Opinion

Earthworm Jim: PR Stunt, Vanity Project, or Harmless Nostalgia?

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Earthworm Jim

Intellivision is a name from far back in the history of video games. Mattel Electronics released the Intellivision console in 1979, where it emerged as the main competitor to the Atari 2600, selling more than 3 million units before the console and related brand was retired in 1990.

In 1997, the Intellivision brand was acquired by former Mattel Electronics executives Keith Robinson and Stephen Roney, who supervised the release of several compilations of Intellivision games for PC, as well as licensing a range of plug-and-play mini-consoles and other compilations for consoles.

Fast forward to May 2018, when Tommy Tallarico announced he was creating a new Intellivision company called Intellivision Entertainment, which acquired all the intellectual property associated with the brand. The Intellivision Amico console was soon announced at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in October 2018, with a scheduled launch date of October 2020.

According to the information released about the console, it will feature a host of remastered Intellivision and Atari games. Many of these games will be built-in, while several others will be available on the online store. The company also promised that all games on the platform will be exclusive and will cost between USD$2.99 and $7.99. The low price point will also extend to the console itself, which is expected to retail between $149 and $179.

The technical specifications for the device have not yet been revealed, though, according to the early press release, the Amico features a ‘21st century 2D chip and architecture’, making the console strictly for games with 2D graphics. A curious choice for a console release in the modern era.

During his keynote address at the Portland Gaming Expo, Tallarico stated the Amico would be more family-friendly than its competitors, saying: “Most every game being made for the home consoles these days is created with only the hardcore gamer in mind.

“We see a world where everyone is interested in playing at home and with friends, but this isn’t currently possible because the barrier to entry is nearly impossible for a non-gamer.”

Tallarico has a long history with videogames, though he is known primarily as a composer and musician, creating soundtracks for titles such as Cool Spot, Time Crisis, Metroid Prime, and Earthworm Jim. He also runs the successful Video Games Live concert series, which uses a symphonic orchestra to play live versions of classic game tunes.

The announcement of the Earthworm Jim revival confirmed at least ten of the original team members who worked on the original for the Mega Drive are returning to the project, and, in all likelihood,Tallarico leveraged his own involvement with the game to get it off the ground and acquire exclusivity.

Earthworm Jim 2019

Nostalgia sells. However, history has proven the possibility of bungling what is, on paper, a sure thing. Observe the problems Sony had with the PlayStation Classic, which suffered from poor game selection, a steep price point, and several software issues.

Moreover, recent history is littered with the corpses of failed game consoles. A relevant example from recent years is the Sinclair Vega+, which ended up mired in scandal and legal action, with very few backers receiving the product.

Since Intellivision Entertainment was only formed in early 2018, the publisher has given itself an extremely tight time scale to actually market its flagship product. Even assuming that off-the-shelf hardware is being used, that still does not leave much time for design, production, and thorough testing.

A number of design choices regarding the Amico are questionable. As well as the aforementioned 2D exclusivity, the company has chosen to try to replicate the look of the original Intellivision controllers, resulting in a gamepad that somewhat resembles an iPod Classic. The controller is said to be equipped with touch-screen and motion controls, but the jury is still out on how well it will perform both functionally and ergonomically.

The possibility of Earthworm Jim being a launch title for the Intellivision Amico is unlikely since trying to create a fully-featured game on new hardware in the time available seems nigh-on impossible. Therefore, the company is most likely using the announcement to raise the profile of the console among gamers, particularly retro gaming fans.

With this in mind, however, another statement from Tallarico raises even more questions, since Intellivision Entertainment and Tallarico have said that no game on the Amico will  be rated higher than E10+ under the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) system.

Intellivision has confirmed it has no plans to allow Teen, Mature, or Adults-Only games on to the system. Why, then, is Intellivision Entertainment targeting older gaming fans? The most obvious answer lies in demographics—those older fans tend to be the ones with spare cash. Could Tallarico be priming the pump for a crowdfunding announcement or similar money-raising effort? Perhaps. If that is the case, the decision to position the device as a family-friendly machine, pushing the angle of parents playing together with children, seems even odder.

What is particularly curious is that Earthworm Jim is the first major announcement about the console since it was originally revealed in May 2018. With a planned release of 2020, questions arise as to why the console hasn’t been put into marketing, especially if the company is serious about selling the Amico as a family-friendly console.

One possible explanation for this dichotomy is that CEO Tommy Tallarico, though a respected composer and musician, has little practical experience with consumer electronics or running a company concerned with such. Moreover, so far the only major game announcement for the console that is not a direct remaster is a game franchise Tallarico has prior ties with. Is Tallarico just seeking the cachet of creating a new console? If his goal was to re-launch the Earthworm Jim series, far easier paths could be explored.

The entire situation remains something of a head-scratcher. OnlySP plans to keep a close eye on events, and readers can follow the coverage by checking Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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