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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

iPhone/iPad Review: Worms 2: Armageddon

Posted by Earnest "Nex" Cavalli on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 10:25 AM

Air strike! Fuck yeah!
  • Team17 Software
  • Air strike! Fuck yeah!

Worms has never received the love it deserves.

The series, which, in its best days pits two teams of annelids against one another in a war of hilariously deadly weapons, surprisingly complex physics modeling and stereotypical accents, started out as a true gem of the computer gaming world, and never really rose above "unsung classic."

Recent entries in the Worms canon might lead you to believe that after years of being ignored the series' creators just said "screw it," and instead of crafting clever, inventive sequels, opted to cash in by slapping the brand name on any pile of shit their publisher would hand them.

Worms fans have been incensed by the downhill slide, but can you blame the developers? They created a genuine classic, only to have most people, even "gamers," roundly ignorant that they even exist. At that point, I would've taken the cash too.

As a reviewer, you can see how this (admittedly imaginary) scenario would make me cynical about any Worms sequels sent my way. It is with that mindset that I approached Worms 2: Armageddon, a recent App Store release for the iPhone and iPad.

I think I even sighed while starting it up.

Wanna hear how it turned out? There's a jump there. You know what to do.

Hell hath no fury like a worm who knows how to compensate for wind.
  • Team17 Software
  • Hell hath no fury like a worm who knows how to compensate for wind.

Worms 2: Armageddon
Developed by Team17 Software
Available Now for iPhone and iPad

To be blunt, I'm probably not the best person to be reviewing a Worms game. I've been a huge fan of the series since first discovering it in a Babbage's in 1996, and if you couldn't tell from the introduction, I've long been pushing for it to have a wider following. When Worms is good, it's amazing, and more people should know about it. Maybe it wouldn't cure feline AIDS, but it would make the heartbreak of finding out that your cat is going to die as a result of gay cat butt sex a little easier to bear*.

On the other hand, when Worms is bad, it's most comfortably slotted alongside any Wii release without a Mario brother on the label. Again, it's that unsurprising cash-in mentality, but I could see it turning off those same people I hope to convert to the cult of homicidal annelidae.

The good news is that Worms 2: Armageddon, the second series release for Apple's iPhone and iPad, is good. It's damn good. It's good enough to stand alongside its namesake from 1999. Admittedly, all this praise comes with a few caveats, but that's my job. To make the with the explaining of the caveats.

Right after I complete my happy dance.

*dance, dance, dance*

*dance, pause, drink root beer, laugh at how I originally typed that as "root bear," contemplate leaving this review as is and instead drawing a hilarious picture of a "root bear" — imagine half-bear-half-Swamp-Thing hybrid — then think better of it, dance, dance*

*dance, dance, complete dance now that I'm out of root bear*

Alright, so, like I said, Worms 2: Armageddon is an excellent game. It may very well be the best strategy game in the App Store, and given the vast, VAST number of games in the Store, that's a pretty solid achievement.

Or, it would be if most of them weren't actually just collections of fart noises or Apps that play back demodulated gunfire sounds.

The point I'm making here is that the App Store is dumb.

Sheep bomb: The last thing you ever see is an angry, wooly blur.
  • Team17 Software
  • Sheep bomb: The last thing you ever see is an angry, wooly blur.

Moving right along, if you've ever played one of the original, 2-D Worms games, the gameplay here will be familiar to you. You're given a team of the titular worms, pitted against up to three other teams and tasked with blowing the hell out of them with an arsenal to rival ... well, no one really since Worms' arsenal tops any film or game I can think of.

Though Worms 2: Armageddon doesn't have quite as many weapons as its PC counterparts, you still have tons of guns, bombs and other things to choose from, including all the fan favorites. Homing missiles, dynamite, miniguns, Street Fighter-style fireballs, explosive cluster bananas, concrete donkeys, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch — this game has everything. It's only surprising that they didn't include a weaponized kitchen sink just to offer reviewers the impetus to type "it has everything up to and including the kitchen sink."

Recall that first bit, where I said the game has vast weapon options, but not quite as many as its PC forebears? That's actually a pretty solid descriptor for most of the game.

Tons of missions, but not quite as many as the PC games.

Tons of accents to give your customized worm army, but not quite as many as the PC games.

Even tons of gravestones to mark your fallen soldiers, but again, not quite as many as the PC games.

Most likely this paring down of content was the result of a desire to keep the App's file size relatively small, thus ensuring speedy downloads and preventing buyers from running out of space on their iThing's internal flash memory drive. Though, if you're a cynic, you might think that in this era of microtransactions and pricey downloadable content that the people behind Worms 2: Armageddon are holding back a handful of extra hats or map styles that they'll offer to fans for a premium a few months down the road. Honestly I could see it going either way, but I'm not too worried as the amount of content already on hand is quite sizable, especially given the game's portable, downloadable nature.

The iPad's larger screen does make the game a bit easier on the eyes, as do its increased graphical capabilities.
  • Team17 Software
  • The iPad's larger screen does make the game a bit easier on the eyes, as do its increased graphical capabilities.

Given that this version of Worms was developed specifically for Apple's devices, it's understandable that the developers would have to alter a few series hallmarks, and for the most part the solutions they came up with are quite clever.

Gameplay in Worms has always been a combination of keyboard keys and mouse button clickery. You use the keyboard arrows to move your spineless soldiers, the mouse cursor to aim, and your left and right clicks to fire and select weapons, respectively. Given that neither iPad nor iPhone has a keyboard or a mouse, you'd think the translation would be a bit rocky, but not only did Team17 manage it, they made it rather intuitive.

