It's hard to believe that the Worms series began well over a decade ago, but its popularity has seen the games appear across most of the major gaming platforms since. Worms: A Space Oddity brings most of the fun of worm-battling to the Nintendo Wii, marrying Worms' traditional 2D gameplay to a particularly clever control system.
Worms: A Space Oddity, like the vast majority of games in the franchise, involves turn-based fights between up to four teams of worms. You're given an arsenal of weapons and tools, and the last team standing wins. To supplement your initial firepower, you must collect weapons and health crates all while discovering good offensive and defensive positions.
The standard Versus modes of battle are there in beginner, intermediate, and pro difficulties. These modes present increasing levels of challenge by shortening turn times and increasing opponent skill. Also present are additional modes, such as Short Supply, where only one of each kind of weapon is available, making crate collection vital. You can also choose to play the last-man-standing Fort battles, which are as much about strategic defence as skilled attack.
The Wii Remote is all you need to play, and the turn-based nature of the game allows up to four players to share one controller if necessary. The motion-sensitive controls are used to good effect. The occasionally unreliable homing missile has been replaced with a new rocket that you steer to its target using the Wii Remote. It makes precision guiding eminently achievable with a steady hand, and there's a true sense of satisfaction when the enemy is hit. Plunging down the controller to set off a carefully placed atom pack adds that extra bit of venom as a friend watches in local multiplayer as well. On the downside, controlling the camera can be frustrating because you have to hold the + button and move the Wii Remote to pan. The result is a camera that doesn't move smoothly, which can be especially irritating in "Pro" games where turn times are fairly short.
One of the criticisms from Worms fans of many of the newer games in the series is that the weapon choice is underwhelming, and A Space Oddity is no exception. The entire arsenal comprises a mere 10 full-bore weapons and seven tools. While some of them are great fun (the drop ship will bring back happy memories of the concrete donkey to experienced players), as battles go on, it's hard not to wish for the variety of attacking options available in previous Worms games. Worms World Party on the PC, for example, had more than 50 weapons available. Many of the weapons in A Space Oddity will be recognizable to fans of the series, regardless of the fact that they've been nicely reworked in keeping with the game's sci-fi theme.
The single-player story mode adds an interesting dimension. The story thread takes you through a series of puzzle- and battle-based levels within each world as you struggle to rebuild your ship and get back to Earth. You might find yourself outnumbered in a battle, digging your way through a level strewn with atom packs or using the environment to take on an opponent with high health points, for example. The story mode levels are useful as practice for the main battles or as a puzzle-based diversion, but they are not compelling in the same way as battling other teams of worms.
Completing the five levels for each world in the story mode unlocks a sixth task, which then also becomes available as a stand-alone minigame. These are a nice add-on, but they are unlikely to draw too much attention away from the main game, unless you have a particular liking for whack-a-mole or Space Invaders.
The single-player tutorials are a useful place to start because they take you through each of the weapons and tools, as well as their particular controls. Some of tutorials are precursors to later levels within the single-player story mode. Given the limited time available in higher difficulty matches later on, familiarity with the weapons and their control methods is key to success. The tutorial times are saved, so as you get better at the game, you can choose to go back and beat them.
What is missing--and it's a real shame--is online multiplayer. While the single-player game is fun and useful for enhancing skills, multiplayer is really what Worms is all about. The local multiplayer in Worms: A Space Oddity is as much fun as you'd expect it to be, despite the limited weapons, but the opportunity to play online battles would really add a compelling element to the game.
As in previous games, Worms: A Space Oddity provides the opportunity to set up your own teams (of three worms) and to create custom landscapes. Creating your own landscapes using the Wii Remote is simple and satisfying. You draw the outline of the landscape that you want and choose elements from all the different environments available. Up to 16 maps can be saved. You can choose from a range of options for team basics, such as colour, flag, and audio. We liked the Yoda-esque master personality ("The darkness, I sense in you"), but if you prefer the basic English/French/Spanish variants on insults and battle cries, they are all available. The taunts and phrases throughout the game are as quirky and amusing as ever, although a greater variety would have been welcome. You can also create your own battle type, specifying such options as the number of victories necessary for a win, the frequency of crates, and the timing of turns.
Worms: A Space Oddity is unlikely to win any awards for art design, but that's not to say the imagery doesn't fit within the game. Bright, colourful environments reflect the worlds they represent--the alien plant life in Tenticlia is a particular highlight. One new twist is that the environments can have a bearing on the outcome of matches. Each world has its own hazards, which must be taken into account during competitive matches. When playing on Earth, for example, UFOs may swoop down and grab a worm, then relocate it elsewhere on the map. Given the lamentable lack of ninja ropes or a select worm option, this displacement can be crucial to the result of the match.
It's good to see that the series' first crack at Nintendo's console is an all-new game, clearly created with the Wii and its controller in mind. The single-player game contains enough to teach a new player all about the game, and the multiplayer is almost as much fun as ever. It's a shame that Team 17 didn't include a more impressive weapon selection and that the game doesn't include the online multiplayer that has made it a real hit on other platforms, but there's still plenty of fun to be had with Worms: A Space Oddity.