“Creativity is the ability to introduce order into the randomness of nature.”
If “sequelitis” can be defined as “the law of physics which prescribes that sequels are worse than the original”, then you can define “sequelitis” as Earthworm Jim 2. Ever wonder what the fall of Rome was like? Look no further than the glory that was so quickly lost in the Earthworm Jim franchise, which went from an awesome and hilarious Sega Genesis/SNES run and gun platformer to a mediocre, mark-missing Sega Genesis/SNES run and gun platformer.
And since EWJ 2 is the last game in the franchise to be developed by Jim’s original creators at Shiny Entertainment, you can rest assured that this was the beginning of the end. A long, torturous end. We’re rapidly approaching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, Christopher Reeve’s Superman III, or The Matrix Revolutions at the conclusion of this game.
We used to look forward to sequels but now several of us know better. Many times sequels try to out-do the original entry in their franchise by going waaay over the top or repeating jokes and beats we’ve seen before and loved the first time. Earthworm Jim 2 is guilty of both, and more.
The entirety of EWJ 2 can be explained with the opening company logo:Whilst idly playing his accordion, Earthworm Jim finds his Princess princess-napped by the nefarious space bounty hunter turned princess-napper: Psy-Crow. The rest of the game is about rescuing Princess What’s Her Name, just like in the first game, only this time there’s no climactic battle against a hideous Queen. I’ll say it right now: the final level is just a footrace against Psy-Crow to the Princess. Whoever gets to her first wins, and that’s the end of the game.
Why go through all the trouble of honing your skills through the many levels in platforming and gunning, acquiring new weapons to blast away your foes, if there is no final boss to fight?
But hey, you loved that cow launch from the first game, right? Well, guess what? Now there’s a whole level about cows, “Udderly Abducted”, wherein our hero Jim has to lug the bovines about to rescue them from alien abduction and inevitable anal probes. Oh and remember in the first Earthworm Jim when you beat a level and Jim’s grinning mug shouted “Groovy”? Well… cows! After each and every level, cows will tell you “Well done”! Oh, oh, oh and there’s more cows! Come to find out, at the end of the game, everybody is a cow. Psy-Crow is a cow. The Princess is a cow. Hades, even Jim’s a cow. You love cows, right? Right? You liked them in the first game, right?
I wonder if that was roughly the discussion the developers had with test audiences (if they even did such a thing with video games?).
Earthworm Jim 2 loads up on jokes and characters from the first game, but surprisingly throws out a lot of the platforming and boss fights from the first game. The first stage, “Anything But Tangerines”, is a straight up platformer, and there are a few others but then you’ve got a trio of levels where you have to bounce puppies off a marshmallow, a level where you have to fly around and bounce a hot air balloon tied to a bomb, a vertical level where you inflate your head, and a level where Jim becomes a blind salamander and floats around in what looks like an intestinal tract.
Why? Where’s all the platforming? I find it hard to believe that EWJ 2 was lauded for its “diverse” gameplay, with levels that seem more like mini-games than stages in a platformer for a hero with a plasma gun. But leave it to peeps like IGN to claim that this second game was an overall improvement over the first one.
The diversity of gameplay doesn’t just end with non-platforming levels. There are, as mentioned, new weapons to acquire. These range in usefulness from a huge gun that kills everything on the screen to a gun that shoots homing missiles. I’m not sure exactly how this benefits the gameplay, though, since Jim’s original big red plasma gun could be aimed and fired in any direction anyway.
Another addition to Jim’s arsenal is a green Snott that lives in his backpack. Maybe you always wondered what was in there. Maybe now you wish you didn’t know. Jim can use the sentient Snott similarly (almost exactly) like his head-whip attack which could latch on to hooks and swing him across the screen. Snott can stick to boogery bits of the ceiling and swing Jim across in much the same way.
Snott can also be deployed as a green parachute to slow Jim’s fall, but you’ll also recall that Jim could previously spin his head like a helicopter to slow his fall in the first game. So Snott really doesn’t add any new gameplay elements. They should’ve called it Superfluous Snott. I guess it’s just there to be weird.
And that is perhaps my ultimate beef with a game that I have many beefs with.
