Controversial opinion time – let’s get this out of the way right from the start: Earthworm Jim just isn’t a very good game. Though it was perhaps a victim of […]
Controversial opinion time – let’s get this out of the way right from the start: Earthworm Jim just isn’t a very good game. Though it was perhaps a victim of enormous hype in the games media of the time – and thus couldn’t possibly live up to the standards it was expected to set – it’s as unsatisfying to me now as it was when I got hold of it upon release in 1994. The game’s over-elaborate visuals actually hamper its gameplay, with foreground elements sometimes obscuring the action and inconsistent scenery – that doesn’t always make clear what can or cannot be interacted with in the overcomplicated platform level design. Jim’s surfeit of animation frames make him look great, but his responsiveness suffers as a result. The story is full of wacky-for-the-sake-of-it characters that look great but fail to make much of a lasting impression.
There’s a great deal of variety in the levels, however – and it’s remarkable how gracefully the visuals have aged. Even now, not far off 30 years after it was released, Earthworm Jim still looks stunning. It deserves credit for that, but it’s telling that the game’s sequels are almost completely forgotten and didn’t receive the near-universal acclaim that critics heaped upon the first title, perhaps wary of the fact that they’d been responsible for hyping the game up so much in the months before release. It all has a bit of an Emperor’s New Clothes feel; it’s even more obvious alongside the other games in this collection.
Go to Earthworm Jim’s Wikipedia page and you’ll notice that someone – who perhaps was closely involved in the production of the game – has an axe to grind, cherry picking quotes from reviews of other games that Interplay or Dave Perry and Tommy Tallarico (who both had a hand in Earthworm Jim’s creation) worked on. Cool Spot is noted as being criticised for having a ‘lack of personality’ in an extremely harsh retrospective called ‘The 13 Most Hateful Video Game Characters of the 90s’, from a GamesRadar article published in 2003, for example. Earthworm Jim’s Interplay stablemate Boogerman is called ‘cretinous, disgusting and patronizing’ in the same article. It’s interesting to note that the contemporary media were an awful lot kinder to both games – so whoever pieced together the quotes from that single article clearly had to dig very deep to find that kind of criticism.
And you know what? For what it’s worth, I actually think that Boogerman is a much better game than Earthworm Jim. It’s got a much cleaner – if that’s the right word for a game genuinely oozing with gross-out and toilet humour – visual style, along with large, well-designed levels that have plenty of routes to their exits. Boogerman himself, though a deliberately unappealing character, is responsive and comes loaded with useful abilities. Though it perhaps got lost in the sea of mascot-led platformers in the 90s, Boogerman is definitely an underrated, underappreciated hidden gem. Albeit one loaded with snot and fart jokes.
Of the four other games in this Collection, the most well-known is undoubtedly Mortal Kombat parody Clay Fighter. The digitised claymation visuals haven’t aged gracefully to say the least – the game looks incredibly ugly by modern standards. However, it plays reasonably well, albeit with a fairly unforgiving difficulty curve – though that could just be my aging reflexes. It’s worth getting to know the different characters and their combos; it can be a rewarding game if you do put some practice in, though it’s a shame the slightly refined Sculptor’s Cut version of the game isn’t the one that’s included. A sparse selection of characters shortens Clay Fighter’s longevity too.
Breakout-esque, physics-based puzzler Titan sees you bouncing a ball off a block you control; it’s a weirdly unhurried, chilled out game at times but the basic physics and scrolling environments – which can often hamper visibility of where the ball is heading and thus impede progress – can make it a little frustrating to play at times. Still, it’s a little-known curio and as such, it’s quite refreshing to see it added to the collection – even if it isn’t great, it’s always good to see more obscure titles dusted off and included amongst more familiar games.
Battle Chess was a game that felt like a novelty when it appeared back in 1988; it’s chess, as you’d expect, but the pieces have a little cutscene battle when they occupy the same square. With the game faithfully following the rules of chess, there’s no uncertain outcome to these battles, so they do end up feeling quite pointless and just drag the game out. It’s already quite slow paced, as the animated characters move at a snail’s pace. Though a video game version of chess should be quite fast moving, unfortunately Battle Chess goes the opposite way with its pace and the novelty of the warring chess pieces wears off very quickly.
Lastly, there’s the third platformer (out of the collection’s six games): Incantation. It’s a charming enough game, but suffers from obtuse design – where it’s not always clear how to complete a level – and some very frustrating stage layouts that can lead to frequent, instant deaths at times. It’s ok, but in a collection with two other platformers, it’s a struggle to justify the inclusion of Incantation when Interplay’s library contained so many other great games that could have made the cut. Though Titan and Battle Chess are weak inclusions too, at least they’re not directly competing against other titles within their respective niches.
So Interplay Collection 1 is a bit of a mixed bag. Where the previous collections have weathered some weak inclusions through the volume of games included on their cartridges, the spotlight is much stronger on the Interplay’s smaller number of titles. Though most people are likely to be lured in by Earthworm Jim and perhaps Clay Fighter, the true gem and saviour of this compilation is the underrated Boogerman, which is an excellent game. With a second Interplay Collection already released, hopefully it’s a stronger selection of titles than can be found on this disappointing cartridge.
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