Patrick Hope: Clone Wars -- The Annelid Annihilator
This column has a very specific inspiration. I was at Walmart and saw a direct to DVD “Hercules” movie starring former WWE wrestler John Morrison. This is notable for being a Hercules movie starring a wrestler that is not The Rock. It’s a pretty poor imitation and does not feature the People’s Champ at all. And that got me thinking about something.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the media world — and that includes video games — imitation is the sincerest form of trying to cash in on someone else’s success. Over time, there have been a lot — and I mean a lot — of games which are blatant clones of more popular games. And I will be honest — most of them are god-awful. But which ones rise about the rest? That’s why I’m here with the first edition of what may or may not become a periodic feature here: Clone Wars.
Back in the early ’90s, the success of “Sonic the Hedgehog” led a lot of game developers to believe that their ticket to fame and fortune was a cool mascot with attitude, because that’s what the ’90s were all about. This led to a slew of mascot games that were, by and large, harmless and dumb, existing today only as joke fodder, because how can you not make fun of games with names like “Radical Rex” and “Awesome Possum Kicks Dr. Machino’s Butt”? Some of these games were terrible, like “Bubsy,” and some were just out there, like “Zool, Ninja of the Nth Dimension.” But for the most part, they were quickly forgotten. Well, enter a series that definitely wasn’t about speed and wasn’t really even a platformer, but sure had a hero with all kinds of ‘tude: “Earthworm Jim.”
“Earthworm Jim” is the brainchild of Shiny Entertainment, which, after the success of Sonic, decided they wanted to start their own franchise with a cool hero and started with a video game. So in 1994, “Earthworm Jim” was released on the Sega Genesis, with ports to pretty much every system imaginable following soon thereafter. There even was a short-running cartoon show, with Jim being voiced by none other than Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson). So this was a pretty big deal, albeit briefly. Anyway, let’s look at the game.
“Earthworm Jim” is a run-and-gun game in the vein of Contra, though there is some amount of platforming and, to be frank, it feels like one of the most ’90s games out there. Jim has catchphrases like “Groovy” and “Whoa Nelly” and the game is awash in bright colors. Depending on which version of the game you own, you’ll get to plow through 10 to 12 stages, blasting enemies by using weapons like Jim’s head as a whip or a cow launcher, racing in underwater pods, or running on crystal treadmills. And that’s where “Earthworm Jim” stands out from its super edgy and in-your-face brethren.
Jim is your regular worm, doing worm things, when a bounty hunter named Psy-Crow accidentally drops an Ultra high tech indestructible super space cyber suit (actual name) in Jim’s vicinity. The suit was intended for the dastardly Queen Slug-for-a-Butt and, due to the extreme evolution that the suit bestowed upon him, Jim hears Psy-Crow talking to the queen about a plot to destroy her sister, Princess What’s-Her-Name. Being the heroic type, Jim sets off on his quest to beat down evil. So yeah.
That’s “Earthworm Jim” in a nutshell. There are plenty of other bizarre things, like the sixth level’s being named “Level 5” or bosses like Evil the Cat, the ruler of Planet Heck, who pauses to groom himself while he’s not shooting his giant fireball gun. “Earthworm Jim” walks that very fine line between good and trying too hard to be quirky and different. There’s a lot going on in the game, and Shiny deserves a lot of credit for making a game that makes all these weird pieces fit together and making it a memorable experience.
“Earthworm Jim” was popular enough to spawn two sequels, with “Earthworm Jim 2” being excellent and having the cool idea of switching around some art assets in the various versions of the game so it felt like a fresh experience on each system and “Earthworm Jim 3D” being notable for its lack of quality. The original got the high-definition re-release treatment in 2010 on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, and the second appeared on the Virtual Console.
This is one of those cult games that always seems to have a following, even though it gets overshadowed by greater games on systems like the Super Nintendo and Genesis. But hey, people still remember it today, and that’s pretty good for a bizarre game inspired by Sonic.
Hope is a local attorney and video game enthusiast.
He has always been a fan of
recurring series boss Bob the Killer Goldfish.
Read his blog at bonusstage.areavoices.com.