Before saying that I am a newcomer to the Worms franchise, I should confess that I did dabble very briefly in the original Worms release. My initial impression of that title was one of disdain since it was a clone of an old PC game I played called Scorched Earth or Scorched, whichever it was since the idea has been re-created multiple times on practically every platform. Worms World Party (WWP) is no different on the surface. It is the artillery engineer's dream game as it tasks the player to account for varying factors that one would study in physics. Aiming trajectory is pivotal to landing a good shot in WWP and wind direction must be accounted for. But this title's playful attitude makes this more into a game and less a number-crunching physics educational tool.
WWP takes the basic idea in the old PC game I played even further. Here you command a team of harmless looking worms in a duel against other worms. Instead of the worms being fixed turrets, your worm is allotted time to move in each turn. For the record, this is a turn based game, albeit a very entertaining one. During this turn you can choose from a multitude of collective weapons shared by all the worms and wreak havoc. The developers have tried to keep this genre true to its predecessors and you aim using the keyboard. This reduces the relative ease of aiming with the mouse. A lot of games have recently returned to the keyboard after a mass exodus starting with the Sierra adventure games of completely relying on the mouse. Grim Fandango comes to mind and here the usage of the keyboard once again gives me some psychological direct attachment to the various worms I command.
As I mentioned before, everything in this game is humorous. Your weapons include things from martial arts moves, for close combat, to the regular grenades and rocket launchers. There are variants on some like a homing rocket launcher but once used, it is deducted from the inventory of all worms, so using the right tool for the right job is key. However, some of the tools overlap each other so there is no hoarding on any particular weapon, although I found the explosive weapons a lot more powerful than the regular melee ones, for example. By now you may think this is just an excuse to subject poor innocent worms to modern warfare terror, but WWP features some puzzle-like features. This is found prominently in the single player campaign.
All the maps in WWP are constructed so that there are destructible barriers and platforms like a traditional side-scroller. There is always some form of water beneath so expert Worms players will target the ground beneath worms rather than the enemy themselves. The worms actually take quite a bit of damage and even something like a shotgun doesn't seem to do much more than mildly injure them. Perhaps that's how earthworms get their reputation for tenacious survival skills with the one exception being water. The single player campaign is more like a puzzle with timed events. The first mission is probably the most representative of this. Your lone worm is placed on a sinking ship and has to construct something to move on to the main ship, all the while dodging the efforts of one lone enemy worm. WWP is also set up with gratuitous options for quick play for randomly generated encounters, including a comprehensive multiplayer component on their own proprietary service.
At its core, WWP seems like an overly simplistic game but it actually features quite a bit of thinking, hence the turn based approach. However, I would have appreciated a simultaneous turn option since multiplayer games sometimes drag on. Or the most atrocious is when the computer appears to think for quite some time and then proceed to do something completely moronic. Much of this game depends on the AI, unless you are playing with human opponents, and I can honestly say the AI is a mixed bag. Computers will probably always excel at projecting trajectories better than humans but I don't think that means I enjoy playing opponents who are literally perfect. Certainly they know this so they prefer to use grenades, mortars and other explosives. At times, I felt like I was Gary Kasparov fighting against Big Blue. Then at other times, the invincibility myth is dispelled because the computer probably didn't think of something to do and does something totally benign. At that juncture, I wish the computer would just waive or forfeit their turn rather than suck up time, like Big Blue did to Kasparov, and stress me out.
Human opponents are a lot more fun and this is a perfect type of game for a party if all combatants are patient enough with the turn based structure. Due to this type of play, lag is not really a concern at all and I experienced very smooth playing games. The best laughs were on LAN play where I could hear the groans and cheers of my fellow Worms commanders. There are literally a ton of options to customize for multiplayer so I can't imagine there being any level of boredom. Moreover, you can customize your team of worms. You can give your worms individual names, record battlecries and even a team anthem.
Technically, WWP is a bit dated. I have heard that fans of the last Worms: Armageddon release consider this nothing but a repackaged expansion pack. However, the vibrant colors and excellent animation of worms toting shotguns and firing grenades are a joy to look at and not just for the sadistic. Because of the cartoon-approach and humor, it is no more harmful (note to Lieberman) than maybe Sunday morning's roadrunner cartoons. The audio component is equally strong in parody. It features serious overtures to what is ultimately, not a very serious game. The worms themselves speak in high-pitched voices and when you do something dumb, they yell, "What was that?"
Still, to perfect one's play at Worms, you will have to spend a lot of time learning the nuances of each weapon and tricks on how to defeat what seems like an impregnable AI. There is a set of tutorials that aim to teach players and I found them useful but only after I tried playing the game without it. There are, however, many tutorial missions and I am not sure whether people will be patient enough to go through all of them. For sure, those who are not used to this type of game will be hearing a lot of "What was that?" and become frustrated at losing constantly. Much of the fun from this game comes from unexpected events. You would think there would be very few of those in this physics heavy title. Worms explode when they die and an ill-placed grenade around a bunch of half-dead worms over precarious water will for sure cause some howls of either humor or frustration, depending on how you take it. This is also partly why multiplayer is so entertaining.
Through its many iterations, Worms has culminated into WWP; a well-polished title in its own right. Due to my lack of familiarity with the franchise as a whole, I cannot sufficiently comment on how appealing this would be to veterans of the series. To be honest, they might be quite bored with the 2D engine or the lack of new wrinkles on top of the Worms: Armageddon release. However, from my standpoint, those who are patient enough to come to terms with WWP will find a truly wonderful game in a day and age where creating an "experience" is what developers think people are after. Having recently played the Dreamcast version, I was hoping for some real improvements in the PC version and I can say there are subtle differences between these two as well. Ultimately, they make the PC version stronger. Turn based games have been under fire ever since Warcraft II came out. And they have all been relegated to near extinction by now because of the RTS genre. Titles like WWP, Disciples and Heroes of Might and Magic go a long way in illustrating the maturity of this genre. Turn based titles have been developed so long that almost all the basics are now so well-polished that there could be no garbage titles (at least theoretically) produced. That strength, however, is also key to its downfall. There simply does not seem, at least to the general gaming public, to be any new revolutionary developments in the turn-based genre. A critically and commercially successful turn-based game can only make a fraction of a downright awful RTS title in sales.
Recently, I read that Virgin Interactive/Titus considered the Worms franchise one of their most successful and I can see no reason to dispute that if they keep churning titles out like WWP. But, I still should gloss over two things that I mentioned before that could stand for improvement in this title. First, the learning curve for this title is difficult. It is easy for anyone to grasp the concept of this game and manipulate the controls but to truly start besting some opponents, you will have to invest some time to learn the quirks. Second, I think in this day and age of real-time madness, it would be nice to see a simultaneous turn mode. It seems like a lot of turn-based stalwarts, like Heroes of Might and Magic, are considering it to speed up multiplayer. Although it puts a damper on the strategy somewhat, since you are always racing against time, I think the added pressure creates a new wrinkle in the genre. There is no denying though that at its core, this is a wonderful little game with a lot of heart.