Earthworm Jim Hands-On and Video

We’ve played Earthworm Jim on the iPhone, and we’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that this is Earthworm Jim, nothing less. And the bad news is that this is Earthworm Jim, nothing more.

Sure, the graphics have been smoothed out nicely from the 16-bit version. As a slightly downgraded version of the upcoming Xbox Live Arcade version, EWJ has never looked better. The backgrounds and animations are just as vibrant as we remembered them, perhaps even more so. Plus, every sound effect and musical backdrop has also been preserved.

However, this remake contains no tilt controls, added levels, or bonus features. And while there are three difficulty modes, it’s still wicked hard unless you know what you’re doing. Earthworm Jim now, just as it was then, is a game for dedicated gamers. The final version may also include a level select feature, so at least you won’t have to start from scratch if you lose all your lives.

The levels we played, New Junk City and What the Heck?, were exact replicas of the 16-bit originals. New Junk City is a trash-strewn landscape filled with piles of tires, barbed wire, and rusty chains. Enemies include a rabid junkyard dog and crows that will try to yank Jim out of his super suit.

In What the Heck?, a favorite of ours from the innocent 1990′s, Jim finds himself on a planet that is basically our modern conception of Hell: Demons, lawyers, and polka music. A grinning cat-beast looms perpetually in the background as Jim navigates bursts of flame and spiky pits. You can see this level for yourself (complete with easy listening muzak in the background– this is Hell, after all) in our video above.

We also played a stage where Jim has to smash a giant ball of snot into the wall, as they bungee jump over a lake of green goo. Major Mucus, your enemy here, will do a spin attack to knock you back, and with enough hits he’ll fray your rope. You also have to watch out for a giant snapping creature that is just waiting for you to linger long enough at the bottom to bite you in two. This stage is also included in our video.

To be honest, the lack of tilt control in levels like this was a disappointment’” we were hoping that the memorable mucus bungee-jump stage or bonus rocket-races against Crow would use tilt control, but it’s all just D-Pad only. As for those controls, they’re a little more cramped than we’d like, with a D-pad in one corner (no analog stick) and three buttons for jumping, whipping, and shooting.

We’re happy that Gameloft has rescued Earthworm Jim from obscurity, and if this port/remake is a success, we’d like to see them remake the sequel as well. However, don’t go in expecting a completely re-imagined upgrade in the style of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. When Earthworm Jim hits the App Store later this month, nostalgia will probably be the key factor as to whether or not you’ll enjoy this strange, funny, and very difficult game.