Usually in a situation like this, I'd have to edit out the gigantic borders that my Mega Drive/Master System snapshots get.
However, they've been kept in this one for a reason- the borders in this game are absolutely horrifying, and so they must be seen to be believed.
An Alternate History of Video Games, Lesson #53 - Whatever Happened to
the Likely Lads the Master System?
It's no secret that the Master System wasn't exactly popular in the United States. The last game released over there was Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991. To put that into perspective, the last official release over here in Euroland was The Smurfs: Travel the World in 1996. Sure, the system was technically very dead by then (the last releases I remember were in 1994, to be honest) but it's still a hell of a difference, huh? That's nothing compared to Brazil, though- to this day, the Master System is considered one of the most successful game systems over there, thanks to Tectoy, the distributor of Sega games and consoles in the region. We'd love to pretend we know what we're talking about with regards to this, but of course we don't. We'll send you over to Kim Justice's fantastic overview of Tectoy and their games, but for our purposes it suffices to say that there's a slew of Brazil-exclusive games for both the Master System and Mega Drive. These range from true out-of-nowhere oddities, like the Street Fighter II' port for the Master System and the Duke Nukem 3D port for the Mega Drive, while others were considerably more obvious, like FIFA ports and Show do Milhão (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). Others, though, were pretty easy to explain: they were Game Gear ports.
Earthworm Jim for the Master System is in that last category, and calling this a 'port' is, well, a bit of a misnomer.
Since the Master System game is a a port of a port, we'd better look at what spawned it first- the Game Gear version. Released in 1995 and coded by Eurocom, who were also behind the Game Boy port, the Game Gear Earthworm Jim is, well, shit. It looks decent enough, mind you, as while it's nowhere near as good as the original, it does its best to keep the fluid animation of Jim himself in-tact. The game itself brings everything down- it's dogged by slowdown here and there, and the 'tap to whip, hold to fire' control scheme is very finicky, so forget saving your Plasma shots for tough enemies; the controls will make sure you waste them. This is probably the most frustrating part of the game, because if they'd implemented it correctly, this two button system could've worked, but as it is, you'll never perform the action you want to, and so you'll end up being hurt while desperately trying to attack. Furthermore, the levels themselves (the ones that are still here- goodbye, Level 5 and Intestinal Distress) have been altered for the worse. What the Heck?, for instance, keeps the section where spikes fall on your head, but unlike the original, they're not ordered in nice rows- they're random and they don't stop until you reach a certain point, which means you're going to die here whether you like it or not.
Worst of all is the third level, Down the Tubes. It's ruined by poor controls during the hamster section (this isn't an issue with timing or me sucking- the hamster will not respond to you controls as you'd like it to, and getting through it without screaming/losing a ton of lives is almost luck-based) and the underwater pod sections (especially the Pod Race stage), already noted for their difficulty in the original game, are now even harder, partly because the little jets on each side indicating your direction have gone (if anyone ever tells you graffix don't matterer!11!1! then fuckin' shove this in their face), partly because of the wretched controls and mystifying collision detection, and partly because of the tiny screen resolution; getting through any of these parts in one piece is made unnecessarily difficult. It doesn't help that, for the Pod Race, you have just enough time to make it, no doubt after many, many attempts, losing a whole continue's worth of lives in the process. This is usually the point where I get tempted to throw my Game Gear at the nearest wall; I only stop myself because I don't want to do a disservice to the wall.
So, to summarise, the Game Gear version is pretty terrible
So, what does the Master System version do?
The same, but less so.
I'm not entirely certain what happened here. Maybe it's because some parts of the game were too difficult to re-adjust to the higher screen resolution of the Master System. Maybe it's because this is a 4 MEGA game (so says the game's box) and that just isn't enough MEGA to encapsulate the full Earthworm Jim experience. Maybe no-one cared, so long as it worked. Whatever the case, the Master System port of Earthworm Jim is the same as the Game Gear port, but much, much worse. First, a lot of the game's been hacked out, and the only levels still standing after the bloodbath are New Junk City, What the Heck? (with half of it removed, including the falling spikes section and the boss fights, and a strange glitch introduces that forces you to play the first section twice), Down the Tubes and Buttville. And, of course, the Andy Asteroids? sections between levels (with the Psycrow parts removed, so you're not penalised for letting him win) are still here. Compared to the original, there's barely half of the game left.
As well as cutting all these levels out, the port adds in a few new quirks, mostly related to the screen size. Now, some of these are beneficial, as in the case of the underwater pod section in Down the Tubes (it's now much easier because you can actually see where you're going.) but others seem to be more like glitches. For example, you can now hide on the left side of the screen during the New Junk City boss and take no damage at all, the famous cow-launching part can actually be skipped because the screen doesn't stop scrolling (but the wheel things on the wires won't appear until you launch the cow) and generally you're able to see stuff that the developers clearly didn't intend for you to see (one of the nice touches of the Mega Drive/SNES game is that you'll be taunted with items you can just about see, but can't reach- the Master System game usually lets you see too much so the solution to getting the item is blatantly obvious). Furthermore, the slowdown of the GG port is made much, much worse here- it may be shorter, but it's just as painful to play.
So, essentially, the Master System port is the Game Gear port with a load of it cut out and more glitches introduced.
And since the Game Gear version wasn't much cop anyway, this makes the Master System port dreadful.
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Well, Mr. Asshole Reviewer, that's all well and good, but isn't reviewing the Master System port a bit pointless in that case? Why not just review the Game Gear game?" Either that, or you're thinking, "Jesus, is he still talking?" See, without context, the Master System version of Earthworm Jim is of no interest to anyone. It's just pretty terrible. However, when you remember that it was a 'new' version of a popular game released only in Brazil many years after the Master System was dead in most countries, then maybe you can understand the allure of such a game- it's because it's an oddity. It doesn't matter to some people whether it's any good or not (from the perspective of the Brazilian gamer, it was good- a guide to all Tec-Toy releases refers to this port as "one of the best games released for Master System", and bear in mind they hate the Street Fighter II port, so they're on the level) but what matters is that it's a strange game that most people don't know the existence of. This is true of many of the later Tec-Toy releases- games like Duke Nukem 3D for the Mega Drive and the Master System version of Virtua Fighter Animation have a tendency to capture the imagination of the kind of historically-minded games player who, like me, is interested in weird shit like this.
However, there are limits. No matter how quirky a game's existence may be, no matter how fascinating its release history is, if it's crap, it's crap, and I'm gonna have to call it crap if that's the case. This isn't so much an article or a review as a warning to all you collector-type people out there who might be interested in this game. It's expensive, it's a butchered port of a butchered port, and so if you actually play the games you collect (like I do, although some days I wish I didn't because then I wouldn't have to play shit like... Wait, what game can I mention to not annoy people? Awesome Possum? We'll go with Awesome Possum) then Earthworm Jim for the Master System is not a wise choice. It just makes a mess of the original game, and even if it was a completely unrelated game, then the terrible controls inherited from the Game Gear version and new glitches make it a bad game overall. After playing this game again to get those screenshots, I had to play the Mega Drive game just to feel clean again. Collector's item or not, stay away from this!
For being probably a bad idea even at the time, Earthworm Jim is awarded...
In a sentence, Earthworm Jim is...
A shitty port of a shitty port.
What a fascinating insight into annelids across the globe. Please take me back to the index!