn't good enough. It is like Jim joined Scientology and to hide his dirty secrets he was forced to appear in yet another rubbish Mission Impossible film or something...

Earthworm Jim 3D (Nintendo 64) Gameplay


Last Updated ( 15 July 2014 )  

James 'ewjim' Evans

Jim is a self confessed know it all when it comes to 16-bit gaming. With a strange fondness of playing rubbish videogames for the fun of it, there is no stoop too low he won't go to for entertainment.

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Comments 

(Link to this comment) ollie809 2014-07-15 12:19
another stellar review, its pretty blatant rip off of banjo. its an absolute nightmare collecting all the marbles then dying and having to recollect them all over again! i do think this issue was also present in banjo, however that doesnt let this game off the hook because as you said that camera will kill you multiple times!

i was annoyed when i couldnt change weapons too but then again that annoyed me in the 16 bit games too.

it was very much a let down, booting up the game and watching the into while short it felt in place with the franchise, voice acting is good and its alright visually too me, little touches like in the hub world being able to lookout of jims real eye was fun and there is other humor here but its flaws are too great unfortunately!

its a shame as somewhere here i can feel a fun game hidden away, just needing abit more time and quality control. thanks for the review well written as always. and thanks for the deal on the cart!
(Link to this comment) ewjim 2014-07-15 12:25
No problem on the cart mate, id rather my games go to people who will appreciate them. Gamers happy over price any day!

Not sure if it was a Mega Drive 3 button controller issue but you can definitely change weapons on the Snes versions of 1 & 2? A mystery is afoot!
+1 (Link to this comment) ollie809 2014-07-15 17:26
Quoting ewjim:
Not sure if it was a Mega Drive 3 button controller issue but you can definitely change weapons on the Snes versions of 1 & 2? A mystery is afoot!


yeah probably my memories are from playing on mega drive. I now have the first game on the SNES but think its better on MD.
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