Worms World Party Hands-On

We've recently taken a close look at the latest build of Titus' upcoming Worms World Party for the Sega Dreamcast. It features online play and a number of other interesting options.

Worms World Party, released this March for the PC and the Dreamcast, offers fans of previous Worms games and new players alike a strategy experience dedicated to online competition. The aggressive annelids have returned in this exceedingly playable and decidedly humorous next chapter in the Worms saga. Recent Worms games have lacked new gameplay options, something that Team 17 has addressed with a bevy of new missions, training disciplines, and, most importantly, a game dedicated to competition on the "Wormnet," where players can meet for a heavy dose of trash talking and explosive invertebrate destruction.

The way a game of Worms works remains essentially unchanged since its previous versions. Teams of weapon-laden worms are spread out on a randomly generated or preset battlefield that can either take the form of a nook-and-cranny-ridden cavern or an island. Teams then take turns controlling one of their worms, the goal being the destruction of the opposing worm force. The nearly 60 weapons available to your worms are a veritable arsenal of death and tongue-in-cheek destruction. In addition to warfare staples like grenades, handguns, napalm, and bazookas, your worms can summon more unorthodox weapons of mayhem. You can launch exploding sheep, sickness-inducing skunks, or burrowing mole bombs as well as more oddball weapons such as the mighty mad cows, banana bombs, grumbling old ladies, and, in a tip of the hat to Monty Python, the holy hand grenades. Fans of street fighter will be pleased to know that the "dragon ball" and "fire punch" martial arts techniques are back, complete with the trademark animated donning of the Ryu headband. Despite the variety, the weapons set found in this game is not quite as impressive as that found in Worms Armageddon. Worms World Party lacks some favorites like the mail strike and stone donkey but is well rounded enough to still encourage a variety of tactics and stratagems.

Employing these weapons involves making use of a relatively deep system where trajectory, distance, wind speed, and strength affect your aim. The most effective strategies employ timely movement and proper exploitation of the destructible terrain. Opening up a crater beneath a worm can turn him into a prime target for a follow-up grenade, minimizing your own casualties, while destroying enough of the terrain beneath a worm can send him into the water. Worms can't swim very well, so propelling one into the drink will eliminate him. If drowning isn't your cup of tea, using explosives and armaments to drop his life down to nothing will also result in the worm's apparent defeat and self-inflicted explosion. Getting caught in the vengeful death throes of a worm can be painful in itself, so it's best to avoid close proximity to victims. Destroying crates or oil barrels can cause flaming petrol to coat the ground, causing a possible combo attack. This may further cause multiple damage and may induce a replay mode, which handily pops up letting you rejoice in your clever attack for a second time or forcing you to take your lumps in shame. Combat is thus focused on making decisive killings and rapid eliminations. The Dreamcast controller is well suited for Worms gameplay, allowing smooth control for jumping forward, backward, weapon select and shooting as well as convenient analog stick control for camera movement. However, some of the functions, such as the worm select and effective ninja roping are less than intuitive.

World Party hasn't left the conventions set before it and graphically looks identical to its predecessors. The worms are small, 2D sprites on 2D backgrounds, competing on terrain that is either a whimsically creative design like a giant chicken or a randomly generated organic-shaped landmass, coated with a wallpaper effect if you so desire. The backgrounds and prerendered battlefields are of an arguably improved artistic quality, and you can see that Team 17 put a lot of effort into creating a few of the more impressive terrains. The attack and death animations, including some never seen before, are simple, fast, and often comical, without disrupting the pace of the action. For those who need two lumps of graphics with their gameplay, World Party also features a number of FMV movies.

The music in Worms World Party is suitably stirring and exciting, in a clichéd battle theme sort of way, without being overpowering. The sound effects are repetitive but work well with the Worms atmosphere. The squeak of your worm traveling over the terrain is enjoyable, while the explosive effects can often convey a satisfying little boom. Adding to the customization capabilities in World Party, a great number of voice sets, including taunts, death messages, and random patter, are available for you to choose from. Favorites like the Angry Scots and Brooklyn return, along with a staggering number of other choices, including representative voices from major countries around the world and satirical looks at ethnicities, pop culture, and stereotypes from the past and present.

