Welcome one and all to the fifteenth edition of GenreQuest, it’s been a hell of a journey so far. Today we get started on the E’s and have some fun with worms, monkeys and mice. Let’s get to it.
Earth Worm Jim 3D
When this one appeared on the list it surprised me. I’m a huge fan of the all-out weirdness that is Earthworm Jim, the show is one of my all-time favourites and its classic weirdness is probably the reason for… well, me. So I was shocked to learn that there was an Earthworm Jim game that I hadn’t heard of, especially considering the cult status his MegaDrive (genesis) games had amongst fans of the character. I foolishly assumed that if there had been another Earth Worm Jim game then it would have also been touted as a hidden gem by the fans. Boy was I wrong.
Earth Worm Jim comes to us from VIS entertainment, making this the only game in the series not developed by Shiny Entertainment and the only game in the series produced in 3D. Those last two fact might do something to explain why this game isn’t talked about too much, at least not compared to the first two games. The rest of the explanation is the fact that the game is complete and utter garbage
The story follows the titular character after he gets struck by a floating cow, because why not, and ends up in a coma. As Earthworm Jim you must enter your own mind to regain your marbles and save your mind from all of your old enemies.
Immediately when you open the game you’re bombarded with the weirdness that is Earthworm Jim, something that at first seems like a good thing. Weirdness was basically the charm of the series, and sort of the charm of the first two games, however it quickly becomes apparent that this will not be enough to hold this game up.
Visually the game is mediocre at best, it certainly looks better than some of the other n64 games I’ve seen, but there is something a little strange and off putting about the way the characters have been rendered in 3D. I can only assume that the move from cartoon to 3D has not been easy for Jim and his friends, as both of the previous games in the series looked very close to the cartoon series. It’s something that a lot of games based on cartoons seem to have in common that the characters translate poorly between the second and third dimensions.
The controls are a little strange but basically function well enough. The control stick moves you around, A jumps, B rolls or dodges, Z fires your blaster and finally the C-stick controls your vision…and your melee attack…what? Unfortunately this is a common problem with games on the N64, trying to use the C-stick for 4 separate abilities instead of as a camera is strange enough, but trying to split the C-stick between the two is just awkward and fiddly. It means you’re more likely to accidently send the camera spinning around instead of trying to pull off a head whip attack against some giant hedgehog or something.
Finally the level design is pretty boring for the most part, mainly consisting of pretty tiny rooms or pretty tiny corridors, only occasionally will you come across an area that actually manages to feel large. Most of the hub areas are stylized to be like the inside of Jim’s brain, but the levels somehow manage to go through a quite boring list of generic video game settings. Don’t get me wrong the scenarios in which you find yourself are strange, but they’re put in places that seem like they come from other video games, and it’s more like the scenarios were planned around the levels instead of the levels being planned around the scenarios.
Overall: A pretty terrible entry into the otherwise excellent Earthworm Jim video games. It controls poorly, it looks bad and it seems to have been designed by a monkey. Don’t even try this one out, unless you’re on a bet.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Wow, I am going to have a super hard time staying objective on this one. Enslaved is a game that is very close to my heart, and is also one of the few games I’ve played that actually had me sitting down and thinking about it once I was finished with it.
The story is actually a loose adaptation of the piece of Chinese classic literature ‘Journey to the West’, which if you don’t know was also the inspiration for Dragon ball amongst many other things. (Monkey anyone? No?) It also means that there are several elements that might be familiar to you, like the main characters extending staff, the flying device nicknamed the cloud and several of the character names/designs.
This version of the story is set in the far future were humans have all but disappeared from the planet, and all of our cities our being overtaken by plants. There’s also robots, strange creatures and some sort of strange pseudo-government that is hunting down people.
Visually the game has an interesting mix between graphical fidelity and heavy stylization. It’s clear that some of the actual character designs would be physically impossible, but that it’s almost certainly intentional. The main character is exceedingly slim and athletic around his waist, but as his body goes further up he becomes extremely muscular to the point that it looks quite strange. However it is almost certain that this is a style choice, as the character is supposed to be both incredibly strong as well as impossibly athletic.
Similar to games like Viva Piñata Enslaved is probably going to end up being one of the better looking games in a few years, because it didn’t try to be too realistic and instead opted to simply have a style of its own. The animation is a true stand out for the most part, despite a few cut-scenes were the characters end up looking slightly stiff. During gameplay your character moves around the world incredibly smoothly, and there are lots of small details that really add to the design, like the small piece of cloth trailing behind Monkey that looks like a tail at certain points during attacking or climbing.
