Retrospective: Earthworm Jim Series
It’s 1994; Mario and Sonic are head to head as the gaming giants’ Super Nintendo and SEGA Mega Drive battles it out for the top spot in the gaming world. Brazil beat Italy in the World Cup finals on penalties, and Tom Hanks opened up a box of chocolates, telling us you never know what you’re gonna get, and won an Oscar in doing so. Speaking of you never know what you’re gonna get, this brings me to the story behind the emergence of one of gaming’s most outlandish characters – Earthworm Jim.
In the 90’s Playmates Toys (manufacturer of the highly popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line) decided they wanted to start a franchise of their own, having been inspired by the success of SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog, took the unorthodox approach and started things in the form of a videogame.
Shiny Entertainment – a new studio formed by Northern Irishman David Perry (who had previously worked at Probe Software on the Terminator, which was published by Virgin Games) who had worked on 3 highly successful titles whilst working for Virgin Games’ US branch on Global Gladiators (SEGA Mega Drive, Master System & Game Gear), Cool Spot (SEGA Mega Drive & Super Nintendo) and Disney’s Aladdin (SEGA Mega Drive only) all three titles won game of the year via various game publications and were big hits for the company.
Perry opted to leave at this point and ended up forming Shiny Entertainment, which is where things really start to get interesting. Playmates Toys had offered Perry a role within the company, but he turned it down, but in doing so managed to negotiate a deal where they would fund his studio, in exchange for the publishing rights to the first 3 games it would develop.
Shiny were about to hire Doug TenNapel, who presented a picture of an Earthworm he drew to David Perry, this inspired him to reach out to Playmates, explaining that they may have an idea for their first videogame. The toy manufacturer were keen, and wanted to support the title by producing a toy-line, but specified that a TV show needed to be produced in order to market them. Universal and Playmates executives met up, and agreed on a deal that would ensure both parties would fulfil their obligation to the other.
Shiny then purchased the rights to Earthworm Jim from Doug TenNapel, and things would begin to gather steam. Perry and his team would create other characters and gameplay mechanics, whilst TenNapel would end up producing animation for a third of the entire game, including design and scenario. He also ended up voicing Jim in the game!
I mentioned earlier, that Shiny was made up from a team who had worked together previously at Virgin Games – David Perry (Programmer & founder) took the entire team that had worked together successfully on their last three titles, each of which won GOTY. Nick Bruty (Art Director), Tommy Tallarico (Music & Sound), Mike Dietz (Animator), Tom Tanaka (Level Design), Steve Crow (Lead Artist), Ed Schofield (Animator) and Nicholas Jones (Programmer). Doug TenNapel (Creator & Scenario) joined following Shiny’s inception.
Earthworm Jim was released in the Autumn of 1994, and received many accolades, including Game of the Year – meaning the team had now produced four GOTY titles in 4 years – in a time where action platform games were a plenty, and of high quality, it makes this achievement all the more impressive.
Having celebrated huge success with their first game, and new IP, Shiny went straight to work on the direct sequel – Earthworm Jim 2. Much like the first title, it was developed primarily for the SEGA Megadrive, and ported to the Super Nintendo, aside from alternative background art, and the ability to change weapons, both versions were almost identical, and were actually produced at the exact same time.
The game released in November 1995, almost a year after the first – and you guessed it – it won GOTY. 5 games in 5 years for the talented team of newly formed Shiny Entertainment.
Following the success of Earthworm Jim, the production on the TV series was accelerated, and it debuted in September 1995, and featured popular voice actor Dan Castellaneta to play Jim, famous for voicing Homer Simpson on Fox’s mega hit show, “The Simpsons“. The majority of the episodes were based around the villains from the game attempting to take back the super suit or take over the universe, the usual bad guy stuff really.
Doug TenNapel and David Perry served as Executive Producers, while Universal Cartoon Studios headed up production. After two seasons, and a total of 23 episodes, the show ended its run in December of 1996 on the Warner Bros Kids Network. The series was popular, and was heralded a success, and was praised for having the originality of the first videogame.