Creating your own team of worms is an involved process itself where you can set your voice options, team and individual worm names, gravestone, flag, and team weapons. Your team is allotted a fixed number of points or currency, which it uses to purchase weapons. Simple, less effective techniques such as the prod cost only a single point, while the mad cow will set you back a massive 20. Striking a good balance between utility items such as the jetpack and weapons like dynamite are key to your team's success.

Introduced in World Party is the definitive source of worm-related information, the Wormopaedia. Not much more than a built-in reference manual, the Wormopaedia offers Team 17 insider tips on the best uses of the different tools available and how to maximize the damage out of every weapon. Each weapon has a comical description in the typical Worm banter that explains the typical uses and damage capabilities of the different weapons in your armory. Some of the tips, like how you can fire a mortar straight down at a worm when standing on its head for impressive damage made us take a second look at what before was a seemingly useless weapon. In addition, a Worms mythology section has been added to each entry, for those who crave some extra reading material.

If you're looking to hone your control over the warlike worms, a series of 19 training disciplines and time-attack modes are included in World Party. If they're completed, they will impart the know-how behind techniques like super sheep control, advanced digging, and ninja rope skill. The 16 time-attack missions are logged, so you can continue to come back and try to reach the times set by Team 17 as "the least possible." Getting within a few seconds of its time on a few of the scenarios can be greatly rewarding, and the skills imparted by the training sessions become invaluable during head-to-head competition.

World Party has introduced a career mode of sorts in its deathmatch mode. Computer opponents have set up an open-ended challenge to the death, where each win for your team is followed by another match at significantly stiffer odds. Your performance is graded based on the amount of casualties suffered versus those inflicted, and after some fierce competition from a rather unforgiving and often insanely accurate AI, an impressive rank can be reached for bragging rights.

Each of the 45 new single-player missions in World Party is introduced with a thinly developed, often old war-movie-themed back story, although the lighthearted tone should not mislead players into thinking that they're at all simple. For example, in the Good Ship Armageddon mission, your worm must secure some valuable cargo from a rapidly sinking ship. Racing the rapidly rising waters is a challenge in itself, but to make things even more sadistically difficult, mines have been strewed across the landscape with instant fuses. Gauging the distance required to set off one of the mines makes completing the mission within the required time limit frustrating yet eventually very satisfying. The missions available fall under a number of refreshingly different schemes, including puzzle-oriented scenarios and others that resemble real-time strategy. Unlocking each of the missions one by one can take a good deal of time and can be quite frustrating. The ability to play the missions in a nonlinear fashion would have been appreciated.

The heart of Worms World Party is in the strength of its all-new multiplayer missions and its Wormnet service. Up to four human opponents can converge on the Wormnet and take part in a number of missions. Gone are the days of hot-seat control, as four-controller support eliminates the previous discomfort of frantic passing and inadvertent (or often intended) premature bazooka explosions. The deathmatch mode is available in multiplayer, so your skills can be pitted against online players and improved or worsened by your performance against human opponents. Because Worms is a turn-based game with modest graphics, lag should have a minimal effect on even large-scale multiplayer gameplay on 56k connections. While not available at the game's current stage, broadband support remains a possibility. The developers are also currently considering including Dreamcast keyboard support for the lobby and pregame chat areas in the final version, which would improve the slow pace of the current chat utility.

Though World Party, at its core, is essentially a new version of Worms Armageddon, it has what looks like an attractive forum for online competition. While the gameplay and extras are essentially unchanged from its predecessors, the new missions available in World Party justify a look by owners of Armageddon. The focus on network head-to-head action is a sign of the times, and while the gameplay found in Worms translates well to network play, it remains to be seen if World Party will inspire a greater amount of competition on its Wormnet.

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