Worms. The general population rarely sees these creatures outside of their normal habitat: a rain-soaked parking lot (or dried up on a sun-baked parking lot). The gaming sector of the population gets to experience these glorified digestive tracks in an entirely different way thanks to Team 17. As their general in Worms: Reloaded, we get to lead them into battle. It’s our duty to inflict as much damage on our segmented foes as possible during our turn, while making sure our comrades-in-arms stay in the proper segments. After a ten-year absence, Team 17 has brought the simple premise back to PC gamers. The question is, has the time the franchise spent “finding itself” (on consoles) hampered the quirky fun, or added to the repertoire of ninja ropes, air strikes and shotguns?
Allow me to formally introduce the Worms series to make this review “proper.” This may shock some of you, but not everyone knows that there are two popular franchises based upon our dirty annelid buddies (the second being Earthworm Jim). Case in point, Heartbourne: “Is it like Final Fantasy Tactics?” I scoffed at him, but he really isn’t that far off. Put simply, Worms is a (usually) 2D turn-based strategy game that tasks players with destroying an opposing team. Each side has a wide array of often ridiculous weaponry, from exploding sheep to air strikes to baseball bats and ninja ropes, at their disposal. Being the fragile creatures that they are, a game of Worms does not typically last too long, especially when fully-destructible environments and exploding traps litter the landscape. Or just watch the launch trailer to get an idea.
Violent? Hardly. The destruction of helpless earthworms may seem overly aggressive, but Team 17 keeps the whole thing light-hearted. The fish bait have voices – Irish, Finnish, even l33tspeak – allowing them to express their imminent demise or bemusement at a well placed grenade. Taking it a step further is the animation team. If an air strike is called in, the worm-in-charge will don a military radio, or firing a bazooka will cause the worm to protect his noggin with an army cap. Incoming destruction is no different. A worm with a live mine, stick of dynamite, or grenade resting at its feet will begin to scream in terror or cringe. In a hilarious way. Again, each worm is voiced with the appropriate accent and dialog. Chuckling is a common occurrence when playing Worms, even when losing. Whoever decided to add the l33tspeak deserves a gold star.
Worms are generally considered flat creatures. The slimy critters climb up the z-axis to some degree, but so does a piece of paper. It was no surprise to me that the franchise did not work well in 3D space. In Reloaded, players are returned to the classic 2D action. That was easily the biggest decision that was made for the title. Worms: Reloaded isn’t an innovative game. It simply attempts to capture what players have liked in the past and re-purpose it for a long-overdue experience on the PC (coming soon to Mac, although it could shine on an iPad).
Team 17 included a 35 stage campaign, basically a lengthy tutorial, as it is likely to be tackled in a single sitting by any Worms veteran. A survival mode called Bodycount tests the ability of players to make the most of their arsenal. The point is to achieve the highest score possible against constantly respawning forces before being sent to a watery grave. Warzone is a puzzle mode, Worms style. Players must figure out how to achieve the object with little to no weaponry. Completing any of these stages awards coins, which can be spent to unlock additional levels, costumes, backgrounds and more. Multiplayer mode is as robust as the single-player offerings, allowing generals to go head-to-head in a variety of game types. Ranked, team and fun modes can all be tweaked to include heavy environmental hazards, extra crates (health and weaponry) and other modifiers. The variety of options and a random map generator guarantees things won’t get stale as players attempt to ascend the Leaderboards.
Being old school isn’t always a good thing, though. The controls hearken back to the game’s original design, heavily featuring the arrow keys that PC games abandoned so long ago. WASD isn’t supported by default, and Space and Enter retain their utter importance. Yet, Space and Enter flip jobs under certain circumstances, such as when using jetpack or ninja rope, causing confusion and painful mis-clicks. Team 17 still believes in giving the player control over their experience, so the annoyance was easily remedied in the Options menu. The same cannot be said for the profile system. Although the game was developed for Valve’s Steam service, Team 17 is not using Steam Cloud. This means that anyone attempting to play on more than one computer will waste time recreating their team on each machine. Far worse, the unlocks do not seem to traverse machines either, forcing players to have a dedicated rig to unlock items and play online with if they want to show off their achievements. Only a small subset of the playerbase will be impacted, but it was obviously overlooked.
Worms: Reloaded is full of nostalgia. It contains the quirky humor, odd voice-over work, easy-to-grasp, yet hard-to-master gameplay and is chock full of annelids. Nostalgia is a powerful force. It’s the act that allows the human brain to remember the good aspects of something in the past, while forgetting about the bad. Reloaded doesn’t bank on our feeble minds to entertain us. Put down those rose-colored glasses, they aren’t needed here. Team 17 delivers the simple, entertaining fun of the past wrapped inside deep community and multiplayer aspects of this generation in Reloaded. And for the budget price of $20, it’s tough to pass up.
That being said, if you already own Worms 2: Armageddon on XBLA, don’t bother. Worms: Reloaded is merely an extended edition of it.
Final thought: What happened to Team 1-16?