Worms

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Whenever I see that ESRB label on a game warning rheumy teenagers about "Cartoon Violence" there's only one game I think of: Worms.

Worms has been around since 1994, when developer Team17 released it for the soon-to-be-dead Commodore Amiga platform. But I didn't discover the series until Worms 2 almost exactly 10 years ago. Worms 2 dropped into my world along side X-wing vs. Tie Fighter and Quake 2. 1997 was a very good year. DirectX was just gaining traction, OpenGL was fully established, and there were more ways to blow things up then ever before. A slow-paced, turn-based cartoon platformer death match title was a much needed dose of lighthearted fun in the midst of that all-too-serious competitive mayhem. I played so much Quake 2 in 1997 that I would frequently emerge from the basement with my forhead hot and hands aching, and my nerves twitched out. Worms was my soothing balm.

When Worms Armageddon arrived in 1999, the game had gelled into its finest form. Online play become the point of playing. It also hit at a time in my life when I worked elbow-to-elbow with 4 of my best friends on a dotcom-era frenzied trading floor. By 4:30 on any given weekday, we we're fried. Our brains were pureed, mixed with adrenaline and imbibed with a shot of espresso. One afternoon, I broke out a present -- 5 copies of Worms Armageddon. For nearly a year, every trading day ended with a beer and a series of heated slow motion battles.

Worms World Party followed in 2001, but for me, the polish had worn off the gem that was Worms Armageddon. WWP was followed by an abysmal attempt to expand the franchise into the world of 3d graphics. Worms3d, Worms Forts: Under Siege and Worms 4: Mayhem were sad attempts to bring back the glory that was Worms at it's dotcom peak.

With these fond memories, I was both excited and worried at the prospect of Worms' return in Xbox Live Arcade clothes.

For the uninitiated, the basic structure has always remained the same. Players (from 2 to 4) take turns. On your turn, one of your small animated nematodes activates. You then maneuver, inchworm style, select a weapon from your arsenal, and eviscerate the enemy.

While a ridiculous concept in both theory and execution, the Worms magic has always been based on three charms, all of which are present in this new 800-point gem.

-- Style. Worms is a cartoon -- a deformed broad-stroke, simple palette Looney Toon. The Worms holler out in squeaky wormy voices. They leave little bouncing tombstones when they die -- always by Acme Company self-explosion, complete with plunger detonator. The first worms was 2D in every sense of the word -- pixels weren't even wasted on shading. In the new Worms, the feel remains the same, but the graphics are polished, the background is out of focus and gently animated, water effects are 360-pretty and the rare special effect is lovingly rendered. The soundtrack, while new, is nostalgic for any fan of the series. Worms have high-pitched comic answers for every situation (in multiple languages, in case you want your worms to taunt in Japanese).

-- Weapons. Over the years, there have been more than 60 weapons in the Worms arsenal, ranging from the obvious (revolvers and grenades) to the insane (Holy Hand Grenades, exploding octogenarians and sheep). In bringing Worms to the 360, Team17 faced a challenge; they needed to make the game accessible to the (cough) casual Xbox Live Arcade user, but still capture the twisted mayhem of the series for the experienced worm-herder. In the end, they opted for a kind of greatest hits collection. They focussed on weapons with minimum of random chance, and retained those that reward skill and planning. The key movement "weapons" are all present -- jetpack, ninja ropes, and the teleport button. The silly weapons (Banana Bomb, exploding sheep) are all useful and require real finesse.

-- Environment. Worms relies on destructible environments. Not the kind that high-gloss first person shooters polish up and strut out at E3, but actual landscapes that blow up. Using the environment is the key to actually winning at worms: dropping your enemies into the drink, blow torching murder holes from which to bounce grenades, ricocheting grenades off the roof. The handful of basic layouts provided in the 360 version capture the strategic value of terrain perfectly.

