March 26, 2007

Few games are more adept at invoking the unadulterated bliss of online multiplayer mayhem than Worms, the long-running 2D franchise from Team 17. Now making its way to the Xbox Live Arcade, Worms is showing off the strategic depth that can underlie a seemingly simple and childish affair. Controlling your four-strong squad of custom cutesy combatants, your goal is to be the last player standing in pure deathmatch. At your disposal are a variety of creative armaments with varying levels of destructive and utilitarian potential. The game is turn-based, making strategy and precision a much bigger priority than a twitchy thumbstick.

Worms for Xbox Live Arcade is a simplified affair, even for Worms, and this may cause long-time fans of the series to bristle at the prospect of plunking down the $10 price of admission. The weapons set is a little bare compared to what some might be used to (the absence of the Holy Hand Grenade might amount to sacrilege amongst a certain sect), but it is serviceable while still making the acquisition of weapons crates a vital strategy. The fundamental weapons are all still in place, and to Team 17’s credit, they function as smoothly as I’ve ever seen. The physics on the grenades in particular have been tweaked to make it easier to land one right in an enemy worm’s face, which players will come to appreciate with time. The game also suffers a bit for a lack of variety in the level themes, but not too much. Worms looks absolutely fantastic in high-definition, which might not seem to say much given the simplicity of the visuals, but it’s a treat to look at nonetheless.

There are twenty challenges to complete against the AI, and while they are good practice and worth the trouble for the achievement points, they’re really ancillary to the multiplayer mode. Playing Worms with three other friends feels like equal parts chat room, video game, and unscripted comedy. Strange and amusing turns of events are pretty much par for the course, and nearly every round I’ve played has been accompanied by a laughing fit. It’s just not every day when you see a Worm named Uncle Jesse attempt to blow up another worm named Batman with an exploding sheep and accidentally send himself careening across the map into the ocean.

The only real complaint to be had with Worms is that they are charging $10 for what feels like $5 worth of features. I don’t doubt that the game will receive downloadable updates in the future, but it’s with those future fees in mind that 800 marketplace points feels a little steep now. Still, there isn’t anything like Worms on the marketplace right now, and if you can muster a group of friends to play the game with you, it’s well worth the time and effort. Worms is a fantastic game, and it belongs in your list of Arcade games. It’s that simple.

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.