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The rise, fall, and resurgence of Earthworm Jim

In the middle of the 16-bit video game console era, many developers tried to go with the trend of making their own video game mascots for their company. Sega had Sonic, Nintendo had Mario, Hudson had Bomberman, and Shiny Entertainment had Earthworm Jim, but only for a short time. The first game was about a common Earthworm getting struck by a space suit from another galaxy, causing him to become a cartoony, superhero worm controlling the suit and rescuing Princess What's-Her-Name from the evil Slug For A Butt.


From the wacky character designs to the stellar concept artwork, it was already looking promising.


Shiny's main game programmer, David Perry and Earthworm Jim's creator, Doug TenNapel previously worked for Virgin Games, working on titles like Disney's Aladdin, but after getting involved with some of the animators with Disney as well as Disney themselves during that time, they later set out to form Shiny, as well as beginning development for the worm's first game in 1994 seeking inspiration to work on the game's cartoony visuals, as well as making the game fun.

Working alongside Interplay on not only publishing the game but selling toys, Earthworm Jim was already making it big on the gaming market. High scores from game critics showed promise in a possible sequel, the future looked bright for Jim. There was even a "special edition" of the game that premiered on the Sega CD and PC. The game released on both the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, DOS, Game Boy, Game Gear, and even the Sega Master System. Before the Sega CD release came along though, Shiny regarded the Sega Genesis version as the best version as it came with a level that the SNES version did not, called Intestinal Distress!


The special edition not only came with CD quality music tracks, but a new level, a new homing rocket, and some added touches to some levels.


The demand for a sequel encouraged the staff at Shiny to work on it, and just a year after, it all came together. The levels had even more polish as well as the animations and art, and even made it over to the Sega Saturn! Portable ports were noticeably absent though as he didn't return for the Game Boy or Game Gear, but he did come back for the Genesis and SNES as well as DOS. Now Jim had to face his arch nemesis, Psycrow and rescue the princess once more.

During this time as well, a Saturday morning cartoon premiered on the Kids WB block on the WB channel, lasting two seasons and a year of airing. For all of the Earthworm Jim stuff that we got at the time, it was great to be a fan, and add that on top of the action figures and comics, maybe there would have been a chance for Shiny to work on a third game! or, maybe not....


David Perry sold the rights to Earthworm Jim over to Interplay while he focused on newer games, such as MDK in 1997, and Wild 9 in 1998.


It was a quiet time for Jim for the span of the next few years, since David Perry no longer wanted sequels, this led Doug TenNapel to leave the company and form his own developer studio, the Neverhood, with his first game being, The Neverhood! But with the worm no longer with either of them, what would the future be like for Jim?

Development for Earthworm Jim's first (and only) adventure into the realm of 3D began around 1998, already showing images of the game's beta in certain magazines, but was was shown at that time, never made it into the final release. We had to wait another year for it to show up on shelves, but what we got wasn't the same "groovy" gameplay as critics and some other fans expected.


Earthworm Jim 3D was met with lukewarm reception, having an unruly game camera, punishingly difficult boss fights, and some frustrating missions.


Now that Interplay had the rights to Earthworm Jim, they tasked VIS Interactive, a developer unheard of at the time to design it. The plot this time follows Jim getting struck by a falling cow, and being in a coma while he explores the inner reaches of his mind, and fighting familiar baddies while collecting his "marbles". As much as VIS and Interplay attempted to bring back the charm of the first two games, it didn't work so well without the creative mind of Doug and level designing of David to make it fresh.

Some video game characters seemed to have a 50-50 chance of doing well making the transition to 3D, but it all depends on how the game is handled, how it's done, and if it's appealing enough to make the game worth replaying. But as mentioned above, the game had a handful of problems that even kept me from going back to it. But one thing I can commend on is the graphics, they really jump out like a cartoon as they should.

