Crispy Gamer

Worms: Open Warfare (DS)

For the uninitiated, the silly premise of this Nintendo DS game is as follows: Players must control a small fleet of soldiers at war, but human they are not -- they're worms. The goal is to annihilate the enemy team of worms by carefully selecting the best weapon to use for the job, which enemy worm to wipe off the map, and where to move your worm before and after the attack. As wacky as the game sounds, it requires a lot of tactical forethought, precision and imagination.

Because it's turn-based, players have a time limit per turn to make all of these aforementioned decisions. And don't be fooled by the cutesy graphics -- these worms mean war, and they've got a helluvan arsenal to choose from. Along with the mainstays in war games such as bazookas, homing missiles, cluster bombs, pistols and grenades, there's a sheep launcher, an exploding buffalo, concrete donkey and many others. Worms players will agree there's nothing like selecting a giant finger to prod a rival worm into a detonating landmine or the deep water.

There are also key items to acquire and use to help navigate around the landscape, such as ninja ropes, girders, parachutes, jetpacks, teleports and pneumatic drills, to name a few. Again, this is where the strategy comes in: analyzing how to get your worm where you want it and which weapon is most ideal for the situation (and whether you have enough time to do it all in this one turn).

The two-dimensional screens that serve as the battlegrounds throughout the ages are colorful and creative, and each time a new game is played the landscapes are randomly generated for added replayability. Worms and mines are also randomly placed on the level each time.

So a sample scenario might play out like this: It's your team of four worms against a rival team. It's your turn, so the game points to which worm you're to use for the attack. Take a look around the environment and select a suitable enemy worm to annihilate. Say you're a little higher than your adversary, so you select a grenade from your arsenal, inch your way so you're looking over the cliff at the victim, drop the grenade and then inch away as fast as you can so you don't get any damage yourself. The grenade goes off, and the enemy worm, who starts with 100 health points, will lose a certain amount of points depending on the weapon used and proximity to the victim. A direct hit with a grenade might lose half that worm's health. When the worm hits zero or falls into the water, you've reduced the size of the rival worm army; you win the entire level when all four baddies are gone. Cute sound effects have your worm victims nervously anticipating the attack, screaming in pain, or cursing in a high-pitched voice.

There are a number of game modes to choose from in Worms: Open Warfare 2. The single-player game modes include a robust (and much-needed) Training arena; the main Campaign game (play through all four different warfare ages and unlock new missions); a Puzzle mode with uniquely drawn maps and specific objectives such as to kill all enemy worms or to collect crates using girders to climb to hard-to-reach areas; and a Laboratory mode with specific mini-games to play through in one of three categories: Blow, Blast or Draw.

As if this wasn't enough worm-killing for you, Open Warfare 2
offers wireless game modes over the Nintendo DS Wi-Fi Connection for up to four players, including cooperative or competitive play (called Friends and Rivals), Random Match, or a Ranked Match where you get to play against the best Worms players in the world. (A leaderboard is available at www.wormsopenwarefare2.com).

And in the words of celebrated TV infomercial guru Ron Popeil, 'But wait -- there's more!' Worms: Open Warfare 2 also features many customization options for virtually limitless gameplay. As in other Worms games, this includes the ability to create your own levels (via the intuitive Landscape Editor); change your team's name, sounds and language (in the Manage Teams area); change the rules of play (under Manage Schemes); and you can even design your own team's flag with the -- yep, you guessed it -- Flag Editor.
While fun, challenging and satisfying, with many solo and multiplayer game modes and customization options, the game isn't perfect. For one, it can be difficult at times to get a good sense of the environment in which you're fighting, as it is spread out on two screens (or you can choose to have the top screen as a color-coded map of the entire landscape). At times you'll need to physically move the camera with the directional keypad (by pressing up or down) or using the stylus because the game's camera isn't in the right spot to, say, gauge your trajectory for a range weapon.

The second shortcoming will only miff fans of the Worms series who were expecting more: Despite the stylus pen and touch-screen interface, this game is nearly identical to every other Worms game out there (and there are many). But to those sticklers who don't want the U.K.'s Team17 to mess with the formula, they'll love this portable dual-screen adaptation of the beloved turn-based strategy game.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.