Aaron wrote a post last week about Earthworm Jim, which got me thinking. I played it when I was a kid in the 90s, like anyone who had even a cursory familiarity with games, but I never owned it and I definitely never beat it. So I took the Genesis and SNES versions for a spin to see if it holds up to its cult reputation.
And you know what? It’s pretty damn good. Oh, it’s hard as hell, especially the stupid bathysphere level, but it’s well-designed and dripping with style and charm. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the Jim voice clips are perfect (“Whoah nelly!”) It’s an awesome and bizarre trip into the demented minds of the maniacs at Shiny Entertainment, and a perfect example of the kind of creativity we need more of in gaming.
I started wondering which version was better. The 16-bit era had a lot of sub-par ports, and admittedly I’m usually partial to the SNES versions since that was what I played most growing up. After a cursory test play of both games, I thought the SNES version must be the best due to its superior graphical and sound capabilities. I even challenged Aaron to a debate over it!
But after further study, the Genesis version is clearly the winner. It’s the original and it’s obvious that the devs took greater care in crafting it than they did porting it. The SNES sound chip might be superior, but the arrangements are stronger on the Genesis. Check out these two versions of What the Heck and tell me you don’t agree:
The Genesis also way more sound clips. The SNES has “Woohoo!” And “Groovy!” and that’s about it. The Genesis has a ton more, and the game is really missing something without “Plasma!” and “Whooo doggies!”
The SNES version does have higher quality backgrounds for the most part, but then it has odd quirks like a lack of wavy water effects in Down the Tubes. The way the screen scrolls on a few levels is really weird, too, like it doesn’t move fast enough in some parts for you to react in time.
The gameplay in the Genesis version feels a little tighter to me too, especially in the Andy Asteroids levels. Jim’s rocket seems overly sensitive, leading to lots of frustrating asteroid collisions. The bathysphere bits in Down the Tubes go move along a lot faster as well, which can be a double edged sword. You can get through faster, but it’s a lot easier to crack your sphere. I guess if you grew up with the SNES version you could probably get used to it, but the Genesis version feels more natural to me.
The Genesis version also has an extra level, Intestinal Distress, which is missing from the SNES. I’ve heard it has something to do with the Genesis version being compressed more, but I think it probably also has something to do with this:
Nintendo can’t have been thrilled about that. It’s a shame, too, because Intestinal Distress is one of my favorite levels and certainly one of the weirdest and most disturbing in the game. You are literally inside the intestines of some giant creature, which would be horrifying enough if it wasn’t also filled with deadly spikes and flying blue helicopter fish.
All in all, the Genesis version just feels better. I can name a bunch of specifics I prefer, but the real reason is sort of unquantifiable. It’s one of those whole being the sum of its parts situations. Earthworm Jim is rad no matter which version you play, but the original is the definitive one and the grooviest of them all.