3 November, 2012
Game Music Saturdays – Earthworm Jim Soundtrack
Earthworm Jim was yet another of those “mascot” character created during the 1990s. However, unlike the cool Sonic or the chronicly “unhip” Mario, Doug TenNapel’s Earthworm Jim was just plain weird. It’s not as if anyone’s going to rally around an earthworm stuck in a robotic suit with a Pocket Rocket (pictured above); thus, Shiny (the developers of the first two games) took it into some pretty dark and twisted humor. Lots of cows, a level that takes place in Hell (Heck, my bad!), and enemies that hold names that read like bizarre non-sequiturrs were the name of the game (Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-Butt, or Professor Monkey-for-a-Brain). Frankly, it’s an endearing platforming experience that tries for something unique and goes for broke to make things as uncomfortable, yet fun, as possible.
The music was a large part of the surreal atmosphere. Composed by Tommy Tallarico, who you may know from his short stint on G4TV or on Video Games Live!, still has a long track record of game music soundtracks in his catalog. Fittingly, the soundtrack contains some hilariously bizarre and ill-fitting music – just the kind of cognitive dissonance you need for a platforming experience like this. Seriously, there’s a track called “Banjo Race”:
This plays anytime you race Psycrow, an adversary of Earthworm Jim who, you guessed it, is a crow – one of the biggest enemies of the earthworm in both normal and spacesuit form, apparently. If that doesn’t get your blood pumping to fly through space on a tiny rocket, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. The level “What the Heck!?” has bits and pieces of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on the Bald Mountain” interspersed with the sound of muzak and scream. Somehow, I’m not joking about this one either:
Of course, Heck the Cat makes you proceed through a stage with evil nerdy businessmen and demonic snowmen (who, contrary to popular belief, do have a snowball’s chance in hell if said snowball was some supernatural force). It’s perfectly fitting, in a completely insane way, to have such music as your background. Playmates, who wanted to create a franchise similar to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, obviously didn’t know what they wrought in hiring Dave Perry’s Shiny.
How could you release a game like this in the modern era? I’m not sure it’s even possible. I’m exaggerating, though. More of the music has a electronic vibe that serves as a perfect backdrop for many of the levels. Most of them contain some pretty rockin’ bass beats that work quite well with the abundance of platforming on offer in Earthworm Jim’s world. “Falling”, my favorite (and the longest) track on the entire album has its own share of catchy beats augmented by electric guitars – honestly, it’s been so long that I don’t even remember what level they’re from, but they work outside the game as well. “Buttsville” does much the same, albeit in a different mode and much more focused on the bass line than anything else. The first level has a similar track in “Junkit”, appropriately sounding like a crazed junkyard where things come to life. I love these songs – they’re catchy and fun, and that’s all I require in a game like this.
Also, there’s a lot of America music in this – I meant that in genre. We’ve got a ragtime tune in the style of Scott Joplin (“Darkworm Rag”), a 1940s showtune (“Ending Credits”), and even a short monologue (“You’re the Best”) on beating the game:
“Boy, you really whipped this game. I mean, you can put it back on the shelf, you’ve mastered it! I mean..on Difficult! Th-That’s incredible! I couldn’t even do that! I’m telling you, you know, you can just put the joystick down, now, and rest assured that you…are the best. I mean…you’re probably the only one who’s even done this; you’re probably the only person who’s heard this right now. Heard this, ME talking! Right now, you! You are someone special to us, we care about you! I mean, if you ever feel bad about yourself think about this day and what you’re hearing right now: YOU. ARE. THE. BEST! And if you fail at anything, if you come in last at the track meet you just sit there and raise your head up and say: ‘Shiny said I was the best, and dang it, I’m the best! I’m in last place, but I’m the best!’ If you wake up someday and you’re in prison, serving a life sentence, you just look up and say: ‘I’m the best.’ When you’re..when you’re down, when you’re lonely! When all your friends have turned their backs on you because you’re such a jerk, you just sit there and say to yourself: ‘I’m the best. I’m the best! I’M THE BEST!'”
Sometimes, they’re a grounding element; other times, they go completely mad and crazy as the level progresses. Some of them aren’t even music. Regardless, Tallarico’s created the perfect schizophrenic soundtrack for a game that demands it. You could say it’s intentionally bizarre, but I think it’s still endearing even now.
Furthermore, who would remember Earthworm Jim, even today, if he wasn’t a little “out-there”? Christianity is, similarly, bizarre in weird. To many people, we believe in a man who lives in the sky on a fluffy cloud with a similar beard who metes out punishments to those who perform minor grievances against him. That image comes from years upon years of cultural insulation, to the point where people don’t actually know what Christians believe. They have been pariahs and outcasts in most cultures – those places where they have been accepted have taken more cultural influence into themselves to appeal to the masses. In John 16, we can see this is true:
2 They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. 3 These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. 4 But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.
It’s just natural for Christians to be outside of the world, to be weird according to some preconceived cultural standards. Being weird and different is part of the Christian mantra. We are counter-cultural, and the moment we give in is the moment we stop being effective. Like Earthworm Jim, we can’t help but be weird. Support weird music!
You can obtain this soundtrack in two ways. One, I recommend just buying the game on GoG.com; you get both games, plus the soundtracks. As well, you could find the PC CD-ROM on eBay or some other service – it’ll play in any CD player like a normal soundtrack.