It’s just weird for weirdness sake. It’s what we would now define as random humor. You all know someone who in the past decade or so would constantly say “Dude, that’s so random!” as if that was a good thing. But if you recall, I said this in my review of Earthworm Jim:
Besides for hyperbolic gameplay, trendy tunes, action-hero awesomeness, bizarre humor and vivid visuals, EWJ is noted for its distinct presentation. It’s weirdness, in other terms. It’s something that has been oft imitated with varying degrees of success.
Games like Boogerman: a Pick and Flick Adventure come to mind as failed emulations that end up just being flat out gross with crap like “Professor Stinkbaum” and “Dimension X-Crement”. Dookie jokes, they’re only funny to 8-year-olds.
But Earthworm Jim, more so than even its own sequels, finds the perfect balance between all of the seemingly unrelated components of its setting, narrative and characters. Like, how in the world can cow launching, lawyers, asteroids and termites come together in the same context? How? It’s because a few of its elements are gross. Not all of them. A few of its elements are humorous. Not all of them. EWJ comes off as adolescent but not juvenile. It somehow maintains this balancing act without seeming like its trying too hard. There’s nothing funny about that. The game never feels like a junior higher trying to fit in by doing their hair like everyone else does or trying to wear the same clothes as the older kids. EWJ just comes off as “cool” instead.
Earthworm Jim 2 doesn’t exude that air of “coolness”. You’ll notice that from the first moment you see Jim’s wimpy jogging-in-place animation. And by trying to emulate the success of the first game, EWJ 2 ironically fails. It fails to be funny, fresh, or as much fun.
Furthermore, it underscores a core difference between itself and its predecessor. In Earthworm Jim, the content was random but it still made sense. Everything had its place in a bizarre and funny universe where things made sense in the context of that world. The stage “New Junk City” was a city of junk. The level “What the Heck?” was about Hell, the level “Snot a Problem” had snot in it, “Andy Asteroids” had Jim avoiding asteroids, and “Buttville” was centered around the final boss Queen Slug-for-a-Butt.
Even the cow launch at the outset of Jim’s first adventure proved to be a part of the storyline and amounted to humorous twist at the very end of the game, when the cow that Jim launched ends up landing on the Princess he fought so hard to rescue, breaking the cliff she was standing on and dropping her into the lava below. That’s an actual payoff compared to the revelation that everybody is a cow at the end of EWJ 2.
Compared to the ridiculous but sensible universe of Earthworm Jim, the second game is random just to be random. And because of that: unfunny because not much makes sense. Take the first stage in EWJ 2, “Anything but Tangerines”.
What does that even mean? Does it mean a city of junk? Well, of course not. Does it mean tangerines? No. There aren’t any in the level, as its title promised. So I guess “Anything” refers to falling grandmas, pigs, twisted branches, Bob the goldfish, taxis, and teleportation devices that look like Edison bulbs.
Or how about the stage “Villi People” where Jim dons the disguise of Sally the Blind Cave Salamander, avoiding pinball machinery, exploding sheep, and intestinal lining to the sound of “Moonlight Sonata”?
None of those things are humorous because there’s no context and we can’t expect to laugh at falling grandmas because we hadn’t the faintest idea such a thing was coming. “Clever” is not a word which describes EWJ 2 very well.
I mean, it’s got a few knee-slappers like the stages “Lorenzo’s Soil”, “Udderly Abducted”, and “Level Ate” (the eighth level). But what the heck is “The Flyin’ King”? It’s not as devoid of humor as lawyers, which incidentally were in the first game so of course now they have an entire level all to there own in the sequel.
I’m not sure why they decided to do what they did with Earthworm Jim 2. The question is: why do they do this to sequels at all?
The 8-bit Review
Still fluid and smoothly animated, Earthworm Jim 2 benefits from 2D sprites with the bounciness of Disney cartoons. Which is to say they are rather bouncy. EWJ 2 was originally built for the Sega Genesis and then ported to the SNES, which is to say it found some slight improvements when it made the leap to the better hardware. But that leap doesn’t prevent the visual (and audio) presentation to feel somewhat unpolished. I have the distinct feeling that when enemies blow up in this game, they just disappear and an explosion animation appears in their space a millisecond later. It’s tough to describe in such nitpicky words but you’ll notice it easily yourself.