To this beloved trio of game play boosters, the Xbox Live Arcade version brings new joy. As with all Live titles, the simplicity of simply starting a game, inviting your enemies, and then chatting with them is unique and wonderful. I find myself taking it for granted when I move over to play a PC game, and find myself having to actually work at getting the chat right, the invites right, and the servers set up. This simplicity anchors Xbox Live Arcade's ability to be a casual hangout -- a place you go to just chat with friends while you occupy your hands. Something to do when the conversation lulls. This shoot-the-breeze play space is perfectly suited for Worms. While the game can be competitive, it's the happy accidents that make the game so much fun. Blowing yourself up with a poorly timed Dynamite drop is often far funnier than a straight-up Tarantino shotgun execution.

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There's no question that Worms is worth the ten bucks. I've wasted more money on a bad movie countless times. But I can't help wanting more. I want more of everything. I want more weapons. I want more terrain variety. Every new player will want more just in general. Every old player will want something specific. For my part, I want my worms to be tossing Holy Hand Grenades while swearing in a bad Scottish accent.

If you think that sounds odd, just wait till you play the game.

Comments

Damn you for reminding me that I can't play this.

All I want is the ability to play online multiplayer with more than one person per box. I have a couple of friends who are roommates and I'd love to play Worms online with both of them but you can only have one player per box online. Doesn't make any sense to me.

Other than that the game is certainly good fun. I pretty much missed out on the Worms games in the past although I certainly knew of them and played a couple of times. This seems like a pretty faithful - if not slightly scaled down - version. I do like the more skill-based weapons, though, as that leaves a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong... which is when I think the game is at its best

Worms World Party may have been a "cash in" release, but the Dreamcast version is what I'm holding this one version against. In that sense, some of the controller button mappings have been changed and the switch to HD means that anyone playing on an SD TV is getting a smaller picture than we got 6 years ago.

rabbit wrote:

For my part, I want my worms to be tossing Holy Hand Grenades while swearing in a bad Scottish accent.

Here, here!

Rabbit - I got your invite to play a few mornings ago, but was otherwise engaged in a heated race in Burnout. Worms looks pretty fun, and I have an extra 800 points I could use on it...

Yet part of me fears that it will not fill this void in me that really, really wishes someone would just port Scorched Earth to XBLA...

I remember that we spent three months playing a demo of the first Worms just four maps) in a group of four. Sweet old times. When we got hold of the complete thing the hell broke loose.

wanderingtaoist wrote:

I remember that we spent three months playing a demo of the first Worms just four maps) in a group of four. Sweet old times. When we got hold of the complete thing the hell broke loose.

Same here, the demo was awesome.

But leaving out the holy hand grenade? That's awful.

But leaving out the holy hand grenade? That's awful.

Unless the Pythons sued their pants off or something, it's inexcusable. They'd better buy me an Xbox360 now!

Anyone ever play Leiro? It was a real-time 1v1 freeware version of Worms. The graphics weren't nearly as nice but it was still quite a lot of fun.

This game is a larf. I think I'd prefer Gunbound, but still, it's "great fun." Especially when I simultaneously miss with my TNT and catapult myself into the ocean.

I'd assumed the Holy Hand Grenade thing was a copyright issue.

Dreaded Gazebo wrote:

All I want is the ability to play online multiplayer with more than one person per box. I have a couple of friends who are roommates and I'd love to play Worms online with both of them but you can only have one player per box online. Doesn't make any sense to me.

Seconded. It's unfortunate that the dev/pub didn't include this. It seems that it would be in Microsoft's interest to have that feature, as it adds value to having more than one Gold account on a single console. I'm a little surprised that they wouldn't require the feature.

Armageddon was indeed the pinnacle, but I am excited to play this version on XBL.

The worms for gamecube was ok, btw. Worms 3d. The 2d version has a little more fun'ness though.

rabbit wrote:

I'd assumed the Holy Hand Grenade thing was a copyright issue.

They didn't want too many super weapons.

While the Holy Hand Grenade would have been nice, if there was one thing I would have wanted it would have been the "switch worms" tool. Of course, I always prefered the banana bombs anyway.

