Worms: A Space Oddity

[6 May 2008]

By Cole Stryker

At some point in the last two years, developers found that they could make a ton of money by re-releasing old games for the Wii. No need to improve the graphics, the Wii can’t handle ‘em anyway! You want innovation? How about some gesture-based commands? Dozens of Wii games have followed this model—even Nintendo, a company renowned for innovation and refinement above all else. Who can blame them? They must be enjoying insane profit margins. It’s a disappointing trend, and one that perhaps we should have seen coming.

Worms: A Space Oddity has one of most engaging control schemes in the Wii library. Other than a clumsy scrolling and zooming mechanic, the controls are very simple to pick up, much more so than the PC control scheme in previous games that nearly required players to control the mouse with their elbows while both hands pawed at the keyboard. Throwing a grenade feels like it should, as do uppercuts and jabs. It’s easier to control the speed and trajectory of your projectile attacks by tilting the Wii Remote up and down. This tactile experience is very satisfying, especially when coupled with the tension that comes before close victories.

The game boasts a skimpy single-player campaign that you’ll beat in a few days, littered with middling minigames. But we won’t talk about those, because the game’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition—thanks marketing management degree!) is its readiness to party. Passing the Wii Remote around is much simpler than crowding around a single computer. Due to the game’s turn-based nature, you don’t even need to buy extra controllers.

But wait, no online play? Some unnamed suit from THQ had this to say about the inexcusable lack of wi-fi multiplayer:

Worms: A Space Oddity is a social gaming experience that is best enjoyed locally, in a party-game atmosphere with other players, Team 17 has proven it can deliver a world class online gaming experience through the popular Worms: Open Warfare 2. We’ve chosen to focus on making the best possible local multiplayer experience through fast-paced gameplay and entertaining party-games. Players will get even more fun and satisfaction from being able to see the reaction of their friends and taunting them with attacks face-to-face.

Wait, what? It’s bad enough that THQ has shipped what amounts to an inferior port of a ten year-old game, but do they have to insult my intelligence too? “Online play? Been there, done that, thankyouverymuch. We’re so over it!”

Worms: A Space Oddity‘s most crushing failure is the absence of the ninja rope. The ninja rope was an oddball tool that could make or break a battle in previous Worms titles. Swinging around the playing field, ricocheting off surfaces like a Mexican jumping bean was difficult to master, especially with the aforementioned wonky keyboard controls, but ultimately so much fun. Skilled players could not only traverse the entire landscape in one turn, but also rain down explosives on the enemy in giggling abandon. Robbed of ninja ropes, my crippled worms are limited to the rocket pack, an infinitely less exhilarating mode of transportation. (Note to Team 17: I’d love to play a 2D Worms sidescroller composed entirely of ninja rope-based play. Incidentally, it looks like Bionic Commando, despite oozing with ‘tude, is going to let me down.)

Team 17 opted to remove most of the outlandish weapons like holy hand grenades and exploding grandmothers, ostensibly to tone down the game’s cartoon violence for a Wii audience. We are thus granted a basic arsenal of weaponry, only this time, your uzi is a “blaster” and your air strike is a “UFO strike”. This half-baked space theme reminds me of when director Kevin Smith was approached to work on a sequel to Beetlejuice. He replied, “Didn’t we say all we needed to say in the first Beetlejuice? Must we go tropical?”

Most of these gripes could be forgiven if A Space Oddity had been a refinement of the Worms experience. It’s worse than stagnation, it’s regression. It’s more of a port than a true sequel, because it adds nothing. There are a few improvements here and there, but ultimately the sacrifices A Space Oddity makes outweigh its merits. If the game wasn’t so hamstrung, I could at least recommend it to Wii owners who had yet to play the game. Worms: Armageddon, a decade-old game, available for a few bucks at this point, gives you all this and so much more. And heck, if you’re reading this review, chances are you own a computer that can run it. You can also now play Worms on Xbox Live. With these better, cheaper alternatives, must we go celestial?

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/worms-a-space-oddity/