Being a bit of an old-timer, I remember the launch of Worms. As an owner of an Atari ST, I’d read all of the Amiga magazines simply because games would hit the Amiga first, and our team would get them in due course. There’d be a tinge of envy as I’d make a wishlist of the games to get when they arrived on the ST, and I remember Worms being one of them.
At the time, no one was really talking about Worms – at least not in a positive way. You have to realise that Lemmings was only four years old at that point, and was still the game that everyone was playing. Few had played Worms, and the consensus was that it was a Lemmings clone. You have a team of animals that you click to give tools and weapons, all on a 2D plane and with levels that can be generated from random seeds? Pssssh, give over, we’ve already got it! And what’s cool about worms?
If not Lemmings, the comparisons were with Cannon Fodder. Out for two years before Worms, Cannon Fodder gave you a squad, let you name them, and then stuck a dagger in your gut whenever one of them died. They both had the same gallows humour towards war, but Cannon Fodder was there first, and Worms didn’t have anything new to say. The only conversations around Worms were about it being derivative.
As the worms would say: “stupid!”.
Fast forward 25 years, and Worms is thriving, while Lemmings and Cannon Fodder have barely a mobile cash-in to their name. They’re still milestones in gaming, don’t get us wrong, but Worms has endured in ways that those two simply haven’t, and it’s remarkable to think back to how dismissive everyone was of it.
It’s also remarkable to think how little of its core has changed. Sure, it’s dabbled in 3D (Worms 3D is an underrated masterpiece, change my mind), battle royales and more, but iteration after iteration it would come back with the same turn-based, multiplayer battles. Just look at its peers and how much they have developed, whether it’s Mario, Zelda, Metroid or Sonic. Worms is a constant, and the bazookas, homing missiles and banana bombs have been a near ever-present.
In our opinion, there are plenty of good reasons for it. Worms has never really benefited from the improvements that come with new consoles or leaps in PC specs. It’s turn-based, so speed or latency has never been a factor; it’s zoomed out to take in the whole battlefield, so beautifully detailed worms are pointless. Most importantly, it’s based on very simple physics. You throw something, and it hits or it doesn’t hit. An Xbox Series X console won’t change that. All of these things make Worms evergreen, and something you recognise from console to console. Like Bomberman and Tetris, you know that you can rely on the Worms template, and that it’ll bring joy on the latest generation.
Worms also feels like a great leveller of the playing field. Sure, there is still a high skill-ceiling that allows players to master it (it’s often at its best when there is a smaller library of weapons, for this reason), but a newbie player can still pull off a miraculous ricochet shot that decimates an opponent, just as a hardcore player can mistime a shot and watch a cluster bomb tumble back to them. Matches are full of these moments and – if you’ve played a Worms game – you’ve probably got shedloads of memories of them.
That’s the core of what makes Worms so great. Each turn is capable of being a wondrous trickshot or a snowballing tragedy. Because Worms isn’t real-time, everyone’s focus is on that turn. It puts you on one hell of a stage, as people are willing you to succeed or fail or, at the very least, do something memorable.
For a game that was mislabelled as derivative, Worms also did so much that is innovative. The customisation of your team was second to none, switching out voices and names to your preference. The procedurally generated levels meant that you couldn’t memorise and master the environments, levelling things a little bit more. And you wonder whether we’d have an Angry Birds without the destructible levels and risky bazooka shots.
There’s something heartwarming about seeing Team17 and Worms celebrating its 25th anniversary, heralded with the release of Worms Rumble on PS5. It was perhaps inevitable that Worms Rumble would be real-time, arena-based and something of a battle royale in 2020, but there is still that certainty that just around the corner, whether Worms Rumble is successful or not, a 2D Worms will arrive, laden down with sheep and banana bombs. And we’ll buy it, for the umpteenth time, and there will be not a jot of remorse.
And just a nudge, Team17. We’d like some of that Worms Rumble on Xbox too.
Do you have a memory of Worms? Did you dismiss it like we did? Put down a comment in the space below.