The Worms series of games have made a number of appearances on both PCs and consoles, generally relying on a recognizable style of gameplay. This style consists of a multi-screen 2D world where hyperactive worms calculate angle and velocity to arc high explosives onto other worms. This should sound familiar to anybody who played the great old PC game Scorched Earth or any number of other countless variations on this theme. Worms games have made a name for themselves with high-production values and a cheeky sense of humor, two things that we see in Team 17's new title, Worms Blast. What we don't see is the same old turn-based artillery game. There are hints of it still remaining, but Worms Blast is otherwise a different beast...er, worm.
Yes, what we have here is another example of a license being used to promote a game that is significantly different than what we normally expect. Worms Blast is designed around the game taking place on a single screen, with the player controlling a small animal in a boat at the bottom of the screen. The gameplay is one that should be familiar to fans of puzzle games, as it's basically the same as Bust-A-Move and its clones. For the inexperienced puzzle gamer, this consists of a situation where the player is attempting to fire colored units into a larger structure of colored units hanging above the player. Using their sense of spatial geometry, the player attempts to have their colored projectile strike a group of like-colored units, causing those units to fall, as well as any other units that relied on the displaced units for connection to the larger structure.
What Worms Blast adds to that formula is taking the aiming, force of projectile, moving and armament concepts from the previous Worms titles. The controls for both aiming and moving the character are mapped to the GameCube's D-pad, with left and right controlling the movement of the character and up and down controlling where the character is aiming. This takes a little while to get used to, especially considering the small size of the D-pad and the fact that it's impossible to adjust your position and your shot at the same time. In addition, the player can provide a varying amount of power to their shot by pressing the A button for an appropriate amount of time before releasing it. This can make a serious difference in what happens because Team 17 has retained the Worms physics system. Rather than traveling in straight lines, the projectiles describe parabolas related to both the power and the aiming of the shot.
In many games of this nature, the player is stuck to a single point at the bottom of the screen. In some, the player is allowed some amount of lateral motion. Worms Blast not only has lateral motion, but lateral motion on a liquid surface, meaning that the player must not only account for the momentum of the character but for objects hitting the water and disturbing the surface of the water and thus the aim of any ensuing shot. Another major addition to the basic formula is the variety of special weapons and items that are available to the player. Taking a page from the other Worms titles, characters can collect crates to gain special weapons and items with various and sundry effects. Many of these are great examples of Worms-style humor, with giant sea monsters rising from the deep to consume your opponents, along with classic Worms weapons like dynamite and the shotgun.
The main modes of the game consist of a Puzzle mode, a Tournament mode and a head-to-head mode, either against the computer or against another human. The Puzzle mode is the meat of the single-player experience, with the player given the choice of varying paths, each offering up different single-screen challenges. The Tournament mode is basically a high-score competition between the player, the computer and whoever else might play the game, testing how well you can do given certain goals. Head-to-head is most similar to both Bust-A-Move and the other Worms games, with both characters trying to clear their screen, as well as lob a couple choice projectiles over to the other half of the screen.
The major problem with Worms Blast is that the gameplay makes it hard for it to be a very satisfying experience. In other games that utilize the same basic gameplay as Worms Blast, projectiles are fired from a single spot, without varied power behind the shot. By adding both lateral movement and shot power, there are two more variables that the player must account for while also attempting to judge angle of shot and which target would be more strategic. Add in the additional complexity of weapon selection, momentum-based movement, arcing shots and time-based penalties, and what should be a fast-paced flow of action becomes an agonizingly choppy experience that's far too frustrating and stressful.
Worms Blast is frustrating not because the goals presented to the player are difficult, but because the tools that the game gives to the player are difficult to utilize. This becomes even more frustrating because almost all of the challenges in Worms Blast are time-based. There is little more annoying than seeing exactly how something should be done, yet being unable to do it while trying to keep an eye on a counter that seems hell-bent for leather. The game does manage to minimize some of the frustration by having almost no loading times and giving you the option to restart at any time, but this is a small consolation when you have to restart consistently and constantly in order to complete a single screen.
The reason that this problem is so acute is that the marriage of gameplay styles is almost inherently incompatible. Puzzle games are inevitably real-time, reaction-based games. The Worms titles are turn-based, although with the option of adding a kind of stopwatch. Even with the timer, Worms titles rely more on a more strategic, plotting style of thinking, something that's incredibly hard to do when there're multiple things happening on-screen that cry out for the player's instant reactions. In the case of gameplay, the license does far more harm than good to the title.
Like the PC Worms titles, Worms Blast is best enjoyed as a multi-player experience. The addition of another human player makes the flow of the game easier to deal with, and removes most of the frustration and stress of the single-player modes. While it is slightly disappointing that there are no 3 or 4-player options, there is plenty of fun to be had going head-to-head with another human. Unfortunately, most puzzle games are already better with multiple-players. If you're going to be grabbing a game to play against your buddy, it's probably better to pick up a title that you'll have fun playing by yourself.
Aside from the gameplay, Worms Blast is actually quite an appealing game. The aesthetics of this title are fairly high quality, which is probably to be expected when you are dealing with an established license like the Worms universe and an experienced developer like Team 17. The graphics are done in pleasing, cartoon-style 2D. This style works very well for both depicting the action and complementing the gameplay mechanics. It makes sense to have anvils dropping from the top of the screen when everything involved looks like a particularly slick Warner Bros. cartoon. The art and music in this game is highly complementary and consistent in reinforcing the overall-style of the game. The only sour note is that rather than the hundreds of hilarious voice samples that are typically available on PC titles, each character only has a single voice, with some of them being particularly annoying. Thankfully, there isn't a whole lot of talking over the course of the game, and some of the more eccentric characters are quite entertaining.
As is probably expected, Worms Blast has a very basic narrative framing. In fact, there isn't even any framing. The player has no idea why a bunch of worms and other small animals are floating around in boats, shooting weapons at coloredthings. There's not even an entry in the manual spelling out a basic premise for the game. The characters are just out there to keep from getting dumped in the drink and to blow up other small animals at the same time. And this is probably how it should be. Puzzle games like Worms Blast do not need exposition to justify either their existence or how the game plays out.The one glaring error in Worms Blast is the overly complicated and sluggish (or, uh, worm-ish) gameplay. Unfortunately, for a puzzle game, overcomplicated gameplay means that the title can be no more than mediocre, regardless of how polished the rest of the game is. There is plenty of quality in this title, as we've come to expect from Team 17, but unfortunately, the mixing of Worms-style blasting with Bust-A-Move-style puzzling winds up providing a muddled, mediocre experience. Hopefully, failed offerings like this one will convince developers that it's best to stick with a franchise's strengths, rather than attempting to shoe-horn a concept into a license purely under the logic that a recognized name will lend more to the game than a well-developed premise.