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OC HIGH: STUDENT NEWS AND VIEWS : Earthworm Jim: For Super NES by Playmates, $69.99


Programmers have been scraping the bottom of the biological barrel in their quest for cute creatures to star in video games.

Hedgehogs, bats, bobcats, wart hogs. About the only critter left out in the cold is the wildebeest.

Oh, yes, and the earthworm.

The latter failing has been remedied, in spades, with the debut of the fabulous Earthworm Jim, an amazing video game debut for Playmates, a giant toy company.

In fact, Earthworm Jim has leaped to the top of my "favorite games of 1994" list, nose-to-nose with the epic Super Metroid for game of the year.

The premise is about as bizarre as the hero.

Jim, described as an "annilid with attitude," is minding his own business, trying to keep from being turned into bird chow, when he's conked on the head (if worms had heads) by a bizarre spacesuit falling from the sky. The indestructible garb fits him like another skin (if worms had skin) except for some serious slack around the neck (if worms had necks) and comes complete with a plasma blaster.

So armed, Jim heads off on a multiplanet adventure in search of his one true love, the beguiling Princess What's-Her-Name. Along the way, he must battle interstellar bounty hunter Psy-Crow and such other unpleasant beasts as Major Mucus, junkyard owner Chuck and his delightful mutt, Fifi, Bob the goldfish and his mutant martial arts-expert pet cat, No. 4, and Professor Monkey for a Head.

Also lurking is Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-Filled, Malformed Slug-for-a-Butt (honest), sister of the princess and the final monster standing between EWJ and his oddly named beloved.

From the second the game appears on your TV screen, it's obvious you are looking at something special.

David Perry, a programming legend-in-the-making who did "Aladdin" for Disney, has started his own studio, using a modification of Digicel technology, called Animotion, to transfer hand-drawn cells to video animation.

It works. The movement of Jim and his enemies is fluid, smooth and, in the case of Jim, easy to control. Jim bungees, flies, leaps, climbs, snaps his head like a bullwhip and uses his prehensile cabeza to cross uncrossable barriers.

The graphics are weird and wonderful. Eerie ribbons of color wind through space; otherworldly scenes in dramatic shades and pastels dazzle your eyes; skies of green, orange and violet in amazingly realistic 3-D are wonderful to behold.

Jim offers three difficulty levels: practice, normal and hard. Practice is the hot ticket for a quick look at early levels. Hard is, well, hard.

The sound effects, especially the weapons and Jim's attackers, are great. But it's the graphics and the smooth and easy game play that will keep this one plugged into your player while previous favorites gather dust in a corner.

I don't often recommend a cart unconditionally, but if you buy only one video game for your SNES this year, make it Earthworm Jim. You won't be disappointed.

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