Sunday, June 22, 2014

MeekinOnMovies On....Worms Battlegrounds

Game: Worms Battlegrounds
Developer: Team 17
Platform: PS4, Xbox One (Played on Xbox One)
Price: 24.99
Did I pay for it: No. 

Since 1995 there have been over twenty Worms games across at least half a dozen platforms, ranging from PC to console to mobile to Facebook. This doesn't include the spin-offs and ports, of which there are countless more. The franchise is nothing if not omnipresent. 

Worms adds to that omnipresence, debuting on next gen consoles with Worms Battlegrounds, a noble entry in the series that sets out to deliver tried-and-true turn-based warfare with a side of silly on The PS4 and Xbox One. And at that goal it succeeds - delivering a Worms games with the most weapons in franchise history, Smart Glass stat tracking, and other refinements like worms not all being the same size, without any annoying buzzwords like 'evolved' 'redefined' or 'for a new generation' to falsely gin up interest. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as they say.

For the uninformed, Worms is a turn-based strategy game that pits your team of heavily customized (and heavily armed) worms against another team in a fight to the death. You attack your enemy by selecting a weapon, an arc for that weapon, and adjusting the amount of power you want to put on it, almost like firing a bow.  The weapons are often times ribald and silly, featuring exploding sheep and holy grenades shaped like the Pope's hat, as well as rocket launchers, grenades, automatic rifles, dynamite, in-map crates with various utilities and way, way, more.

The way, way, more includes a litany of customization options, from changeable dialects and worm names, to hats, to accessories, to what your grave stone will look like when you lose a worm. Oddly, the trickiest thing to figure out was how to rename your entire team. 

The game's single player campaign is serviceable, narrated by a British lass who makes jokes that she thinks are funnier than they really are. These missions introduce a variety of scenarios and objectives that aren't kill all the enemies, and is perfectly fun in a pinch, but in reality Worms has always been a multiplayer focused game. 

With good reason, of course. Engaging in a round of Worms Battlegrounds with a friend who wants to win just as badly as you is chaotic, intense, and occasionally awe inspiring as an errant shot explodes a nearby fire barrel and a cascading series of events occurs, leaving all players dumbfounded, and many worms dead or wounded. Worms Battlegrounds' gameplay is as serious as its presentation is joyful.

Unfortunately controlling that joyfully intense gameplay can be a bit cumbersome at first, especially if you're trying to coerce friends into playing. Selecting weapons and items with the B button without apparent tool tips results in a lot of trial and error as you're not sure if what you selected is the teleporter or something else. Eventually these kinks work themselves out, and then you really only have to worry about confusing the X button and the A button, as A uses your selected item and X jumps, whereas pretty much every video game in the history of the medium has used the A button for jumping. 

This is a confusion that dissipates, but if you go play another game and come back to Worms Battlegrounds, you'll occasionally activate an item you didn't mean to and blow yourself up. These problems multiply ten fold when in the hands of someone who isn't knowledgeable about Worms games. On one hand this makes for another layer of thoroughly enjoyable chaos, but on the other, screwing up what you wanted to do because you forgot what button to hit, feels a bit unfair, if not oddly realistic.

This does little to stymy the joy of the game, though. The franchise is just as charming as ever, even if literally every element feels familiar. The worms talk like high pitched chipmunks, saying all manner of silly things depending on the situation, and the graphics are colorful and bright. Seeing the game on a 'true' HD console is pretty as all heck, and there's no noticeable slowdown or other graphical errors.

Look, if you're one of the many people who caught onto Worms at just the right age, you can't help but have positive feelings toward the franchise. The Worms games have been so good at doing what they do for so long, that gamers with even a tangential relationship with Team 17's omnipresent franchise greet new entries with a smile and wistful sigh. It's like a new Tom Cruise movie, you're probably not going to see it because you've had your fill already, but you're glad he's out there, kicking ass and taking names well into his 60s anyway.

I got my fill of Worms in Summer of 2008, on my back porch, with a new laptop, a few friends, crap beer, and mayhem with a side of adorable. My worms were named after characters in a script I was writing, while my friends chose band members and TV show characters. My worms talked in movie titles, my friends went with Irish and German accents. We even dove into the map editor - something that rarely happens in my particular circle of friends. But like noted philosopher Brad Paisley says, the problem with up is that there's always a down. All good things must come to an end, and this era of my life ended.

See, the reason you won't be seeing Tom Cruise's new flick, and don't find yourself frothing for another Worms game is because the franchise is a lot like cold water. You dive in, you're in, and then once you're out, it's hard to jump back in, which is another way of saying the experience of playing Worms the first time is so great that it's hard to recapture the magic on subsequent attempts. By yourself, the campaign serves only to remind you of the fond memories of matches gone by. Online the experience is castrated by a lack of in-person interaction. You need real human bodies, in your personal space, to truly appreciate the breadth of what Worms Battlegrounds has to offer.

Whether or not you want Worms Battlegrounds depends on your situation. If you're looking for the Worms game that makes playing by yourself an enthralling experience, or changes the game so significantly everything old is new again, this version will not scratch that itch. If you have friends you want to introduce to the franchise - and you'll think they'll actually enjoy it, then by all means have at it, just be aware the worst way to get anyone to like anything is to force them to play it with you. 

And if, by chance, you're someone who has never played a Worms game in their entire life? Prepare to be blown away, literally and figuratively, because there's nothing else like it out there, save for the 20 other games with the same name...that are just like it...that you somehow never heard of. Weirdo.

It is literally impossible to go wrong with a Worms game. They are flat out fun, and always great to have around for a party, social gathering, or any time you simply want to fly a superhuman sheep around a 2D map and make it explode. Because really, where else can you get that? 


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