Earthworm Jim, the worm in a rather unnecessarily large outfit, first appeared way back in 1994. Its combination of tight platform gaming and hilarious wit earned it considerable (and deserved) critical acclaim - it's a classic for a reason.
Times change - just as Cotton Eye Joe is no longer the be-all in pop music, one shouldn't assume that Earthworm Jim is good enough to stand on its past glory alone. Platforms change, too and Nintendo's DSi brings a second (touch) screen and cameras into play. Jim doesn't ignore these in his attempt to woo us so let's stop ignoring him and see how well Gameloft's latest port turned out...
The core gameplay for those unfamiliar with the title, is side-scrolling platforming. There's a bit of exploration in here too, with circuitous routes requiring the player traverse the level in any number of directions before completing it - or falling back into an earlier part and repeating it (a common occurrence).
Level layouts are interesting enough however the separation of "gameplay affecting" and "backdrop" can often be slight, leading to some confusion as to what you should focus on and what is just there to fill in the blanks. Oftentimes big sections of strung-together sequences will result in a large section of the level needing to be replayed should you fail - if you're looking for forgiving level layouts, look elsewhere.
Gameplay, too, errs on the oldschool - that is, precision required and you'll likely need to attempt things a few times before you figure out how they work. There are even occasions where you're pretty sure you know how to proceed but without pixel-perfect accuracy you plunge to your doom or simply fail to grasp a painfully close ledge.
Some new gameplay stuff has been added, in particular the action cameras you'll find on the levels. If you're able to match Jim's expression, as measured by the front camera, you'll earn bonus plasma to power up your shots. Difficulty has been dialed down from the original, too, which was hard even before soccer moms started playing games.
The humor is still entirely intact and just as effective as it was sixteen years ago. Sure, it's a little cliche now but Jim's casual activity and the game's generally amusing setups (like the cow launcher) ensure the hilarity ensues for all those with a soul. The character is cool and way more than skin deep, it's fun just to see him navigate the levels.
The visual package works well enough on the DSi, proving that classic 2D games still have a place in our pockets. Sound, too, does it's thing, with various comedic sound effects ensuring the visual inanity is tweaked to maximum effect. It's hardly next-gen but it's faithful to the source material and certainly isn't out of place on DSi - especially DSiware.
Ultimately what you have here is something which is tantalizingly close to remaining a classic. With some love from a modern game designer with a passion for the original, Earthworm Jim could stand head and shoulders with anything else in the genre today. As it stands, however, it's a bit too clunky and difficult for the wrong reasons to be heartily reccommended. If you're a fan of the original, snap it up but otherwise consider what else you might buy with your $15 before you decide on this.