Re(?)Considered: Earthworm Jim 2
In the soil he did crawl. Again.
I've played Earthworm Jim 2 since I was a little, tiny baby. Wait, no, that's literally not possible. I suppose I was about eight years old? And I always liked it, but never as much as the original (especially the incredible Special Edition for Mega CD and Windows); even when I wasn't really capable of coherent criticism (What else is new? - Ed), I had my misgivings about what I perceived as a gimmicky, piecemeal approach to the game flow, such as it was. The original game has a wonky rhythm too, but the majority of the stages are platforming action. Less so here, in the worm's second turn.
Coming back to it recently via the medium of Evercade (who I swear I am not doing paid promotion for, BUT I WILL, EVERCADE, CALL ME), I found that EWJ2 isn't quite the mis-step I'd always believed it to be. Yes, it's uneven, but it's more fun than I previously believed. It has its problems - the Puppy Love mini-game turns up three times, with four rounds each, and it's just too much. It's not even that it isn't fun - it's better than sodding Andy Asteroids from the original game - but it just lasts so much longer than it remains interesting. Ditto the early level Lorenzen's Soil. It's a cool idea making the player dig up, stupid, but ultimately it just means you're standing around, firing into the air erratically. Sensibly, the PC port of EWJ2 cuts the stage entirely, making for a much breezier game.
The rest of the experience, though, is pretty good. Opening stage Anything But Tangerines is a cracking slice of Jimmery, and Jims's Now A Blind Cave Salamander is a wonderful Lunar Lander homage with a spectacular rendition of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata soundtracking it. Isometric "3D" level The Flyin' King is unusual but very impressive, and subsequent stages Udderly Abducted, Circus of Scars and Level Ate are all enjoyable, well crafted romps. It's almost wall-to-wall good stuff and looks spectacular, but weirdly enough the stages feel smaller than the original game's, with fewer outrageous secrets to find. There's a hidden warp in Level Ate, sure, but it's nothing spectacular really - doesn't stimulate the excitement gland like the two entire hidden levels in Earthworm Jim Special Edition.
That's EWJ2 all over, really. It's good stuff, generally well-designed fun that's let down by a commitment to strangeness that ultimately hurts the game more than it helps it. That's without any mention of the final level, which is an absolute oinker of a stage that requires basically perfect play and will likely jettison all your remaining lives and continues in a matter of moments. But yes, a commitment to esoteric, unusual, ooh-that-was-a-bit-odd surprises often comes at the expense of the first game's generally appealing level design - but then again, it must be tough to follow up one of the best games of the 16-bit era. They certainly tried. It remains to be seen whether the upcoming fictional sequel for the fictional Amico console will be worth the fictional bytes it's fictionally constructed from, but then again the creator of Earthworm Jim is now a ludicrous bigot, so balls to his crap game, mate.