For every Mario or Sonic, there’s a Vectorman or Bug that gaming history forgot, or would rather sweep under the carpet—or, in the case of some characters, have buried under the ground. Earthworm Jim is an absurd gaming mascot, introduced to the world in 1994 on the Sega Genesis. The unusual hero would connect with audiences so much that Electronic Gaming Monthly awarded the original Earthworm Jim as the Best Genesis Game of 1994; that was followed by sequels and a Saturday morning cartoon. As the theme song to his television show may proudly claim, “Earthworm Jim, he’s such a groovy guy. Earthworm Jim, he rockets through the sky,” but how much do gamers really know about the enlarged, anthropomorphized, battle-ready earthworm by the name of Jim? In honor of the impossibly weird character who’s never been in more need of a comeback, Here Are 15 Things You Never Knew About Earthworm Jim.
15. The Series Was Inspired by TMNT and Sonic the Hedgehog
Believe it or not, such an iconoclastic character actually finds his inspiration coming from super mainstream franchises. Earthworm Jim’s creation sort of has a bonkers approach. Playmates Toys was ultimately responsible for the kernel of the idea. After the toy line found great success with their release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures, they were inspired to create their own toy franchise and tap into that same market. However, Playmates ambitiously wanted to see their franchise begin as a video game and then use those titles’ popularity to bolster their toy sales. At the time, Sonic the Hedgehog and its Genesis sequel were at the height of popularity and Playmates wanted to be a part of that scene. If not for the success that Sonic was seeing, Earthworm Jim likely would have started—and possibly ended—as an action figure.
The character’s evolution continued in atypical ways. Douglas TenNapel simply presented a basic drawing of an earthworm to Shiny Entertainment, which the company quickly purchased. From there, programmer David Perry and TenNapel would flesh out the world of the video game, with Perry handling characters and game mechanics, with TenNapel on level ideas, game design, and Jim’s voice.
14. He Has a Donkey Kong Costume in the Sega CD Version of the Game
The Special Edition of Earthworm Jim is seen as the definitive version of the ‘90s platformer, with the expanded re-release featuring a lot of fun content. Definitely the most bizarre add-on to the title are the many costumes that are now at Jim’s disposal. Simple button codes will adorn Jim with ridiculous new outfits, like Afro Jim, Groucho Jim, Antennae Jim, Ronald, McJim, and the best of the lot, Donkey Worm Kong. That’s right, players can actually make their way through the game and take down Psy-Crow or any of the game’s bosses while looking like good ol’ DK. It’s worth noting that Earthworm Jim receives a fitting shout out in Donkey Kong Country 2’s Video Game Hall of Fame, so perhaps this is the spineless hero’s way of trying to return the favor. It’s also the only time that gamers are going to get a glimpse of a member of the Kong family on a Sega system. The same goes for Groucho Marx, too.
13. The Game’s Outlandish Aesthetic Was Due to Company Now Being “Free”
Earthworm Jim got on a lot of people’s radars in the first place because it’s one of the most unusual, Dadaist adventures in 2D platforming. It’s got some of the weirdest levels that gamers will find on the Genesis that literally take them to Hell and back. The characters and enemies seem like they’re intentionally meant to turn stomachs in some cases. And there’s an unhealthy obsession with cows coursing through the franchise. Programmer David Perry of Shiny Entertainment only went in this extremely different direction though because of the frustrations he had faced by being under the thumb of licensed games. Perry working on 7up’s Cool Spot game, which saw Perry’s extravagant ideas constantly being tamped down by a corporate mentality and the limitations that come with that. In many ways, Perry was even approaching Earthworm Jim as a deep satire of platforming video games. Every turn the game takes, right down to its name-less damsel in distress, Princess-What’s-Her-Name,” are meant to subvert the norm. The title is a perfect example of how nothing needs to make sense as long as the platforming behind it all is solid. And Jim’s is granite.