As for the marble collecting, Jim needs these to open up new levels, unfortunately if he dies in a level, he'll have to get every last one of them all over again, think Banjo-Kazooie note collecting, but worse with bad level design and frustrating elements in gameplay. By completing missions, you're given golden cow udders, also necessary for game progress. These tasks can go from simple (pressing floor panels while shooting enemies) to downright infuriating (escorting an Elvis lookalike to the end of a corridor while using a head whip to have him jump over just at the precise end of a gap, otherwise you start al the way back at the beginning).

Probably the worst part of the game for me has to be how the boss fights were handled, no variety in how they're done, they're literally the same battles. The concept sounds simple: Gather more marbles than the boss, and attack them for any marbles they have so they can drop them. But here's the problem, when you take a shot at them for marbles, they don't have a health meter to speak of, they can also attack you, but your health goes down the more it happens. Not only is it done badly in execution, but it really made me turn away from the game for years after making a simple rental. The game was apparently so rushed that only a PC and N64 release ever happened, with a cancelled Playstation release that would have happened shortly after.

It was honestly sad seeing the Earthworm Jim games going out with more of a poof than a bang, and even David Perry was quoted as saying that one of his biggest mistakes he made in the game industry was selling off the Earthworm Jim franchise. In 2010, we got an HD reimaging of the first Earthworm Jim.


Earthworm Jim HD was at a balance of criticism, some liked it, while others didn't for its music as the previous "special edition" that released on the Sega CD had better sounding music and having some choppy animation in places.


Earthworm Jim HD was an attempt at bringing back Jim one last time, but what players didn't notice was that creator Doug TenNapel nor anyone at Shiny had any involvement with the remake at all. Doug had even pointed out that the character animations that were used were just traced over, and the new "lives" icon was stolen from an artist on social media.

After that, it was another quiet time for Earthworm Jim once again for many years. Doug hinted that in 2010, an actual fourth game was going to be in development with Interplay actually wanting the game done right, but no further news came over it aside from an unreleased PSP game. But then, a miracle happened in 2019....


In May of 2019, a very brief gameplay video of Earthworm Jim 4 had released, featuring crisp and smooth art, and Jim himself was looking amazing!


As of this article, the new game is said to be exclusive only to the soon to be released game system, the Intellivison Amico. I would love to have seen this game release on the PC or even other game consoles, but I have my hopes that this new game being worked on by the original Shiny staff, will be promising, and a glimmer of hope, that Jim will be back to stardom. Thanks for reading, and see you next article!

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onipar Posted on Jan 21, 2021 at 03:31 PM

I used to love Earthworm Jim. I don't think I ever played anything past the original Genesis game though. That'd be cool if they made a new one that was accessible.

Benjanime Posted on Jan 20, 2021 at 03:56 AM


it's also interesting to see him go above and beyond in the gaming industry, to see him have his own company like that was very impressive looking back!


it was so fun looking at all of the screenshots and seeing some behind the scenes stuff from nintendo power magazine, i still remember an issue where it showed doug next to a big earthworm jim sculpt! :D

thanks for reading guys!

Julie Posted on Jan 20, 2021 at 03:51 AM

I remember the hype of Earthworm Jim in the magazines of the time, my only source on games. They showed photos and talked about the unusual art, the unique humor and especially about the superb animation from David Perry, a very famous programmer at the time and acclaimed by the industry and the players. Not to mention that the two cartridges had 16 megabits, something big for the time.
Earthworm Jim were desired cartridges. Fortunately I had both releases at the time, for Sega Genesis. I miss that time of extremely charismatic and unforgettable characters. And by the way, very well written article as always, with the differentiated vocabulary that is already a mark of yours, my sweet @Benjanime. ❤❤

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 19, 2021 at 08:08 PM

I was, and still am, a fan of Earthworm Jim. I loved the bizarre humor of the games, and then was able to get my hands on a few comics and tune in to the animated show.

I appreciate the art and humor of Doug TenNapel. Not only that, but his upbringing kind of formed him into a similar person to myself. We both attended Nazarene universities, we both like to illustrate and create, we have similar political views... things just align.

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