There are three new levels
Don't worry. No-one has messed with the main game. Earthworm Jim HD's new levels are separate unlockables that sit outside the original campaign, and despite my worries that they might not gel with the original 1994 design, they feel absolutely spot on. Playing in a similar fashion to the original's opening New Junk City level, they're filled with PC hardware trappings (including cooling fans for mega-boosted jumps) and have a totally Jim-authentic, chiptune-tinged soundtrack.
Best of all though, they have some great new, laugh-out-loud bosses. You now get to fight one of those old ladies from Earthworm Jim 2, and have a very funny run-in with an increasingly threatening swarm of insects. And while I won't spoil the best - and by far the hardest - one for you, I will tell you to beware of four-legged musicians who are quite popular on the internet.
You can still do this for hours
And you will.
The new difficulty settings are welcome (and funny)
The 1994 Earthworm Jim is harder than a granite-carved bastard. If you played through it at the time, you'll know that. Mercifully there are now four difficulty settings to cater for every taste, so everyone can finally appreciate the full game instead of getting stuck halfway and dreaming of how brilliant the rest might be. There's nothing game-changing, just things like scaled enemy strength, variable numbers of restart points, and bosses actually having visible health bars (a sanity-saving addition to the longer boss fights). But the thing I like most is the way the different settings are labelled.
Most games have Easy, Normal, Hard and Extreme. Jim HD has Easy, Normal, Hard and Original. It's a fitting tribute, a nice reminder of just how hardcore we used to be back in the early '90s. And if you were into Jim back then, it's the default setting you'll want to use. Normal is great for newbies, but if you ask me, it's too damn easy. But then I am excruciatingly hardcore.
Real-time weapon changing
Again, this probably sounds like a tiny point to those of you who didn't play Jim back in the '90s, but anyone who did will know just how frustrating it was when upon collecting a power-up you had to blow your insta-kill plasma gun load immediately, before you were allowed to go back to your standard blaster. That's not the case any more, as Earthworm Jim HD has adopted Jim 2's weapon switching feature via the right bumper. So now you can save those face-searing blasts 'o death for someone who really deserves it.
And lastly, most significantly, most beautifully of all...
They've fixed the bloody water level!
Tube Race. Oh Tube Race, you dirty bitch. How long did I scream, wail and howl as your broken game mechanics cruelly battered, bruised and humiliated me time after time as I sat red-faced and white-knuckled in front of my SNES. Forget any water temple. Forget the swimming level from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Earthworm Jim's twitchy, overly-long, insanely-time-limited submarine piloting section is the cruelest, most disgusting water level of all time. But in Earthworm Jim HD, it's an absolute pleasure.
Gameloft have drastically reduced the sub's excessive inertia. They've made it possible to connect to the life-saving oxygen top-up valves without wasting twenty seconds bumping around on the rocks trying to line up the correct, single, specific pixel on the sub with the corresponding one on the valve, which usually resulted in exploding the craft via crash damage along the way.
They've smoothed the docking process so that you'll never again make it back to the safety of the underwater base with seconds to spare, only to die while trying to actually get into the damn thing. Thanks to the wonderful men and women at Gameloft, last night I achieved my life-long ambition of completing Tube Race without using a cheat code. And I'm man enough to admit that I might have cried just a little as I did.
Earthworm Jim HD, I salute you.
All that, and there's a four-player on-and-offline multiplayer mode too. I haven't had time to try it out yet, but no doubt myself and Meiks (who also got Jim HD last night) will give it a bash over the weekend.
So what say you? Have I whetted your appetitite for this absolute gem of an XBLA release? If you were one of the original Jim players back in 1994, are you now eager for the new and improved version? Or did you miss him the first time round, and if so, have I got you tempted to fill in the gap in your gaming knowledge? Let me know in the comments, or via our none-more-thrilling portals on Facebook and Twitter.