Reviews

Worms: A Space Oddity

Worms: A Space Oddity's most crushing failure is the absence of the ninja rope.


Publisher: THQ
Genres: Action, Simulation
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Worms: A Space Oddity
Platforms: Wii
Number of players: 1-4
ESRB rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: Team17
US release date: 2008-03-17
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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?
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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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