At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey PSP Team17 Team17 1-4 (Share system, online)
Requirements Also on...
Memory Stick Duo for saved games Wii

Worms: Battle Islands review

Those Worms really do get around. In 2010 they've popped up on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in Worms 2: Armageddon and the "Battle Pack" DLC, on the PC in Worms Reloaded, and now on the PSP and Wii in Worms: Battle Islands. These new 2D incarnations have breathed new life in to the series allowing it to enjoy the benefits of digital distribution, with easy to update games, cheaper releases, and more control for developer Team 17.

Dave has already looked at the Wii version which was released on disc by THQ. The PSP edition, meanwhile, is being distributed only via the PlayStation Network, for about £16 in the PlayStation Store. It's an interesting price because it's more expensive than the usual download-only titles which tend to come in around the £8-£10 mark, but on the other hand, it packs in content just like a full UMD release. But is it worth the money?

Bang! And the worm is gone.

Bang! And the worm is gone.

If you've never played any of games in the 16 year old series, in particular the ones mentioned above, then here's a quick rundown, courtesy of Dave's review: It's a classic tale of the tragedy of wars; innocent worms being set against one another, forced to stand still whilst banana bombs rain down from above and flying sheep are fitted with explosives... on the other hand, it's also pretty fun. And I use that last bit not just because it was already conveniently written for me, but because Worms: Battle Islands, like most of the series before it, really is rather fun.

Battle Islands continues with the trend of 2D worm battles, following the previous PSP releases Worms Open Warfare and its sequel, the imaginatively named Worms Open Warfare 2. Both of those helped reignite the series following the mixed reception to Worms 4: Mayhem. The return to 2D made most sense for the handhelds, and not because of processing power; the smaller screens wouldn't lend themselves well to navigating with a close behind-the-worm camera (as seen in Worms 4), whereas here you get to see the full battlefield side-on (with the ability to zoom in and out with the shoulder buttons), which is particularly useful when playing multiplayer on one device.

Multiplayer remains a staple of the Worms series, but it's quite different on a handheld than it is on a console or PC. On the one hand you can pass around the device easily so each person takes their turn without difficulty, and the cost of entry is just the single device and game, but on the other hand you don't get the shared experience of watching everyone take each other out before you eyes. The latter can be achieved in this PSP edition of Battle Islands thanks to local and online multi-device multiplayer (or "Ad-hoc" and "Infrastructure" modes in Sony lingo). The online mode provided some initial frustration thanks to a curious login system that requires you to create an account on first go, I found that my username and various combinations were not available, despite the online comunity being (unfortunately) sparsely populated.

There are a lot of customisation options in Battle Islands

There are a lot of customisation options in Battle Islands

Multiplayer features five different modes; Deathmatch, Tactics, Forts, Race, and Triathlon. Deathmatch is what you'd expect, really; just good ol' fashioned Worms, with up to four teams of 4 worms fighting against one another. Tactics is similar to Deathmatch, but with the twist that you are able to use some tactical options in the "war room" before a match begins. There are a range of options you can unlock in the single player, including the ability to survey the battleground and find where you enemy lies, change where your worms will start, and hit an opposing worm with a sniper. It also features the ability to take one of another player's war room abilities if you defeat them in an online conquest. Forts involves two teams each on their own sections of the map, usually islands, who have to take each other out in a battle that usually requires good long-range accuracy. Race is a curious mode involving a dash across a map using either jetpacks or ropes. If you like Deathmatch, Forts, and Race then Triathlon gives you the ability to try a bit of all of them. But not at the same time.

The range of multiplayer options keep things fresh, but for the most part it's the same gameplay that's been underpinning the series for the past 16 years. One of the more recent effects to shake things up in the series has been the increasing depth of single player options. Naturally you can play a standard game by yourself, essentially taking on the multiplayer component but with computer controlled players. However, the more original options in Battle Islands are the campaign, puzzle and time attack modes. The first of these involves six different environments which can have an effect on the gameplay in different ways, such as the underwater section slowing down the projectiles. Each environment then has four islands you must conquer (by playing a normal game of Worms), and there's a boss level to complete. The boss stages offer some interesting scenarios, usually in the form of having one powerful worm that you must use to figure out a way to cause enough damage to the boss before you are killed by the hazardous environment or the overpowered foe. They can be quite frustrating if you can't figure it out, making usual Worms tactics somewhat redundant, but these stages do manage to provide some fresh ideas in the series, and are satisfying when you get them right.

In puzzle mode, another one of the choices, the setup is similar. There are five islands and each feature a puzzle which puts you in a particular scenario. This will often still involve killing other worms, but the thinking part comes from the scenarios you are presented with. Sometimes you won't be able to move, or will spawn with only one health point. Essentially you are stuck in situations that look impossible to survive by conventional Worms methods, but can eventually be solved with a bit of (sometimes frustrating) trial and error.

At the end of the day, it's really the same old Worms

At the end of the day, it's really the same old Worms

Worms: Battle Islands goes well out of its way to provide customisation, even more so than the recent PC version Worms Reloaded which introduced a level editor which also makes an appearance here. It starts with the basics, such as choosing names for your worms, selecting the voice bank, choosing their gravestones, etc. and works its way up to a weapon builder. This lets you combine certain properties, such as damage and sensitivity to the wind, in order to concoct your own devilish creation. Though this feature appeared in none of the other recent Worms games (except the Wii version of Battle Islands, naturally) it did previously appear in Worms 4, and it's just a pity there isn’t the flexibility to recreate our Bog Bomber. But it's still an impressive addition that spices up the action on the field.

All these customisable options aren't just presented to you at the start. After all, you'd probably be overwhelmed by the range, and the game needs to provide a hook to keep you playing through the campaign. As Team Fortress 2 has shown, offering hats and other items will keep people happy, so Battle Islands has curiously introduced a levelling system where you gain experience points when you win games in any of the modes. When you reach a new level a shiny new item is presented to you which you can then use in the aforementioned editors.

Having played rather a lot of Worms games in recent months it has become painfully obvious that the speech banks seem a bit limited. The same phrases can be heard again and again and again, and I know my wife is developing a hatred for the games as a result. It seems harsh that this would be the game where it would finally crack for me, but it does typify a problem for the series; it feels like the same old game, and that variety is a little thin on the ground. Battle Islands gets the core gameplay right, and introduces a few new ideas that make it worth picking it up if you haven't played in years, but if you own the recent PSP editions then the new stuff here is more limited.

Ultimately, Worms: Battle Islands is a fun game, and when taken on its own, without looking to the previous games in the series, it still remains one of the best turn-based action games around. And as always, it's at its most enjoyable when played with friends.

Ratings

Overall Worms: Battle Islands is another great implementation of the tried and tested formula. It has some additions, but that formula essentially remains unchanged. If you don't own a handheld version of Worms you certainly won’t go wrong with this, but otherwise you might want to wait for Team17 to really shake up the series before investing again. 7/10

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