|Dev: Team 17|
|Release: Novemebr 23, 2010|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Steve Haske
Back in the day, Team17 released a strategy title called Worms Armageddon. Like other games in the Worms series, Armageddon pit small teams of carnage dash crazed annelids against each other in a campaign of strategic, turn-based combat, and while it wasn't the first major release in the franchise, it was arguably where Worms really caught on for home consoles. Aside from the fact that Armageddon's cartoony aesthetic has since paved the way for the somewhat Pixar-ish look seen on the cover of Worms games made today, the gameplay hasn't changed much. What does this mean to you? It means that if you've played any Worms games at all since the PS one, you'll know exactly what you're getting into with Battle Islands.
If you haven't played Worms, though, a little more explanation is in order. It's a turn-based war game that often comes down as much to skill, timing, and proper weapon selection as it does to strategy, but that's not the only appeal Worms has. Team17 has always made Worms a customizable experience, so that you can tweak settings to your heart's content, and the tongue-in-cheek nature of the series—you can throw a holy hand-grenade whose massive explosion is preceded by a choir singing "Hallelujah," for example—makes the whole experience entertaining. Essentially your squad of worms is placed at various adjustable intervals on a flat, 2D map. Given a variety of melee and traditional weaponry, as well as more ridiculous ordnance such as the aforementioned holy hand grenade as well as exploding sheep, bison, donkeys, and other animals, you take turns trading shots and laying traps with an enemy squad until your foes are all dead.
The terrain itself is usually a jagged, uneven assortment of odds and ends which can provide cover or sometimes backfire on you when trying to maneuver your none-too-agile worms to cross some difficult terrain. It's also destructible, meaning you can use all manner of explosives, blowtorches, drills, and the like to burrow deep into the level itself to potentially provide cover. Since Worms requires tactics over an itchy trigger-finger, planning or setting up defenses can often take more time than actually killing your enemies.
The good news is if you've got a PSP, the controls, for the most part, work beautifully. You can zoom in the map and move the camera around with the analog nub, while the d-pad takes care of actually controlling the action of each worm. Worms' control scheme has always been relatively simple: to use most weapons it's generally just a matter of aiming your reticle, holding down the action button to get the appropriate amount of power, speed and distance, and either using wind direction or resistance or, say, using an explosion from a grenade to knock a worm into a randomly placed mine. The ease of use has always made Worms a good fit for consoles, but the camera zoom and manual movement can be really helpful when lining up tricky arcs with your bazooka. The Worms formula here is the same as it's always been.
The series' customization aspect is mostly intact. It's standard to be able to adjust any number of gameplay and cosmetic elements of the game, from your team's name, the speech of your worms, and gravestone markers, to weapon and environmental factors. Picking up blueprints throughout Battle Islands' thirty-level campaign also allows you to create and test your own customizable levels and weapons with different impact and mechanic characteristics. Aside from the regular campaign, you can also play deathmatch with friends or against the computer AI, or partake in puzzle-based levels, challenging you to take out a given number of worms without the convenience of health, movement, or a variety of weapons. For Worms vets, these levels in particular are a treat—they really force you to think about how best to use your environment and limited skills to pull off some interesting maneuvers. Sometimes it's almost more fun to play Worms aggressively, to see if you can still come out on top with little health and a whole squad gunning for you.
It's clear that Team17 has, as usual, taken an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, and whether or not that's a good thing is going to depend on how much you like the series. Yeah, Battle Islands is essentially just another chapter in the same old Worms we've been playing for a decade, but at the same time, the developers have the series down to a science now. Navigating menus can be cumbersome and the load times are particularly atrocious. If you enjoy Worms or are looking for a new strategy game for your PSP, I would recommend this series.
As great as it would be to see Team 17 inject some new mechanics into Worms, it's still a great series. Though I usually rail against a lack of innovation in games, Battle Islands is probably a rare case where there's not much that needs fixing. It's destined to fly under people's radar, but the slow, deliberate types could do a lot worse.
CCC Freelance Writer