12. A Special Edition of the Original Game Was Released
Earthworm Jim is one of those titles that found so much success during the time of its release that it was ported over to a number of other systems beyond the Genesis. As games see re-releases further and further from the title’s original street date, it becomes increasingly important to add new content to these ports rather than putting out some bare bones edition. So even though Earthworm Jim was featured on a wealth of consoles, “Special Edition” versions were released for systems like the Sega CD or Windows 95 that featured some bells and whistles. Earthworm Jim Special Edition awards gamers with things like extended, remixed versions of existing levels plus a whole new level, “Big Bruty,” which is far from a throwaway inclusion. The game also boasts a whole new remixed soundtrack as well as heavily revamped in-game animation, so the game just looks and sounds better, too. The Special Edition however also throws in a difficulty selection in the game, with both modes featuring their own unique alternate endings that are actually pretty funny. And the new costumes in the game allow players to do all of this while resembling Ronald McDonald, too.
11. Earthworm Jim Shares his Voice Actor with Homer Simpson
Earthworm Jim was on such a roll that series creator, Doug TenNapel, was given a TV series to further flesh out the character and his unusual world. Earthworm Jim aired on the Kids’ WB from 1995 to 1996 for two seasons and 23 episodes. Rather than just being some cash-grab of a series, the Earthworm Jim show was actually praised for capturing the eccentric energy of the video games, as well as cleverly incorporating the bulk of the characters from both Earthworm Jim and its sequel. The bulk of the episodes of the show would even end with some character getting crushed by a falling cow, which is really the perfect love letter to the video games. One of the nicest touches to the Earthworm Jim television series is that Jim was voiced by voice actor extraordinaire, Dan Castellaneta, perhaps best known for his work as Homer Simpson and a wealth of other characters on The Simpsons. Castellaneta brings a great performance and wavering bravado to Jim’s character that really works. Castellaneta would also reprise his role of Jim on several of the later video game releases, which shows that he must have some sort of allegiance to the character.
10. A Revamped Earthworm Jim HD Was Released in 2009
Gamers went nuts for the Special Edition of Earthworm Jim that was released in 1995, but almost 15 years later yet another new version of the classic game was released. Gameloft’s update was fairly interesting in the fact that it was built entirely from the ground up rather than building from the code of the original game. This HD update features smoothed out graphics, an updated soundtrack, and new recordings and lines for the game’s titular hero. Gameloft’s release was also strangely made for mobile and handheld platforms, so touchscreen aspects were also built into the game. The title stirred up a bit of controversy from purists on being the “definitive” title as the “Big Bruty” and “Who Turned Out the Lights?” levels are not included; however, a bunch of all-new levels are. Gameloft’s title was eventually ported over to DSiWare for the Nintendo DSi/3DS, and then finally migrated over to Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network. The console versions feature a pretty great introduction sequence done in the style of a comic book, which is a wonderful touch to an already fun game. Plus, there’s the incorporation of 4-player multiplayer which is really going above and beyond.
9. There’s a Secret Level Hidden in the Original Game
Video games have evolved in a lot of ways through the years, but one aspect that has fundamentally been lost and cannot be regained is the way that secrets could remain secrets in the time of pre-Internet gaming. When gamers had to rely on magazines like Nintendo Power or helplines to get answers, it was very possible for some secrets to never get discovered (there are still new hints that are being discovered in titles like Punch-Out!!). The original Earthworm Jim doesn’t go too far out of its way to hide its treasure, but it still has rewards for players who are willing to put in the effort. In Level 5 (Professor Monkey-For-A-Head’s lab), there’s a hidden teleporter located near a red light. Using this will transport gamers to “Who Turned Out the Lights?” a stage which finds in pitch black darkness save for a few spotlights, enemies’ eyes, and the exits. While some secret levels can be throwaway additions that don’t amount to much, this actually involves some creative platforming ideas that are absent elsewhere in the game. And it’s hard.
