Review: Worms has finally slinked its way onto the Xbox Live Arcade.
Much has been made of the long and winding journey that Worms has taken to arrive on Microsoft's downloadable service, but suffice it to say, the game has materialized and many exploding sheep can now be thrown at opposing worms. There's a certain comfort in the simplicity of a game like Worms, and it is one of those experiences that is simple to learn and hard to master, but very easy like. The Live Arcade version certainly doesn't include all of the sounds, sights and features that have been previously included (or even that someone might reasonably expect), but the game still plays as remembered, and there's nothing like grabbing three friends and hurling grenades and rockets at one another.
For the uninitiated, Worms is ? and has always been ? a mini war of attrition. The game's 2D battlefields are completely deformable and destructible, and each match sees two, three or four teams of worms being deployed on the battlefield with the singular goal of cleaning all of the opposition off the map. With your team of four worms, you'll be able to do basic things like slink along or jump, and then you'll also be able to take an action during each turn. Most of the time, your action will be firing a weapon or hurling an explosive, but you can also do various other actions such as use a ninja rope, teleport across the map or build a bridge with steel girders.
The action is turn-based in Worms, meaning that planning ahead is a key to actually winning the war (killing all others) and not just the battle (killing one). Bazookas and hand grenades are the weapons that you will have unlimited access to, and each of these weapons can dish out devastating impact if applied against the opposition in the right way. Additional weapons include rockets, air strikes and cluster bombs, plus there are obscure attacks like an exploding sheep or a banana bomb. Save for a few different items, most pieces in your arsenal work on power gauges and aiming trajectory. The power of a grenade lob, for instance, will be dictated by how long you hold down the A button for, and the arc of the shot will be judged by aiming with the left thumbstick. Of course, the trajectory can be affected by pesky obstacles and bumpy terrain, but it can also be impacted by the wind. A wind gauge will tell you the strength of the wind, and this aspect is one part of the mastery of Worms; skilled player will be able to tuck grenades into even the smallest locations ? take cover!
Most of the battles end up being pretty enjoyable in Worms, as each team is trying to maximize their turns by taking potshots at the opposition, re-positioning their forces, and making attempts at grabbing supply crates. Some people get pretty good with judging the wind or using tools like ninja rope, but many battles often come down to using your power weapons (sheep, dynamite, air strike) at the right times and then hitting some good shots with the bazooka or grenades. Truly, the charm of Worms has withstood the test of time, as the game still has a pure simplicity to it that gradually ratchets up the fun.
The pureness of Worms can easily be attributed to the game's accessibility to all users. Once again, the action is quite easy to pick up, but there is room for mastery. Judging trajectory and shot power always takes a bit to pick up (even for those that have played before), but you'll be improving your accuracy after just a few rounds. Jumping is fairly easy in Worms, but that isn't to say there aren't considerations to be had. The terrain will affect how far a worm jumps, and mixing in high-flying back flips will be key to accessing effective cover or hard-to-reach items. Bringing up the weapons menu is quite easy by pressing the B button, and visuals even changes a bit (as well as the graphic of your worm) in order to indicate the new weapon/item that you have selected.
For most users, the main draw for Worms on Live Arcade will be the four-player Xbox Live (or local) support, and ? with a few hitches aside ? the multiplayer hijinks work well. There is the occasional disconnect when going online, and the delay between player turns can get a bit annoying, but luckily each of these issues don't seem to be too prevalent. Even still, it's getting annoying that these issues creep into XBLA games when MS is always preaching about the ?high bar? for these titles ? how many times was Worms supposedly in certification? But, what counts is the action, and Worms plays just fine online. New players will quickly adapt to the game, and experienced players will soon get right back in the saddle with their grenade and bazooka skills. In the sessions we played, even the newest player of the group was able to win several matches, thus proving that veterans can't always dominate the field ? any sort of domination would be hard, especially seeing as there are four unique teams involved. Either way, the action gets better with each human player added, and the ability to keep playing (no lobby dumps) is welcome, indeed.
The solo options will likely be of secondary importance to most users, but the usual tutorials and single-player challenges await users who choose to throw down against AI worms. Obviously, the action will be much more basic without the human opposition, but these challenges are useful for a small diversion, and they help improve weapon aiming and ninja rope skills.
The major rub in this Worms release comes from the lack of quite a bit of content that has become ?expected? material compared to other games in the Worms series. Namely, this game doesn't feature as many level skins, worm ?voices,? and ? most importantly ? weapons. There are only three level skins (ice, earth, mortar), and even though these can be regenerated infinitely, the level layout is still fairly similar each time. The lack of these skins isn't a huge deal, but a few more choices would've been nice. The worm voices are only available in a few languages, but the available options are still acceptable for the average user. The lack of weapons for the game is definitely the most disappointing, but, presumably, Team17 would cite a refined gameplay experience and Live Arcade file size as the reasoning behind this ? no Holy Hand Grenade sucks, either way you slice it. The only silver lining for all of this is that a good amount of it will be enabled via DLC, which has been said by Team17 to be a mix of free and for-a-fee content.
Omissions notwithstanding, the presentation in Worms is totally serviceable. The visuals are fairly vibrant and have a clean, high-definition edge, with only a slight drabness to some environments being a drawback. The camera does start fairly far back, but you can use the triggers to zoom in and out to provide perspective (the right stick can pan around the map completely, too). The worms themselves still animate as amusingly as before, and they'll bug out their eyes when danger approaches or comically wave a white flag before taking an impact. Of course, the old standby of a worm getting face planted after a long fall is still as amusing as ever. Sound has always played a big part in worms, and the audio here is fairly comparable to previous PC entries (sans the extra voice packs and more varied music). The quips each of the worms exclaim are comical ? ?Oh no!?, ?Take Cover!?, ?Ooof!? ? and they add another layer of humor on top of the cartoonish carnage. The weapon sounds are also quite good, with the lobbing grenades and bleating sheep standing out. The music track that loops throughout the game is alright, but the fact that there is only one seems a bit weak, file size limit or not.
Achievements are a fun little addition to Worms, and you'll get points for doing the basic things like completing the tutorial and playing an Xbox Live game, but also for detonating a bunch of explosive barrels and for getting a triple kill. Worms has the usual mix of Achievements found in most Live Arcade games, and some of them will take a good deal of time to grab.
For those who know what Worms has offered in the past, this Live Arcade release should provide a fun way to experience that action in an online arena. Obviously, more content (weapons, sounds, skins) would've been optimal, and an added wrinkle in some of the gameplay could've been interesting, but what is available in this 800 MS point purchase is a worthy experience for the Worms franchise.