In any case, I'm quite happy with this version. They did a very nice job of making the game work as a pick up and play experience, and that is a large part of what I wanted from it.

I hated switch worms. It made it too easy to have a worm dig a hole and hide. The teleporter can generally resolve any big placement problems.

rabbit wrote:

I hated switch worms. It made it too easy to have a worm dig a hole and hide. The teleporter can generally resolve any big placement problems.

Aw, well, I suck at the game, so switch worms helped me a lot.

rabbit wrote:

I hated switch worms. It made it too easy to have a worm dig a hole and hide. The teleporter can generally resolve any big placement problems.

100% agreed. However it takes away from the casual players. My friend wont play with me cause I use tactics like that to win. So now I have to resort to handicapping myself just for the sake of playing worms. :p Thank god for online play though.

I loved the original worms on PC. But for some reason my copy had a random glitch that i always associated with a bad install on my part, fixed by copying files from the disks.
Anyways, this glitch occurred randomly. During replays, i would find that what had actually occurred was changed slightly - usually due to a physics change and a winning blow of knocking a couple of worms off of a ledge into a watery death could change to only killing one of them. It was amazing to see that the replays actually overrode the events of the round.
Rather than infuriate me and my friends (never played it alone) it added an extra level of intricacy to the game. Great fun.

Best part of this version of Worms?

The slight delay between the voice chat and the actions onscreen. Somehow hearing Sinatar saying "Oh no, oh no, NO! NO! NOOOOOO!" and then 1-2 seconds later seeing his worm hop onto a land mine and blow itself to kingdom come... somehow that makes everything funnier. Plus that it's coming from Sinatar.

Symbiotic wrote:

Yet part of me fears that it will not fill this void in me that really, really wishes someone would just port Scorched Earth to XBLA...

Scorched Earth on XBLA would rock my face off. That is all.

Dreaded Gazebo wrote:

All I want is the ability to play online multiplayer with more than one person per box. I have a couple of friends who are roommates and I'd love to play Worms online with both of them but you can only have one player per box online. Doesn't make any sense to me.

I've never been on the live service, but wouldn't this allow a lone, morally flexible player to gang up on people in a more competitive game?

Duoae wrote:

Anyways, this glitch occurred randomly. During replays, i would find that what had actually occurred was changed slightly - usually due to a physics change and a winning blow of knocking a couple of worms off of a ledge into a watery death could change to only killing one of them. It was amazing to see that the replays actually overrode the events of the round.

I remember that glitch as well. We also played huge rounds of the original Worms at our family reunions. I'd forgotten about that glitch until now.

Reminds me of the same thing happening when watching replays of Starcraft games. I'd watch matches I'd played against the computer only to realize that in the replay there was a completely different outcome. Weird in both cases.

I miss tremendously the "burning earth" effect when certain canisters or weapons were used. When the effect occurs escapes me at this moment, but I seem to recall that when a weapons crate or health canister was hit and exploded, it caused an area effect where the worms would have to bounce around on top of the burning earth taking additional damage. What happened -- I am not seeing that in the XBLA game. And what are the little "flame canisters" for if not for that. It feels a little unfinished. Don't get me wrong. I love it, but I want more.

Edgar,

The napalm was the good stuff there. Makes me sad.

It makes me sad too. I still love the game. I would love to see it "patched", but I don't know how feasible or likely that is -- my sense is that Worms XBLA was certified and released and now everybody just wants to collect their money. I don't see any support coming, which, at least in the case of the napalm is extremely disappointing.

I just wish there was a speed setting on this when playing against AI. Tell me i missed it. The AI is so slow to resolve a turn.

Or maybe its just me. I'm impatient, I'm from Jersey and I'm always hyped up on kawfee.

Irongut wrote:

I just wish there was a speed setting on this when playing against AI. Tell me i missed it. The AI is so slow to resolve a turn.

Or maybe its just me. I'm impatient, I'm from Jersey and I'm always hyped up on kawfee.

I hope you're wrong, too. What does the AI have to bother with long pauses anyway? Is it just to taunt me?