8. A Fairly Maligned Game Boy Color Sequel Exists
Everyone is familiar with Earthworm Jim and Earthworm Jim 2 and most are aware of the Nintendo 64 entry in the series, Earthworm Jim 3D. There is however a fourth Earthworm Jim game out there, for the Game Boy Color no less, that unfortunately shares the title of being the latest Earthworm Jim game in the series. Earthworm Jim: Menace 2 the Galaxy has good intentions, but it never really utilizes the Game Boy Color’s power properly. The game ends up feeling more like a chore than a sub-standard entry in the series. Menace 2 the Galaxy actually pulls a bunch of elements from the Earthworm Jim television series, with the plot of the game involving Jim trying to stop the chaos that Evil Jim is causing with an interdimensional transporter. It’s nice to get Evil Jim in a game, but the title spends more time on collecting items and exploring levels then it does on action. In spite of fun aspects being in the game, and Jim even having Snot in tow, constant gatekeeping and needing to acquire 100 of some item just slow down the struggling title. Run and gunners should allow gamers to actually run and gun.
7. He Also Had a Comic Book Series and Action Figure Line
In the height of Earthworm Jim mania, the series was also able to shift its power into a number of other properties, like a television series, limited comic book run, and also a line of action figures. The Earthworm Jim comic ran through Marvel’s Absurd line and was only three issues long, but still a worthy comic book adaptation of the material. Due to the series coming out in 1995, the comics leaned on the Earthworm Jim cartoon just as much as the video game for inspiration. In a truly strange move to improve the sales of the Earthworm Jim comics in the UK, schools would play the cartoon series to students! Reading, writing, and Queen Slug-For-A-Butt. Finally, a detailed line of action figures were also released that featured both popular and more obscure characters from the series. The action figures were successful, but considering toys were the entire point of the character, they could have sold a little better.
The takeaway here is that with the Earthworm Jim character technically being a part of the Marvel Universe, the guy certainly deserves a spot in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
6. The Game’s Original Ad Had to Be Pulled in Some Markets
It seems only fitting that such an against-the-grain video game would also have a marketing campaign that was just as weird and different. That being said, Earthworm Jim is such a silly, cartoonish property that it’s not exactly the sort of thing that seems like it’d be producing ads that were banned from television. The ‘90s marked a really magical time for video game commercials. It’s never a bad idea to take a trip down memory lane and brush up on a few hours of SNES and Genesis commercials whenever possible. One of the commercials for Earthworm Jim depicts an old woman (a staple of the ‘90s) telling children the tale of Earthworm Jim. The woman appears to slowly devolve into madness and is gorging herself on earthworms by the end of it. In spite of the worms not being real, the commercial received so many complaints from disgusted viewers that the ad was pulled from a number of markets. The worm had certainly turned on them.
5. He Fought in Clayfighters
Forget about Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Marvel Vs. Capcom, and Super Smash Bros., because everyone knows that Clayfighters is where true 2D fighting greatness lies. Okay, Interplay’s charming clay-based fighting series might not be the pinnacle of fighters, but it does still make for some entertaining, creative madness. The series deserves a pass purely for the concept of “Claytalities” alone. The Clayfighters release on the Nintendo 64, Clayfighters 63 1/3 (see what they did there?), throws a few guest characters into the fray, most notably, Earthworm Jim and Boogerman. If Earthworm Jim’s inclusion is a little confusing, the less popular Boogerman is even more so, but Jim doesn’t squander his opportunity in the title. Additionally, in the Blockbuster-exclusive Clayfighters 63 1/3 Sculptor’s Cut, Earthworm Jim returns, but this time as an unlockable secret character. Surprisingly, Clayfighters isn’t the only fighting series where Earthworm Jim drops by to kick some butt. The PC version of Battle Arena Toshinden also has Jim as a secret character. Jim’s an even stranger addition there, but it somewhat acts as the pre-cursor for the console-exclusive secret characters that would become the norm in Soul Calibur.
