There are a number of admired British institutions: fish and chips, Top Gear, the BBC (if you pretend the 70s and 80s never happened) and soccer all come to mind. However, none of those even compare to the wonder that is Worms, which is a true British original. Worms is a rare exception to cover in this series as many of the games I review are old, dusty, and forgotten – but not Worms. Worms was the small acorn that gave us the mighty oak. While many Americans may be more au fait with titles like Armageddon and 3D, this is where it all began. This one is a bit of a discovery for me, as I have never been able to secure a copy of this game until now. My first foray into Worms was the stellar World Party for PlayStation, which I adored at the time, but on more recent plays, I was disappointed to see that, especially with the new HD releases on Steam, the game has not aged well at all. So, you can imagine my trepidation at the idea of how rusty the very first one might be.
For the uninitiated, Worms can basically be described as a war game set on a 2D plane where two squads of four characters go head to head in all-out warfare using weapons ranging from the mundane and sensible (such as grenades and shotguns) to the more outlandish but still feasible (bazookas and baseball bats) to the downright insane. (banana bombs, concrete donkeys, and an old granny) Also, if it wasn’t clear, the soldiers are genocidal anthropomorphic worms, hell-bent on destroying each other. As you can tell, Worms is nowhere near to being a serious game; that should be obvious when the premise is worms beating each other upside the head with baseball bats, but the zany, tongue-in-cheek edge does definitely guarantee some laughs along the way.
However, the real fun of Worms is in the gameplay itself, in which your team (I named mine “Miracle Violence Connection”) must fully eliminate the opposing team on a randomly generated landscape consisting of land and water to win. The beauty of the level being randomised is that different obstacles appear every time you play, which means that no two battles are truly the same. This creates the need for a little bit of choice and strategy. Nothing that would put a four-star general to shame, mind you, but the game is best played with a game plan – are you going to go in all guns blazing with a full-frontal assault using shotguns or uzis, have two worms form the frontlines while the other two pick off enemies with grenades and airstrikes, or will you go for the fully embarrassing method of advancing on the enemy and putting dynamite beside them so they will fly off the ‘island’ to land smack dab in the sea to meet a watery demise? Worms, oddly, is a great venue to get imaginative – I certainly found my creative juices flowing freely, which resulted in an amazingly fun experience that is probably best enjoyed with a friend. Not that playing on your own isn’t fun, but eliminating your friend’s army with an exploding sheep at the end of a frenzied battle is so much more satisfying.
Creativity, though, is all well and good, but how does this game handle at its core – what is Worms like mechanically? Bear in mind I’ve been spoiled by later releases, but even with that, the earliest release in the Worms family is still uber-smooth. You can move your characters precisely without movement feeling overly slow, and the shooting mechanic works beautifully – you simply aim where you want your shot to go with the d-pad and set your shot power by holding A. This makes for an elegant gameplay experience – too many games are inhibited by overambitious mechanics (see Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker) but Worms keeps it simple, which, in turn, keeps the fun intact.
Oddly for a game rife with explosions and weapons of mass destruction, (though maybe not so odd considering the creatures wielding them) Worms has been designed in a very cute and cuddly manner. The little worms crawl and jump over the landscape so fluidly that they themselves become as appealing and endearing as the action on-screen; if you create your own team like I did, you might even grow to care about the little guys. Even objects that would be terrifying harbingers of death in the real world seem cute and fun here – never has a stick of dynamite or an air strike been so amusing. The graphical charm also extends to the levels you fight it out on as well. As previously mentioned, these are randomly generated via hex code generation, meaning you’ll never get the same warzone twice, but they’re not just simplistic geometric masses – the game comes loaded with different scenery ‘themes’, such as desert, the Arctic, and Hell itself(A neat touch in the game’s humour there – in the hell theme, there’s a small chance of a sign reading ‘Welcome to Ossett’ appearing; Ossett being the town Team17, the developers, were based in)! Really, the only word for Worms’ presentation is adorable, which is lucky, as the game wouldn’t be nearly as fun if it didn’t carry itself with a bit of humour.
However, if there was any real detriment to the game in any area, it’s the sound. Now, I know with a game like this, it’s more likely you’ll be chatting with your mates rather than listening to the music, but still – what we’re given is absolutely disappointing. All Worms games past this one give us neat ambient soundtrack; Worms 3D even licensed the song Shake Your Coconuts from mad band Junior Senior, but here? All that punctuates battles is silence, and the sounds of your weapons. Again, not a massive loss, but I have an unsettling feeling while playing that something is just…missing. Also, I don’t want to be overly mean, especially when the rest of the game is so great, but the opening theme is perhaps the worst piece of music to have ever been written in the history of music. I would provide a link to it here, but I do not wish to offend those of us blessed with the gift of hearing.
I know Worms is being outshined by its faster, sharper, slicker children, but their dad hasn’t lost his touch. 20 years on, Worms is still an utter joy to play. Now, with that said and done, let’s collectively take a moment of silence for all the worms who died to give us this game…