Review – Worms: Battle Islands (PSP)
Being what I would describe as a seasoned, hardcore gamer – as seasoned as a 22-year-old can be anyway! – it’ll probably shock you when I say that I’ve never played a Worms game before in my life.
Aside from a dalliance with a demo on PSone about 12 years ago. Considering it’s one of those franchises that just won’t die, that’s quite a feat!
Worms: Battle Islands is the latest in this exceptionally lengthy line-up of turn-based strategy games, putting you in the command of, as the name suggests, an army of wriggling invertebrates.
Very similar to real-life worms, albeit with one slight difference – this variety are more likely to fire a missile into your face at point-blank range than the usual banality of nibbling on dead things in your flowerbed. For the three people left on the planet that aren’t aware of the concept of Worms, here it is. – imagine Lemmings with more guns and less suicide. Up to four teams of worms, all packing heat in all manner of different ways, battle for supremacy on a range of fully destructible island landscapes. Worms in the field take it in turns to fire on the opposite team with their weapon of choice, be that the Bazooka, Banana Bomb or the ineffable Concrete Donkey, to name but a few.
A four-player Multiplayer match. About to get very, very messy.
Battle Islands packs a plethora of single-player and multi-player game-types, including a solo campaign chock full of missions and challenges, plus Deathmatch, Puzzle, Racing, Time Attack and Fort modes. The campaign puts you at the command of your very own island fortress, while enemy bases on the surrounding islands must be fought and conquered. Battles take place across six distinct locations including an Arctic base, a jungle outpost and a chemical plant.
Each mission begins in the War Room, a pre-match lobby where you can upgrade your island with an array of devastating perks and use reconnaissance information to formulate an effective strategy. A useful feature for a complete newbie like myself, upon selecting a mission your personal, moustached scholar of warfare will proffer a possible strategy. Whether you follow his lead or put your own plan together is entirely up to you. As you battle onward and grow stronger, you’ll gain XP and rank up, unlock new weapons, abilities and clothing for your worms.
Your army start out with a basic arsenal, unlocking new ordnance by recovering blueprints from the battlefield. As always, the landscape is completely destructible, meaning even the most meticulous plan can be turned on its head at the last second by a misplaced explosive. “Naughty little mine, blowing up that bridge!… Arse.” Of course, if said bridge is populated by multiple members of the opposite team who proceed to plummet to their watery deaths, you can pass off these pitiful moments of utter despair as calculated, maniacal genius.
Unfortunately, the AI isn’t infallible – your fearsome opposition are as likely to fire a rocket into their own face as they are yours – so it’s playing against human players, either via the PlayStation Network or with up to four players over a wireless Ad Hoc network where Worms: Battle Islands really comes into its own. Multiplayer Worms doesn’t deviate much from solo play, aside from adding a selection of game-types, including the all-new Tactics mode where the winning player gets the opportunity to liberate an item from an enemy’s island making for ferocious competition.
What your island might look like after a trip to Tools-of-Destruction’R'Us.
Battle Islands is a gorgeous-looking game. True, it’s 2D and the characters are so small they take up about three pixels each, but the backgrounds are beautifully drawn in a vivid, comic-book style art design with charming smoke and explosion effects icing an already pretty sweet confection. The soundtrack is subtle for what is effectively a war game under a thin veil of cuteness, but it’s fitting nonetheless, with compositions designed specifically for the various locales featured in the game.
Team17, developer of the Worms franchise, have been criticised over the years for choosing to continuously refine a simple formula rather than taking the risk of reinventing it. However, it’s also a winning formula which, after 15 years, still has millions of loyal fans all over the world, who will be delighted to take a handheld Worms game to war online once again, after the servers for their last PSP outing Worms: Open Warfare 2 were shut down in early 2009.
You may be sick of the sight of Worms but you won’t play a more charming strategy game this year. Battle Islands doesn’t bring much in the way of exciting new features to the series which – let’s be fair – by now shouldn’t come as much of a shock to veteran players. What it does do however, is bring the perpetual, stupidly addictive magic of Worms to a fresh audience and, more importantly, a new generation of younger gamers, which is no bad thing.
Worms: Battle Islands is available now for PSP via the PlayStation Network, priced at £24.99. A Wii version is also available – review coming soon!