Movement is handled by pressing the direction you want your worm to walk (crawl? slither? ooze?), with jumps handled via a quick finger swipe in the appropriate direction. At first the system seems to respond to your demands at random, but after a bit of practice and learning how everything works, you're quickly able to maneuver your lil' dude all over the place.

The weapons system couldn't get away without at least a single button, so Team17 created two. One on the bottom left of the screen to access your arsenal, and one on the right to fire. Once your worm is in place, and your weaponry is selected, you put a finger on the handy on-screen crosshair, drag it to your chosen degree of inclination, then press fire. Once the "power gauge" has filled with the right amount of launching strength, you release the fire button and your weapon goes off, hopefully to explode another worm.

Again, it all works pretty well with a bit of practice, but on the iPhone at least, one problem arises in the aiming portion of that whole thing. With the relatively small screen size, placing your finger on a crosshair and dragging it to aim tends to obscure your vision of what exactly you're aiming at. It isn't hugely detrimental, and at worst it forces you to spend an extra second or two adjusting the crosshair, but it is a bit annoying trying to aim through your most likely opaque digits.

If any of you can actually manage this, I will buy you a pony.
  • Team17 Software
  • If any of you can actually manage this, I will buy you a pony.

While I would classify that issue as a "minor annoyance," there is one "gigantic pain in the ass" issue that the system causes as well.

Ever since it was introduced to the series, the Ninja Rope has been a favorite among fans. Talented players can use the device to swing around entire levels, Tarzan-style. A worm swinging from a Ninja Rope attached to the ceiling, before releasing mid-swing, firing off another Rope into a nearby girder, and raining sticks of dynamite down on unsuspecting foes is an incredibly impressive feat when done right. I've seen high level multiplayer matches where a player would take out an entire opposing army in a single turn with some amazing Ninja Rope acrobatics.

In short, the Ninja Rope is awesome.

Unfortunately, owing to the solutions created to make sure Worms 2: Armageddon was a functional game, it's nearly impossible to even use the Ninja Rope, let alone pull off ninja-style acrobatics with it. I won't claim that I'm the best Worms player on earth, but I could certainly use a single Ninja Rope to grapple my way across a level, and yet in this game I can't even guarantee I'll be able to pull myself up a steep incline.

I don't want to be too hard on Team17 for this one because I've racked my brain for days trying to imagine a good way to implement the Rope, and I've come up with nothing. I understand the desire to appease long-time series devotees by including a staple of the Worms armory, but if they couldn't get the Rope to work right, it really should have been left out.

Shedding a tear over it not being included would be a lot less painful than trying desperately to use an iteration of the Ninja Rope that is simply broken.

As far as super weapons go, I prefer the Concrete Donkey.

The fact that Worms 2: Armageddon includes a design flaw as glaring as that, yet still qualifies as a candidate for the best strategy game on its platform should be seen as a big gold star plastered across its nose. The series' incredibly addictive nature, that characteristic that has made it such a classic on the PC, is here in full force, and having the ability to play for a few minutes, shut the game off and pick up right where you were hours later is incredibly useful in a game stored inside your phone.

Did I not mention that Worms 2: Armageddon automatically saves its state if you do anything to shut it off? Sorry. It does that. It's pretty cool.

Also, the game offers a "Low Graphics" mode for people playing on the iPhone. While the smaller device can handle the game's standard graphics well enough, it gets bogged down if huge explosions start popping off all over the place. The "Low Graphics" setting makes the game run quite a bit smoother, but changes so little of the actual graphics that most people won't even be able to point out the aesthetic difference between the two modes.

iPad owners need not worry about such things since their $600 status symbol has all the horsepower necessary to render the game's 2-D graphics at full speed.

When people find out what I do for a living, a lot of them ask me for suggestions on what games to buy — well, that's what they ask after cooing and saying their son would absolutely love my job, and if I could possibly get him into the industry despite his total lack of experience, because he, like, "plays a ton of that Halo game with his friends on the Nintendo," and it's not like being a journalist takes any sort of skill set or talent and ... seriously, fuck all middle-aged women — and that goes double for iGadget owners.

Not, uh, not the "fucking" thing. I meant the "asking me about what games to buy." That's what goes double for the iPeople.

Thanks to Apple's App Store rules, that place is best described as a trash bin full of the bullshit "games" that no sane publisher would touch with Midway's dick. Unless you follow the scene religiously, wading through the Store's game selection is as fun as cutting your eyelids off. Most iPhone owners just find something comfortingly familiar, like Ms. Pac-Man or one of those shit translations of a recent console game, play it twice, then forget their phone can even play games.

With all that in mind, Worms 2: Armageddon is going on my short list of iGames to recommend. Alongside Bejeweled 2, Crayon Physics Deluxe and Rolando, this is a title that is not only entertaining, it elevates its platform to something actively approaching a respectable gaming device. The iWhatevers won't ever compete with the Nintendo DS (or even the slowly dying PSP), but thanks to developers like Team17 Software, they do have some quality offerings for those willing to look for them.

And as an extra bonus, Worms 2: Armageddon will only set you back $5. Rad, no?

I really, really like air strikes.

* - Whoa now tiger, no need to call up a posse of really well dressed, color-coordinated vigilantes. That was a joke about feline acquired immune deficiency syndrome, anal sex, and possibly being sad. It was not a joke about homosexuals being the only cause of AIDS.

We all know you can also get it from toilet seats and sharing a malted at a sock hop.

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