4. A Version of the Game Was Released for Brazil’s Sega Master System With Only 4 Levels
It’s not unusual for ports of titles to other consoles to be handled particularly poorly and end up ruining the magic of the original game. There are many cases when no version at all would be better than the watered-down alternative that is being provided. Earthworm Jim is a title that’s seen a lot of ports in its lifetime, but none are as broken and disappointing as the version released on the Sega Master System in Brazil. That’s right. The Master System. Not the Mega Drive. Getting a system from the previous gaming era to play the game properly would understandably be a struggle. This Master System version is a direct port of the Game Gear version of the game, which is in turn based on a Game Boy build of the title by Eurocom. So this port is taking from an already crippled gaming experience, but what’s worse is that there are only four levels left in the game. On top of that, the “What the Heck?” level doesn’t even have a boss! It just ends. The SNES version of Earthworm Jim was picked on for not including the “Intestinal Distress” level, but that’s nothing compared to this.
3. Earthworm Jim 3D Was Supposed to Feature Evil Jim and Other TV Series Tie-Ins
After the success of Earthworm Jim 2, work on the next title in the series went through a production hell of sorts. Due to Shiny Entertainment getting purchased by Interplay Entertainment, David Perry and crew were staffed out on other projects like Wild 9 and unable to follow through on the next Earthworm Jim game. Duties instead fell onto VIS Entertainment, with the series following the natural progression of platformers of the time and transitioning into the 3D direction. Earthworm Jim 3D was in development for three problematic years and at many points it was appearing like the project might not materialize at all. Many changes were made between early promotional images and the final product, with the game originally intending to have much more of an influence from the TV series. For instance, Evil Jim originally had a crucial role in the title, but is not in the finished game at all (although he would find himself in the Game Boy Color title, Menace 2 the Galaxy). David Perry and Doug TenNapel have basically disowned Earthworm Jim 3D and hold it largely responsible for the decline of the series shortly afterwards.
2. Sega Channel Hosted “The Great Earthworm Jim Race” Contest
The Sega Channel was one of the coolest things that Sega ever did, but many gamers were never aware that such a specialized service even existed in the ‘90s. The Sega Channel was a revolutionary system in a time before the Internet, online gaming, or virtual consoles were available. Basically, the service operated like a cable channel that viewers would subscribe to and then would get access to a select amount of games each month—like they were being rented from the store. Beyond practical access and previews to games, the Sega Channel also offered up a number of perks to subscribers, like contests. Earthworm Jim was one title selected to be a part of Sega Channel’s promotion, with “The Great Earthworm Jim Race” being the result. “The Great Earthworm Jim Race” was a contest where gamers would play through a modified version of a level in the game, where a secret room was hidden somewhere inside the stage. Upon reaching the room, a password and a toll-free phone number are presented, and the first 200 people to call it received prizes like rare action figure variants and The Artwork of Earthworm Jim book!
1. An Earthworm Jim 4 is Mysteriously in Development Hell
In an age where reboots, remakes, and revivals have very much become the norm, the idea of a new Earthworm Jim title hitting the market shouldn’t be too surprising. The Forces That Be will make it happen when the time is right. However, a new game in the series has been facing a particularly difficult, confusing struggle. Interplay announced an Earthworm Jim 4 all the way back in 2008. In spite of that, Doug TenNapel said in 2010 that no title was being worked on, even though Interplay was still referring to the game as “in development” as of May 2011. Conflicting reports exist on whether a new title was actually being worked on, but apparently a deal almost came through in 2011 until problems with the IP were eventually encountered.
While it’s entirely possible that TenNapel was not being kept in the loop on the project, or merely being coy on the matter, David Perry remains optimistic that another game in the series will get made. In 2012 Perry voiced his support on the matter, saying that a future Earthworm Jim game would center around Jim being in retirement and needing to get back into shape and action respectively.
Whoa, nelly! That was a lot of super-suit loaded goodies, but did we miss any of your favorites? Are there still more secrets about Earthworm Jim floating through the galaxy that need to be discovered? Or are you the world’s biggest Menace 2 the Galaxy fan and demanding satisfaction? Now’s your chance to be heard below!