The sequel came out only a year after the original and rushed development means that eerie sensation that nothing in the game has any weight or substance to it, like its imagery that isn’t there, that Jim doesn’t actually interact with, throwing off all the physics carefully implemented into the first game.
The audio is also a step down. This is most noticeable in the sound effects. Jim’s plasma gunfire sounds like a guy blowing through his lips, making a motor-boat sound. It doesn’t sound nearly as good as in the first game, where it actually sounded like a gun firing. Also, Jim’s whimsical cries of “groovy!” and “way cool!” are here lifted straight from the first game, joined by grating vocal noises “ammo!”, “funky!” and “tender…”. What?
And then there’s the soundtrack. Don’t be deceived by how good the song for “Anything but Tangerines” sounds. It’s all downhill from there. Where are all the rockin’ tempo tracks from the first game? In the first game.
Instead, we get a cool down track in “Lorenzo’s Soil”, then… anything but tangerines, I guess: steel drum Caribbean rhythm, bagpipes (ugh), ragtime (on a bonus level, like in the first game), cheap Carnival music, Italian folk, tango, and two movements of classical in Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.
Yes, the majority of this soundtrack is unoriginal. It’s got a score of tracks written by old composers, and most of them don’t even seem like inspired choices. Just random ones. Why not include “Flight of the Bumblebees”, “Smells like Teen Spirit”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, or “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”? Why not?
I’ll always have a soft spot for Earthworm Jim 2’s music because it was the first time I heard “Moonlight Sonata” and I was so enamored with it I recorded it off the tv onto a cassette tape so I could listen to it whenever I wanted. “Moonlight Sonata” would later on become one of the first songs I taught myself on piano because my love for it never went away.
But that doesn’t mean this game has a great soundtrack.
Levels which distracted from a solid platforming experience distracted gameplay from one of the best genres of that decade. I felt myself wanting to rush through these levels with the stupid boom-balloon and inflating Jim’s head just to get back to actual running and gunning. Unfortunately, you only really get that in Level Ate and the final boss of the game is a forgettable fire-breathing steak without nearly as much personality as certain other bosses. The very next level is just a footrace.
In addition, the added tools in Jim’s arsenal don’t actually add much at all to the gameplay. Snott, as we’ve seen, is unnecessary since Jim already had the abilities to swing and slow his descent. The additional guns are mostly unnecessary as well and in fact over-complicate what was otherwise a streamlined and simple platformer.
There’s a Princess What’s Her Name in need of rescuing. Have at it, hero. The twist is she’s a cow. At least you found out before you tied the knot. Earthworm Jim was originally about parodying the action-game genre but the second game doesn’t take that idea anywhere. It’s a purely by-the-books, average adventure in a world where nothing else makes sense.
Is this game harder than the original? I’d say it’s just about the same. Non-platforming levels can get frustrating at times and EWJ 2 does have multiple difficult settings. There’s no “Tube Race” or tough boss fights here, but missing a jump on the race against Psy-Crow will indeed test your patience.
Nope. I constantly come back to the first game, volume on full blast. I do not intend to come back to Earthworm Jim 2. Certainly not after having written this review.
As a sequel, of course EWJ 2 is not as unique than the original. The game is still full of unexpected quirks and wacky characters and settings. Playing it through for the first time, you won’t know what to expect next. Just try not expect much. At least it’s not more of the same with the variations of gameplay in the various stages, but the nonsensical clash of ideas together rather than the congealing of clever ones makes for a game that is fairly distinctive but not as memorable as it might have been.
My Personal Grade: 4/10
I’d call this a missed opportunity. I’m wondering if anyone had the opposite experience with this game? Is there anyone who legitimately thought it was better than the first game for good reason? If that’s you let me know in the comments, sir or ma’am! If you disagree with me, show me why I’m wrong.
If creativity is the ability to create order out of the randomness of nature, then what is the ability to create randomness out of nature’s order? In my opinion, Earthworm Jim 2 is the first reason why the world had to eventually say goodbye to our heroic invertebrate. Suffering from sequelitis, someone had to put ‘er down. At least it’s better than Earthworm Jim 3D!
Aggregated Score: 5.8