The gameplay is good, but is not the best point of the game. The combat starts out pretty basic, with light and heavy attacks, and the standard dodging or blocking. As you progress you get more attacks and more powerful weapons which does add a bit of a variety to the combat, but once again it’s the animations during combat that shine. It doesn’t have the flow or rhythm that more modern combat systems have like in the Arkham or Assassin’s Creed series’, but the way Monkey moves when fighting mechs entirely suits the character it was design for. When this combat is combined with a slow motion close up of the final mech being killed it really makes you feel like a badass.
The platforming is pretty solid and you move easily between ledges without much trouble, and with little chance of falling to your death which is a nice touch. Most importantly however every single ledge or climbable object is highlighted by a strange shining glow around each handhold, which makes moving between sections much more satisfying.
There is some puzzle solving thrown into the mix, mainly involving commanding your follower, Trip, to go to certain places at certain times or use her mini robot thing to do something to unblock the way forward. These puzzles rarely become exceedingly difficult, but they’re very good at breaking up the gameplay between platforming or combat sections.
Musically there’s a lot of attention paid to the music and sound effects but it does sort of get out paced quite rapidly by the visuals. However this is not to say that the music is not great at fitting with the world, it’s just that the music is rarely going to be something that people would seek out to listen to on its own.
Now there is one last thing that I feel it is necessary to talk about before I move onto the last part of this week’s GenreQuest: the ending. Now don’t worry, there will be no real spoilers present here, I just feel that I need to justify my earlier statement about the ending making me sit and think for a while. The truth is that this game ends with a moral choice, and a difficult one at that, however unlike other games the moral choice has nothing to do with the player. Instead the main character makes the choice independent of the player, something that games seem a little scared to do at times these days. The reason that this is good is because it really helps you to characterize Monkey, and the reason it should make you think is because the decision he made was incredibly difficult and it’s interesting to think about would you have one the same, or why Monkey made the decision he did in the end.
Overall: A visually stunning game with a story and ending that should be experienced by every serious gamer at least once. Even if you disagree with how incredible the ending is there’s plenty of good gameplay and visual design to keep you playing through till the end of the campaign.
Epic Mickey 1 & 2
It is time for another double bill, partially because I don’t want to split this pretty similar series amongst two weeks, and partially because I don’t really have too much to say about either one alone.
The story of these games follows the titular hero, Mickey Mouse, as he has to use a magic paint brush to save the Cartoon Wasteland and all of the forgot ‘toons that live there. Throughout the first game he goes it alone as he either destroys or fixes the world around him, but in the second game he is joined by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a lost Disney character who was until recently owned by Universal.
The gameplay of both games is quite similar, although thanks to the first game being Wii exclusive the actual controls do vary quite wildly. The first game actually controls quite smoothly, despite the fact that having to waggle the Wii remote will always be annoying when compared to simply pressing a button. The bonus the first game does have is that aiming the two varieties of paint spray you get is much easier, thanks to using the Wii remote and simply pointing at where you want it to go.
As well as spraying destructive and constructive flavours of paint you can also whack things with your paintbrush and jump around (as you’d expect with a platform game), in the second game you also gain the ability to team up with Oswald to do things like glide across gaps and launch yourself upwards to gain height.
Another big addition in the second game is the fact that you can play along with someone else, something the first game sorely lacked. Along with ability to play with a normal controller this does make the second game much more appealing than the first game, despite the first games supposed originality.
The visuals are pretty good in both games, but look better in the second game because it is playable in glorious HD. Everything looks like a cartoon, and often times like the classic Disney cartoons of the 30s and 40s, something that we need to see in more video games. This game is probably one of the few cases of good translation between 2D drawn images and fully 3D rendered images, considering what we’ve been seeing from this list recently.
In the first game the world is pretty linear and you just move through the world in a simple order, however by the second game the move had been made to a more hub-world style system. The first games linear style is fine but doesn’t really leave an impression, you move through most of the areas too fast to really get to know them. In the second game the hub-worlds become places you start to recognise and seem like places that living cartoon characters would definitely inhabit.
The music is very good in both games and generally follows the classic Disney style that was very common with the cartoons on which the games are based. Rarely will you notice the music while you’re actually playing but when you do catch yourself listening to it you’ll realize that it adds an incredible amount of character to the universe, and you’re also likely to be humming or whistling some of the tunes once you stop playing.
Overall: Both games have something to offer, but if you want my advice I would stick to the sequel. The additions of co-op play and the ability to just use a normal controller give this game a serious edge over the first one and the music and level design are also more interesting in the sequel.
Score: 65/100 (Epic Mickey)
Score: 75/100 (Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two)