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E3 2006
E3 Hands On: Earthworm Jim (PSP)
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on May 24, 2006   |   Episode 21 (Show Archive)  

   

Oh Earthworm Jim, how I've missed you! Here's hoping you don't break my heart again!
Back in the early 1990s the name Earthworm Jim meant something, when you bought a game with that name on it you knew that it was going to provide a great sense of humor, amazing animation, creative levels and a whole lot of fun. Earthworm Jim's 2D adventures were the stuff of legends, getting nothing but high marks from even the toughest video game critics. But nothing this good could last forever, all it took was one terrible 3D outing to kill this franchise for good.

But now that some time has passed Atari is ready to bring our favorite action worm back for a second attempt at fame and fortune. At this year's E3 Atari surprised almost everybody by showing off their newest Jim game, simply titled Earthworm Jim (working title). It's Earthworm Jim on the PSP and Defunct Games had a chance to play through the first level of what could be the resurrection of one of our favorite fallen friends.

Atari has wisely opted to scrap the whole 3D angle they tried back on the Nintendo 64, this brand new PSP Earthworm Jim is a return to the good old days of 2D gaming, a time when Jim and his troupe were actually fun to be around. But even though this game is a return to the 2D world we know and love from the Genesis and Super NES originals, it is being created using 3D rendered polygons. Don't worry, that doesn't mean Jim will have a 3D world to explore, this will be a strictly 2D experience with brand new 3D graphics (similar to how Lemmings and Ultimate Ghouls 'N Ghosts are handling 2D). Out with the sprites and in with the polygons.

This new way of creating the graphics actually gives the game a fresh new look, even though you can tell it's a throwback to a game that is over a dozen years old. And like the older games, this Jim has amazing animation (including some hilarious new moves). This new Jim is exactly the type of Earthworm Jim sequel I have been waiting for, an amazing little game that manages to embrace the original while adding to it.

The demo we played offered gamers a chance to fight through New Junk City, the original level from the very first Earthworm Jim game. The layout was clearly different, but anybody who played the original game will no doubt recognize the backgrounds and enemies. Expect to jump on tires, look for secret paths, fight a dog, and launch a cow into the air. It's all here.

But don't think this is a remake, outside of the very first level the rest of the game will be all new. Expect brand new levels, new enemies, new bosses, and even a few changes to the story. This is a brand new Earthworm Jim, and it shows.

Along for the ride are a bunch of new power-ups which can be used at any time. It was fun watching Earthworm Jim fire new weapons and use different abilities to find secret areas and make navigating the maze a little easier. We weren't able to play with all of the new items, but the developers promised a whole host of power-ups, weapons, and abilities. If they are anything like the weapons in the first game then you can expect a lot of funny animations and big explosions.

Unfortunately none of the original Earthworm Jim developers are currently working on this PSP game; this is a brand new batch of workers prepping Jim's re-launch. At first this may seem like disappointing news, but the Atari rep assured us that all of the people on the Jim team were big fans of the original and wanted to do the best job they can. They have big plans for Earthworm Jim, they hope to ultimately revive this franchises and release several sequels on the PSP (as well as other portable systems). From the looks of this game they may be on their way to doing just that; after my short time with the project I was already looking forward to more.

There are still a lot of variables that are not known, such as the level count, what the bosses will be like and what kind of weapons we will see in the finished product. There were also some series mainstays missing that troubled us, such as the flying levels between missions ("I'm a rocket man!!"). Atari hopes to have enough time to add those, but the company is clearly focusing on making the main game (the 2D game) the best it can be. We hope Atari will get to everything, but we're realistic and know that dropping the flying stages won't be the end of the world. All we can do is hope that Atari comes through with the goods, but from what we could tell it doesn't look like there is too much to worry about.

But How Good is It? It's really, really good. The control felt solid, the graphics were amazing and it had all of the humor you remembered from the first game. While not every 2D platformer has withstood the test of time, there's something about the original Earthworm Jim that is fun and endearing all these years later. Here's hoping that the new Jim will be just as fun and just as endearing, because millions of fans would love to see this series return to the greatness it once knew. Our only concern is whether Atari will have enough time to complete everything they want to do. Keep those fingers crossed.

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