Following Earthworm Jim 2, publisher Interplay Entertainment acquired Shiny, and the team were set to work on what ended up being Wild 9. Interplay decided to hand the development of the next Earthworm Jim title to UK based VIS Entertainment. Along with this change, the decision was made to change from 2D up to 3D following Mario and Sonic (the results were disastrous in relation the EWJ) the development for what ended up being Earthworm Jim 3D took so long, that the press and public assumed the game had been cancelled…. sadly, that wasn’t the case. In 1999, 3D saw its release in the Winter, and the reception overall wasn’t good. To quote GameSpot “Earthworm Jim 3D has something to discourage all types of people from playing it. Fans of the series will be disappointed by the lacklustre translation of the characters into three dimensions. Everyone else will be frustrated by the horrible camera“.
Jeff Lundrigan reviewed the Nintendo 64 version of the game for Next Generation, rating it one star out of five, and stated that “At some point you wind up asking yourself: who in their right mind would think this was fun?” Early on development, series designer David Perry and creator Doug TenNapel met with VIS to discuss the game, and later stated they hated what they had done with it, but seeing as Perry had sold the rights to the franchise, were powerless to prevent it. TenNapel later stated he felt they ruined the series with the game.
Following the release of the terrible 3D, Crave Entertainment acquired the rights to publish their own Earthworm Jim title, this time on the Game Boy Color. The game was titled “Earthworm Jim: Menace 2 The Galaxy” the game was developed by David A. Palmer productions, and released around the same time as 3D. Sadly, the reception was just as bad as its N64 counterpart.
A quote from IGN stating “total disregard to what makes Earthworm Jim, Earthworm Jim…There’s not enough ‘cleverness’ here, the same element that made Earthworm Jim one of the best and funniest action games on the 16-bit systems.“
In around 2006, Atari acquired the rights to develop and publish an Earthworm Jim game. The title was announced at E3 that year, and would be developed by the original team such as David Perry, Doug TenNapel, Tommy Tallarico and Nick Bruty. It was being developed exclusively for the PlayStation Portable console; it was to be a mix of 2D gameplay and 3D graphics.
Sadly, with development around 80% finished, Atari cancelled the project, due to financial difficulties. In 2008, Interplay announced Earthworm Jim 4, and then nothing was heard until May 2011 with the publisher stating it was “still in development”. Doug TenNapel had previously stated development never started a year prior.
The last release for any Earthworm Jim videogame came in the form of a HD remaster of the original game, back in 2010. Back in 2009, Gameloft obtained the rights to develop, publish and distribute titles for the Earthworm Jim series. This led to them releasing the original title – a straight port to the Nintendo Wii (wiiware to be precise) and a HD remaster for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This version was actually developed from the ground up, and featured a new voice for Jim (replacing creator Doug TenNapel) it’s also worth noting that none of the changes were approved by Mr. TenNapel.
Changes included new HD visuals, a remastered soundtrack and a comic book style opening that was taken from the original game’s strategy guide. Reception was mostly positive, with the multiplayer mode being praised, though some felt the outdated gameplay hadn’t aged well. Since then, we had no new content, nothing whatsoever until May of 2019.
On 1st May 2019, Intellivision Entertainment announced that the next chapter in the Earthworm Jim videogame series would be developed for, and released exclusively on their upcoming Amico console. Announced in October of 2018, Intellivision stated their intention to return to the home gaming platform with family friendly, easy to play games. It is worth noting, that Tommy Tallarico, formerly of Shiny Entertainment and Virgin Interactive (sound composer of the original 2 Earthworm Jim titles) is the current CEO of Intellivision.
With this news, it was announced the original development team from the first two titles would be returning to develop, and in May, would reunite for the first time in more than 20 years to conduct an online Q&A, as found below.
On that weekend, Tommy Tallarico rented a Mansion near the Canyon on Laguna Beach, and the entire team stayed two nights to discuss the content of the upcoming title, it had also been decided that the official title for the game is Earthworm Jim 4! After 11 years, the 4th game had finally been green lit with a direction and would start development very soon. If you are like me, and would love to know what the team discussed, then fear not, because they hired a film crew to record the entire discussion over both evenings, the making of Earthworm Jim 4 will be uploaded for us all to see closer to the release date of the game.
Look out for more information regarding Earthworm Jim 4 in the coming months. Intellivision’s Amico console is launching worldwide on 10th October 2020 with the price TBC. The legacy of the character, series and those that worked so hard to to create that are coming back, and I truly believe we are in store for a very entertaining product when Earthworm Jim 4 launches within the next year or so.
Thank You for reading my retrospective, and I hope you found it enlightening. Also keep a look out for our review with Intellvision’s CEO Tommy Tallarico coming very soon!