Your bait is pissed - Review By Subskin
Originality is a rare thing in video games these days. Usually games follow fairly rigid patterns that were successful in the past with maybe a few variations on the theme. Case in point: the slew of fighting game series spawned by the success of Street Fighter 2. Everybody wants to cash in with remakes - even Capcom has ripped itself off with Darkstalkers and other spin-offs.
Based on that cynicism, I didn't expect much when Worms Armageddon crossed my desk. The case claims "Hilarious action & strategy," but that sounds like an insult to a Resident Evil knock-off. It didn't help much when I realized they actually trademarked the word "Worms" - although I'm pretty sure it's been in common use for a while.
Worms Armageddon is innovative. The game is based on a somewhat realistic premise: tiny worms have access to powerful and unlikely weapons. These weapons make up the crux of the game. Nine pages of the manual are devoted to describing the sixty weapons, each unique and useful. Bazookas, homing missiles, Uzis, and shotguns are among the more "typical" weapons. On the lunatic end, you have access to Sheep Launchers, Holy Hand Grenades, Ming Vases, and Banana Bombs. To the most destructive end, there are Air Strikes, Earthquakes, and Nuclear Tests.
Worms... with weapons of mass destruction! Finally, a totally realistic game! (*cough*)
Choosing the right weapon is the basis for Worms' turn-based strategy. You command a team of worms with a collective arsenal. Each turn you have forty seconds to move a worm around. Select any one of your team's available weapons and then fire before your turn ends. Since you can only use one weapon per round, your choice becomes crucial. For example, bazookas are affected by wind; grenades are not. If the wind would prevent you from getting your bazooka blast through a tight gap then you'll need to select something else. The goal of Worms is to wipe out your opponents, so choose wisely, grasshopper.
I enjoyed many of the turn-based 2D strategy games of the early 1990's (incidentally, Microprose published my favorite, the original X:Com UFO Defense). Still, Worms Armageddon is unique in every way. Besides the patently strange weapons, the gameplay involves a strange mix of strategy and action. Moving around the horizontal 2D landscapes is more Mario than Master of Magic - using a variety of button presses you must hop and swing from platform to platform. Falling does damage, and if your worm takes damage your turn ends immediately. This makes jumping incredibly important, lest you lose your turn or even die from falling off the map. Each map is built on top of water - falling or knocking an opponent into the water is an instant kill.
Ever wonder what happened to all the 2D graphic artists when the gaming world went 3D? They must have joined Team 17 to develop Worms Armageddon. The backgrounds are beautiful cartoon-style art in a variety of strange locations. Sometimes you fight on the operating tables of M.A.S.H., other times it's in a cavern with skulls and such. There are dozens of maps and every one is packed with detail.
The worm in the middle of the screen ponders the meaning of life as the worm he just shot with a shotgun (lower left) prepares to sleep with the fishes.
Worms features some pretty impressive stereo environmental music. One song begins similar to the 2001 theme and gradually changes into rhythmic cannon blasts. While it does not have the mood-setting power of a Resident Evil - I didn't even notice the music until I thought about it for the review - it does match the Worms' tone nicely.
The sound effects are basically just exploding weapons and Worms speaking. A great feature of the game is the ability to choose more than forty distinct Worm voices. These voice styles include Stooges, British, Redneck, and Cyber-Worms. This is the key to the game's humor: the worms taunt and tease each other before and after each turn. Accidentally hit your teammate with friendly fire, and the little worm will scream, "You idiot!"
Worms Armageddon really shines in multi-player. Up to four players stand in for a battle royale, and the turn-based system keeps you from getting confused with all those Worms on-screen. Buff up before you try out four-player action - the matches we played got physical real quick. A little tip: if you press somebody else's fire button and screw up their turn, duck.
Playing Worms Armageddon against the computer is like playing 1-on-1 baseball. You'll find out pretty quickly that the programmers of Worms Armageddon were trying to create a game similar to chess and added the one-player mode almost as an afterthought. The computer AI can hit you with a handgun from three miles away, so the only time it screws up is when it aims at itself. Worse, I could not find a way to speed up the AI's turns. The computer often "thinks" for twenty or more seconds before making its move - about the length of your average TV commercial. Like a TV commercial, it's a really annoying length of time: too long to just sit there, but too short to go get a drink.
Even at "actual size," the worms are small and lack detail.
While you're sitting there waiting on the Dreamcast to make a move ("it's thinking" a bit too long, I think), you sit and watch stationary worms. After playing single player and watching nothing happen you'll soon notice that the sprites just don't look very good. Each Worm takes up about a quarter inch on my 27-inch TV; they must be invisible on a 19-inch. Even the Dreamcast cannot place much detail on such a small 2D sprite. The graphics on the characters come out looking about as good as Super Nintendo 2D graphics.
Another graphical problem is the frame rate slowdowns. If Soul Calibur and NBA2K can run at peak speed, how come a few 2D sprites muck up the system so badly? The only thing I can attribute it to is bad coding - somebody must not have optimized the code to run on the Dreamcast.
I mentioned before that Worms Armageddon offers a variety of voices. Unfortunately, ALL teams use the voice you select. Since each voice only has about ten different quotes, they get repetitive real quick. Why didn't the developers allow the option of choosing a different voice for each worm, or at least for each team?
Some of the humor wears thin after awhile, and waiting for your turn takes too damn long!
Even selecting a voice tends to be a problem. Worms Armageddon has the clunkiest interface I've ever seen. Say you just finished a one-player game and you want to change voices before you play again. You have to exit out of three menus, then click through three more to get to the voice screen. Annoying! Makes me want to get a big fishing hook and bait Worms just for fun.
The in-game commentary is supposed to be sarcastically witty. Ugh. These are simple one-sentence phrases that announce the beginning of a round or the death of a worm. They might be humorous if they weren't text� it's just not that funny to read "Webber swam like a brick" after waiting 35 seconds for the turn to end.
The long wait for a turn to end limits the game's excitement. It's like watching an entire football game in slow-motion. I could not find any menu with the option to change turn length. It seems like such an obviously necessary option that I'm not sure if they forgot to include it or if it's hidden somewhere inside that boneheaded interface.
The Final Word
Worms Armageddon is one of the most innovative games since Tetris. It offers 2D strategy mixed with a little action for good measure. Unfortunately, the slow pace and worthless AI will prevent it from popularizing a new style of gaming. If you've got a little cash and some friends with time to kill, give Worms Armageddon a try.
Developer: Team 17
Publisher: Hasbro Interactive
Highs: Innovative, beautiful backgrounds, multi-player fun.
Lows: : One-player mode bites, frame rate problems, clunky interface.
Other: 1-4 Players, VMU Compatible (for saving), Jump Pack Compatible.
(out of a possible 10)
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