While it's changed publishers many times over the years, there's one thing that UK-based developer Team17 has not changed, and that's been the formula for its critically and commercially successful action strategy series, Worms. Now, after producing no fewer than seven Worms games using the same basic premise, Team17 has applied the fun Worms style to a fast-paced puzzle game. The result is a solid puzzler with an almost impeccable presentation.
Keep in mind, this is a Worms game only in name and appearance. The game itself has much more in common with Taito's long-running Bust-A-Move puzzle series. In Worms Blast, you'll be presented with a vertical playfield with an assortment of different-colored blocks along the top and your character floating in a little canoe on the surface of the water below. Armed with a bazooka that produces randomly colored ammunition, you'll want to launch ammo at blocks that match the color of your blasts, which will make those blocks fall. The control is extraordinarily simple, giving you horizontal movement across the surface of the water, vertical aim with the bazooka, and a single fire button, all of which can be customized on the keyboard to your liking. Unlike in the Bust-A-Move series, which has always maintained a very straightforward puzzle-game goal structure--clear all the blocks and win--the goals in Worms Blast are not always simply to clear the field. In fact, in many of the game's modes, clearing blocks is the byproduct of other, more-specific goals, and in certain game types it's actually undesirable to clear them.
Worms Blast features single- and multiplayer modes, both of which can be a lot of fun. In the single-player puzzle mode, you're presented with a world map marked with different location points. Traveling from point to point, you meet with a series of challenges, each one unique in its own way. Some are as simple as clearing all the blocks in the field before time runs out, while others charge you with clearing only certain colored blocks or clearing specific blocks using a limited number of shots. Some don't involve clearing blocks at all, instead giving you the task of avoiding falling objects or dodging a big stone snake that's slithering around the playfield. The puzzle mode presents you with constantly changing goals and an extreme level of challenge. The difficulty is pretty unforgiving from the beginning and can verge on being keyboard-smashingly frustrating. The game gives you unlimited continues in this mode, but considering its otherwise kid-friendly presentation, it's doesn't make much sense that the puzzle mode doesn't ramp up the difficulty more gradually.
The single-player tournament mode in Worms Blast is basically a collection of unconnected minigame challenges, like shooting falling targets or clearing falling lines of blocks. Instead of giving you a specific goal to reach, the tournament games just keep on going, with your aim being the highest score possible. The tournament mode is more a diversion than anything else, and it isn't really as compelling as either the puzzle or versus modes.
The multiplayer modes in Worms Blast are actually a bit more straightforward than the wild single-player games. Each has its own objectives, like a rising water line or a goal of collecting more stars than your opponent. But, this window dressing aside, the versus mode in Worms Blast comes down to clearing more lines than your opponent and using offensive bonus power-ups, which you'll find lodged among the colored blocks, to trip up the other guy. It's set up like a standard split-screen puzzle game, with two separate playfields split down the middle. Interestingly, the dividing line between the two fields will open up, presenting a gap through which you can launch attacks on your opponent or on your opponent's blocks. This all makes for some good, competitive fun, which is why it's disappointing that Worms Blast supports only two players simultaneously. But if you happen to be playing the game by yourself, the AI will put up a good fight in the versus mode.
Worms Blast is the first game to render Team17's spineless heroes in three dimensions, but the result, while certainly different from past Worms endeavors, retains the unique Worms style. The characters look great, and though they're relatively small on the screen, they retain a fair amount of detail, and the limited animations you'll see are also well done. All the characters have a flat-shaded look to them, which helps them blend in with the game's otherwise two-dimensional presentation. The backdrops for the action all appear to be hand painted, and their watercolor-inspired look complements the lighthearted feel of the game nicely. The sound design is equally upbeat and fun, sporting a catchy soundtrack and plenty of squeaky, high-pitched exclamations from the characters. The weapon fire is decent and sounds as though it were lifted directly from a past Worms game. It's doubtful that you'll marvel at the technology that powers the game, but what Worms Blast lacks in raw technical prowess it makes up for with a clean, polished look and a very cohesive sense of style.
Don't go into Worms Blast expecting another turn-based Worms strategy game. The gameplay is almost fundamentally different in Worms Blast, but it maintains the bright and colorful style of a Worms game, and fans of the series may enjoy Worms Blast on these merits alone. It may look cute and innocuous, but Worms Blast can give any modern puzzle game a run for its money, so if you're a fan of puzzle games, you should definitely give this one a try.