When it comes to great four-player party games a lot of people love Bomberman, Mario Party and Super Smash Bros. But I'm going to disagree with those choices. Sure it's fun trapping your friends with bombs and using Mario to beat people up is therapeutically, but for me the greatest party game ever conceived is Worms. There's just something about Team 17's classic turn-based army simulator that gets my blood boiling and heart racing. I love the cute graphics, the oodles of silly weapons, and yes, I even love the Worms' theme song. So that's why I was so excited when Microsoft announced that Team 17 would be bringing their party game to the Xbox Live Arcade, I couldn't wait to finally play this classic game online.
But not everything is as it should be; this recently released Xbox Live Arcade Worms is not the same Worms I've loved for so many years. Perhaps it's because I have such fond memories of Worms Armageddon for the Dreamcast, but there's something about this newest version of Worms that just feels limited. While it's nice to see a fairly cheap ($10) version of Worms that you can play online, I kind of miss all of the functionality, game modes and weapons that were available on other recent versions of the game.
In Worms you play a team of four individual worms who are randomly scattered around a large destructible level. Each team takes turns moving one of their worms and then using one of the weapons to cause damage to the other teams. This turn-based gameplay continues until there's only one team standing, and that team is the winner. It's simple, yet there's enough depth and skill to keep you wanting to play long after you've mastered the basics.
A round of Worms can take anywhere from a few minutes to close to a half hour. Throughout the game there's a timer that counts down your remaining time, once the clock strikes zero all of the remaining worms see their life go down to 1 hit point and the water at the bottom of the screen starts to creep up (drowning anybody that is unlucky enough to be in its way). There's a lot of strategy involved in when to use your weapons and when to simply get out of the way and hide. If you use all of your better weapons too early you won't have them when you really need them, but at the same time you might not make it very far if you don't use these weapons. You can also pick up special boxes that give you extra health and weapons, but these boxes are often in precarious locations and will involve you doing some work to secure them. Either way, Worms is the type of game that can change on a moment's notice; you never really know who's going to win when you start playing this game.
The fun of Worms has always been connected to the cool (and often outrageous) weapons you can use. In past Worms games you've been able to select from literally dozens of different weapons and items, but this Xbox Live Arcade version limits your selection to a mere 22. For the most part the popular weapons have made the leap to the Xbox 360; you can expect to fight with the bazooka, grenades, fireball, dragon punch, air strike, exploding sheep and banana bomb. However, it's worth noting that a lot of the fan favorites from other versions of the game have been taken out completely. Gone are things like the holy hand grenade, homing pigeon, battle axe, mad cow, and old woman. In fact, for some odd reason they have completely taken out some really useful items, such as the bungee rope (which allowed you to jump/fall off of ledges without getting hurt) and the pneumonic drill (which gave you the ability to drill straight down).
While I understand why some of the more powerful weapons were taken out, it's extremely disappointing to see some of the very best weapons completely removed from the game. You can still get the job done with the 22 weapons and items found in this version of Worms, but the selection feels like a major step backwards after having all of these choices in previous entries.
Unfortunately the weapon selection isn't the only thing that feels limited in this version of Worms. It's troubling to see how few backgrounds and level textures there are packaged in this game, in its current state there are only three different backgrounds for you to play with. These backgrounds are certainly good looking (better than any other Worms background has ever looked), but considering that other Worms games offer dozens of backdrops it's disappointing that there are so few available here. As it is you can play this 2D game in front of Big Ben, a sinking Titanic, or a giant erupting volcano spewing lava. Thankfully you will be able to choose from a lot of different shapes for your level, but it gets somewhat old looking at the same pictures in the background game after game.
Another problem is that you don't have a lot of control over the game options. You can choose your worm team and the various names for your four worm soldiers, but gone are all of the cool game modes that added so much charm to all of the other Worms iterations. For example, many of the recent Worms games have featured a mode called Arms Race, a game type that started you out with only a few basic weapons but added something new every few turns. This was a great mode if only because it allowed you to strategically use your weapons, but there's nothing like that in this game. Instead you only have a few game types, and none of them are that different from one another. It would have been nice to see some of the classic game modes thrown in to shake things up a bit, but instead we get a very barebones Worms experience.
As usual the single player experience leaves something to be desired; you can play against the computer in a standard game, practice in one of three Training modes, or battle various computer opponents in something called the Challenge mode. The Challenge mode sounds the most interesting, but it proves to be nothing more than a basic Worms match with computer opponents of varying skills. At first it's nice and easy; you have your team of Worms at full health (100 hit points) against a bunch of computer opponents who are limited to only 20 or 30 hits each. But as you progress through this Challenge mode you will have to deal with teams that have 80, 90 and even 100 hit points. The challenge here is that instead of going after other teams, all three of the computer-controlled opponents only seem to want to target you. So not only do you have to kill 12 other worms, but you have to survive all 12 of them targeting you and only you.
The real fun of this game isn't in the single player modes, but rather when you get a bunch of friends together or play online. This series has always been about bringing people together, and it's great to be able to do that online. I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for an online Worms game for the console, and although the game is limited in a number of ways, it's still just as much fun to play against your friends (and strangers) as it ever was. Best of all the turn-based structure of Worms means that you won't have to worry about lag issues, this is the type of game that could probably be done over a dial-up modem (no t that there is an option for that on the Xbox 360). It's also worth mentioning that those of us long-time Worms fans can also prove their worth with the worldwide leader boards. While I rarely check these boards on other games, I am excited to see how I stack up against the rest of the Worms playing population.
Although it's easy to complain about the limited modes and weapons in Worms, there's one thing you can't complain about … the graphics. Make no mistake about it; this is easily the best looking Worms game I have ever experienced. From the characters to the weapons to the backgrounds, Worms has never even come close to looking this detailed. All of the characters and backgrounds are modeled in 3D, but the game still has the traditional 2D point of view. To some this may look outdated, but to those who are familiar with the series chances are good you'll really like the facelift.
The music and worm voices are good as well, although I miss not being able to customize my worm's accent/speech pattern. The incidental music during the matches are soft and fitting, it's the type of music you might not even notice at first. It all works perfectly to set the sometimes serious, sometimes comical mood that is Worms. I am disappointed that Team 17 took out the memorable Worms song that has been in just about every Worms game since its inception, but it's not that crucial to the overall experience.
Fans of other Worms games on the various console (be it Dreamcast, Saturn, PlayStation, PSP, DS, or whatever) will need to take a moment to get used to the rearranged button layout, but it won't take long before you're jumping, back flipping, shooting and surveying the level with the best of them. The controls all make perfect sense, and you can even zoom in and out of the level as you wish. Worms has always felt natural on a control pad (even one without an analog stick), so it shouldn't surprise anybody that the game feels good on the Xbox 360.
I won't kid you, I'm definitely disappointed that some of my favorite weapons and modes have been stripped away from this game, but I'm hopeful that Team 17 will offer some of it via the Xbox Live Marketplace. Whether buying weapons and levels that should have been there in the first place is a good thing or not is debatable, but all of the missing stuff isn't going to ruin the overall game experience. That said, if you're looking for a great Xbox Live Arcade game that you can play with a bunch of friends or online then Worms is a prime choice, at $10 it's not a bad price for all of the fun and excitement the game delivers. This may not be the definitive version of Worms, but it's still a great game no matter how you slice it.