Go back to Worms

Written by: Stoo

Date posted: February 22, 2013

I recently picked up Worms Reunited on GOG – that is, the original game plus expansion. So I thought I’d jot down some thoughts.

Firstly, I still love the aesthetics. Sure later 2d Worms games look cleaner and sharper. And I’d have to admit like Rik says, even for 1995 it was dated, being one of the last gasps of mainstream Amiga gaming. But still I have a fondness for that sort of artwork. There’s a good range of terrain types as well – jungle, junkyark, hellish inferno. The worms themselves pack a lot of character into such little sprites. Really, it’s a similar kind of look to the lemmings games, which I’m sure can’t be co-incidental.

Looking at the arsenal, later games added a load of wacky extras but the original still has the basics covered. You have your ballistics, which take a bit of skill to get right, but it’s always satisfying when a grenade lands in the right place. Other weapons are less flashy, like the shotgun or dragon punch but good for either finishing off a damaged worm at range or just shoving them off that edge. Then you have a few utilities like girder and digging. There aren’t too many “no-skill” superweapons and they can be limited, and having just a couple of homing missiles suits me fine.

Also tho, there’s the value of positioning. You have to consider how exposed your worm is going to be after taking their own move – vulnerable to that shove off a ledge? Or standing at the bottom of the crater and thus an easy mark for grenades? That’s what adds some tactical thinking, and it can be just as important as being a good shot. Something else I was reminded of just playing before typing this – each player takes a turn, not each worm. That means if you have four worms and the enemy one, that one worm is getting a move for each of yours. I suppose this gives a losing player a boost to help them fight back.

Now, anyone familiar with the series will tell you, this is a game best enjoyed multi-player. That’s when you get the most satisfaction, from dispatching a friend with a well-placed bazooka shot and relishing in their outrage or despair. Or the most laughs from horrendously ballsing it up and sending your own worm to their accidental, embarrassing demise. I do recall a few rounds back in the day, with Rik and a few other school friends. It was great in that it was actually accessible to non gamers, so you could get a bunch of people together gathered around the screen. That might not be a big deal today in the age when many people have a Wii loaded with party and social games, but getting girls to join the fun in the 90s was rather more unusual.

As it happens however, I’m playing this solo right now (foreveralone.gif). I could have tried to setup some dosbox-over-the-internet fun but Rik and I haven’t had a lot of luck with that. Last time we tried we spent an evening frowning at port fowarding on our routers. Then after two hours I started Rise of the Triad, it froze up, then Rik shot me in the head, then it crashed. If you’re bristling with indignation right now at how incompetent we are, write in with clear and simple instructions. Possibly written in crayon.

So, anyway, here’s an observation about the AI. I think the biggest difference between the difficulty settings is simply the accuracy with the ballistic weapons. On “poor” it is utterly hapless and may well bounce grenades into its own face. On “okay” it will score close enough to hurt you about 80% of the time. On “good” it will direct hit, every time. Possibly with a cluster bomb. In fact with grenades and cluster bombs, which are on a timed fuse, it will calculate the shot exactly right to explode simultaneously with contact with no bouncing around. So, needless to say, I don’t play against “good” very often.

On the other hand, the AI is never that good at thinking creatively. For example let’s go back to questions of positioning –  sometimes the simplest answer is to just use whatever weapon is most convenient to knock someone off an edge into the water. That means an instant death even at full health. However I’m really not convinced that the AI deliberately pursues this. Also, if you start tunneling it doesn’t have any clever answers – it will either just teleport away, or try to steadily blast the ground away from above you.

If you find endless matches against worms of varying skill but limited imagination quickly bores you, the expansion does bring some extra solo content, in the form of a series of challenges against progressively more difficult enemy teams. Frankly it’s still not the same as playing against friends, it’s still just an AI that’s not going to tell you to go die in a fire as you fall about laughing at its demise. Still, it does give a bit more structure to the experience. I’m not keen on the comedy accents though.

Here’s my one realgripe – and it’s a recurring one regarding games of the mid-late 90s – the pre-rendered intro and cutscenes, that were brought added with the expansion. They’ve aged terribly. There’s no retro charm here, they’re just plain ugly. They add nothing to the game – I don’t want to sit through one at the start of every match (fortunately they can be switched off). And they bloat a game that fitted on a few floppies to over 150Mb. (okay, I might sound like an old man grumbling about that in these days of Terabyte hard disks).

So my solo fun was indeed rather less than the full experience. Still, it’s proven amusing enough to give me a break in between household chores or more constructive projects. I have to admit I’ve little familiarity with the later games – it’s possible one day we’ll cover more of the series. Still, I can see a lot of potential for 30somethings around the country revisiting this and cackling to themselves as the bazooka their friends into oblivion, just like the old days.