Those mouthy little worms have dug their way into an unripened apple on the Nintendo DS.
The Worms franchise has enjoyed a steady stream of titles over the past twelve years. Originally created by Team17 for the PC, Worms is a turn-based strategy game that puts you in control of a team of cheeky little annelids who attack each other with everything from bazookas to shotguns to exploding sheep. While fans may be happy that Gamesauce-developed Worms: Open Warfare goes back to the 2D roots of the series, they likely won't be as happy with just how scaled down it is or the host of annoying bugs that damper the gameplay.
For those unfamiliar with Worms, it's quite addictive and plays a little like golf – but with guns and big explosions. You need to pay attention to the landscape and wind speed, know how your different weapons will be affected by the conditions, aim wisely, and charge your shot power accordingly. If you've judged rightly, you'll witness the death of your slippery foe (or at least hear him spout a few curses in your general direction). You can also tunnel beneath enemies with a blowtorch, use ninja ropes to scale cliffs or fly by on a jet pack to drop dynamite onto a group of enemies and escape quickly.
Worms is also known for its colorful humor, mostly in the form of voice clips and wacky weapons. While voice options have been trimmed down considerably for the handheld, there are fifteen different speech banks to choose from, including a selection of European languages and fun sterotypes like Redneck, Drill Sergeant, and Scouser. Unfortunately, while there are fifteen weapons and seven utility devices, most of them are basics like shotguns, mines, bazookas, and grenades. To try out a banana bomb or a sheep, you'll have to either find one in a supply crate or change the game settings.
Levels are randomly generated, which goes a long way in keeping the game fresh. There are six backgrounds to choose from, each with its own set of random objects littering the landscape. Landscapes are fully destructible, so whether you hit your enemy or not, you're going to be leaving a massive hole in the ground. Creating craters does have a few worries, though. The levels are set atop a vast sea, and if you drop into the water or dig too deep, your worm will sink to an untimely end. Strategic players will keep an eye out for any worms that can be easily dunked. Few things are quite as satisfying as launching your enemies into the icy depths.
The touch-screen usage is one of the better assets of the DS version of Open Warfare. While a close view of your units is displayed on the top screen, the lower screen displays valuable information, including turn time, match time, wind direction and speed, teams' health, weapons available, and a full map of the level, showing the positions of each unit. The stylus is used to select weapons, look around the map, and navigate menus. Other functions such as moving, aiming, and firing weapons are mapped to the cross pad and buttons.
You have a few different ways to start up a game. You can choose quick game, which simply throws you into a random battle. You can create a game with up to four human or computer controlled teams sharing the same DS system. Or you can host a game for friends to download. It tends to be more convenient to just share one DS since it takes a little extra time for everyone to download the map and get started. Sadly, there is no online play, which is a real shame because Worms is the type of game that is best experienced when playing against others on an even skill level. A person who has never played before simply can't compete with a veteran until he or she gets a fair amount of practice time in.
The single-player gameplay is extremely lacking. There are no pre-defined missions; only a bare-bones challenge mode, which puts your team through a series of battles against stronger and larger groups of opponents. Take note that I didn't say smarter. The AI in Worms Open Warfare is about as dumb as it gets. Now, don't get me wrong: your opponents can usually hit their targets with pinpoint accuracy in bad conditions, but every other aspect of their behavior is unfathomably stupid. Enemy worms will regularly dive off the edge of the stage in pointless suicide. AI controlled worms will whittle away entire turns "thinking". And on top of that, they seem to have no second thoughts about blowing up one of their own if that unit is close to you. The later stages in challenge mode can often be won by burrowing beneath one enemy to manipulate the others into firing upon him – while you sit comfortably below ground. Extra AI teams can make things more interesting in multiplayer, but they aren't very good for one-on-one fights.
There are several bugs and other gripes with Open Warfare. Worms fans will notice early-on that there are no flame weapons. In particular, shooting green drums simply makes a bigger bang, no longer causing flaming oil to drift downhill – a change that does limit your strategic options. And oh, those green drums, oh my! If you get one of your worms too close to one of those green drums, there's a good chance that the worm might get stuck inside of it, forcing you to either use a teleport item or shoot the drum to get free. You can also get stuck when trying to use the ninja rope, or more rarely, one of your worms might actually fall straight through the ground and die. In theory, you can change the gravestone to represent your dead worms, but a glitch forces the default on you no matter what you choose. In addition, the graphics engine stutters along with particles flying in the wind regularly slowing down, and sometimes, portions of the top screen start flickering to black. (I had to test the game on my old DS to make sure my DS Lite wasn't suffering a hardware defect.)
In the end, while Worms: Open Warfare maintains the humor and addictive gameplay of the series, it really is only worthwhile for multiplayer on the road. Long-time Worms fans will find nothing new, limited options, and a lacking single-player experience. Those who have never played a Worms game may very likely succumb to the charm of the series (I know I did), but if you're in that camp, there are few reasons to pay for a $30 DS game when you can download a much better PC game for $10 less.