Platforms: PSP | Wii (reviewed)
Developer: Team 17
If you've ever played more than one instalment in the Worms franchise, then you'll know exactly what to expect with this latest invertebrate free-for-all. Team 17 have been peddling their unique brand of bazooka-busting action for 15 years now, and the series has pretty much perfectly encapsulated the mantra of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' during that decade and a half.
It's a formula that you'll find unchanged with Battle Islands. There are still squads of worms squaring off against one another. There are still a ridiculous number of equally ridiculous weapons. There are still a whole slew of comically voiced comebacks and catchphrases. It's classic Worms.
That's both good and bad news, really. You see, at its core Battle Islands is probably the best Worms game to date, if only because the Worms legacy is such that at any given time the latest iteration is likely to be 'the best' so far. Although the developers flirted with the giant step that was 3D, adding in an extra dimension aside, Worms has never particularly been big on innovation...but no-one can deny the various games over the years have ever been anything less than fun.
The franchise is most definitely on form here, with the odd little addition here and there to try and shake things up a little and keep players interested whether playing solo or with friends. There are four modes to be had in singleplayer: Training, Campaign, Puzzle and Time Attack. Although veterans will be happily flinging banana bombs about and performing fantastic feats of gravity-defying acrobatics with the ninja rope straight off of the bat, newcomers would do well to sink their teeth into the Training mode. Team 17 have had 15 years to perfect it, and it's pretty comprehensive.
The Campaign really plays like any other game of Worms you've ever seen in your lifetime, only it adds in collectibles and a progression system to keep you coming back. This mode has you ensconced on your own mini 'battle island' which you can trick out and upgrade with lots of deadly and amusing accessories, gaining experience for your team, unlocking new weapons and concocting weird and wonderful ways to annihilate your opposition thanks to blueprints you can find scattered across the completely destructible terrain. Tuning up your weaponry is pretty fun at first, although it doesn't add a huge amount to the game
Puzzle mode, however, at least tries to do something new. Similar, in a sense, to the setpieces found in previous games' challenge modes (I'm thinking Worms World Party in particular here), there are 30 or so levels to bust through where your brave soil shuffler is given an incredibly limited supply of resources and generally must find his/her/its way from A to B with only one mine, or a single grenade or three rounds of ninja rope.
There are a huge amount of customisation options that arise from picking things up along your travels, busting through the SP levels and steadily ranking you worms up. Everything from weapons to accessories, little hats and scarves to even more quirky and outlandish voices, there's plenty of stuff to unlock and tinker with. The levels themselves can be obliterated and then rebuilt and refashioned just as you like too, which mean that you can recreate your favourite battlefields from previous instalments, or just build that dark side paradise you've always wanted.
The addition of online multiplayer for this title is a good thing, although I would argue that the turn-based nature of the game, not to mention the appeal of rubbing a perfectly timed and weighted grenade toss into your neighbour's face, has always made Worms a series best suited to local multiplayer, passing the controller around the room, occasionally beating someone with it when they manage to perfectly take account of the prevailing wind to score a beautiful bazooka hit or chastising them for taking the easy way out with the Concrete Donkey.
Worms Battle Islands is a somewhat frustrating game to review, then. Its greatest strengths also serve the basis for its largest weakness. The Worms legacy is so very good that it never really needs to be changed, if it did we'd probably all complain immediately, but that poses a problem: how do you get people to buy into it every few years or so? If you already own Worms Armageddon on XBLA then there's really no need for you to get this. If, however, the Wii is your primary console of choice, or if you're looking for some cutesy family entertainment at Christmas that isn't a sloppily bundled assortment of party games, then this could be just the ticket. No, it was never going to be a 'great' game, but the strength and enduring appeal of the franchise means that it was never going to suck either. Blowing up flowerbed-dwellers is still just as much fun as it's ever been.
- It's a Worms game. It's lots of fun.
- Addition of online multiplayer
- Lots of customisation options
- Not much incentive for series veterans
- Not much incentive for anyone who already owns a Worms game
- Could we maybe have something new, Team 17?
The Short Version: There are no surprises to be had here, and nothing here that will blow your mind. But Battle Islands proves that the Worms formula is still just as fun as it's always been.