Open up a whole new can of Worms as 2D platform battle meets Tetris-like puzzle action. Worms Blast is an all-new game based on the popular series of turn-based action titles which began with 1995's PC hit Worms. This 2002 release has the player controlling a character who sits in a small boat and shoots away "cell" objects that drop down from above. A variety of wacky specials and power-ups are designed to both confound and delight. Numerous single-player and multiplayer modes are supported.
Earlier Worms titles succeeded not only due to unexpectedly rich and engaging gameplay, but also because of the endearing sense of humor conveyed by the cute little invertebrate heroes. Showcasing the "Worms Universe" like never before, Worms Blast features several newly developed characters who appeared less prominently (often as weapons!) in earlier games, including Calvin the Super Sheep, Ethel the Old Woman, Stavros Skunk, and Rocky the Concrete Donkey.
The Worms series of games have always been a bit off-kilter. In its initial incarnation as a time-sensitive 2D turn-based strategy game, Worms pitted cute little animated earth-munchers against one another with a vast arsenal of weapons and power-ups amid bright, colorful environments that got blown to bits in the process. As fans eagerly anticipate the first 3D incarnation of the series next year, Team 17 have created an unusual spin-off to keep us quite busy and amused: the rather addictive and hyperactive combat puzzle game, Worms Blast.
Although Blast has the look of a Worms game, the gameplay is totally different. It's more like the puzzle-flavored Bust-a-Move, which involves shooting bubbles at puzzle pieces falling from the sky. In this game, you control a little boat-bound character armed with a bazooka that fires color-coded missiles. You can move left and right, tilt the cannon up and down to alter your trajectory, and collect other weapons and power-up crates, released by destroying puzzle pieces with a missile of the same color.
Since your character is in a boat, you also have to contend with rising tides, torrential weather conditions, sea monsters, and other hazards of the deep zooming around as you fight for survival. In most of the challenges, puzzle pieces gradually descend towards the water regardless of whether or not you shoot at them, so it's important to keep clearing the puzzle pieces lest you get pushed underwater. In addition, rising tides must be quelled by gathering falling stars, which are also among the puzzle pieces. If your aim is terribly off, and you hit nothing at all, cartoon items such as anvils, refrigerators, and cannonballs will fall from the sky, geared towards bonking you on the head and damaging your health. It's a far cry from the whole "you-take-a-turn, I-take-a-turn" format of the original games.
Worms Blast offers a number of gameplay modes. There are numerous full-screen challenges where you face the puzzles alone, as well as a number of head-to-head modes where you play via split screen against another person or the CPU. It's a good idea to play through some of the single-player challenges first -- they serve as a sort of boot camp, where you'll learn all the basics of puzzle combat (as odd as that may sound). As you progress in these single-player missions, you'll occasionally unlock new modes.
In one challenge, you've got six missiles and six tough-to-hit targets, but all the time in the world to hit them. In another, UFOs (composed of puzzle pieces) zoom towards the water and you've got to hit as many as possible directly in the belly before the timer runs out. Another challenge involves hitting rapidly descending targets on alternate sides of the screen in quick succession, adding a couple of seconds to the timer with each successful shot. There are simply too many variations in each mode to catalog here, which is a good thing. Some of the challenges are frustrating, but they're considerably varied and ultimately rewarding.
Your progress in the main puzzle mode gets saved along the way, so once you pass a really tough challenge, you have the option of never looking back. You can also return to a challenge you enjoyed, or continue the remaining challenges with any character of your choice. The characters (which oddly enough, aren't limited to worms) have varying thresholds for damage, and their boats vary in terms of size and speed. There's also a tournament mode, in which you've got to survive for as long as possible during specific challenges, most of which are subtle variations of the ones introduced in the puzzle mode.
Playing against the CPU in the head-to-head modes is terrific fun. Conversely, if you're playing against a human opponent, you'd better have a couple of gamepads and a large monitor handy because Blast lacks LAN or Internet support. Being forced to crowd a single PC to compete with a friend will undoubtedly infuriate many Worms aficionados, and will probably cost the game thousands of other potential players as well. It's certainly a backwards step for the franchise. Still, the CPU features strong enough AI to serve as a worthy opponent, something many players will find sufficiently addictive.
The multiplayer challenges feature several variations of the single-player modes: quell the rising tides, survive the encroaching puzzles, be the first to collect five stars, and so on. In all the multiplayer modes, the screen is split down the middle in conventional "versus" style, but in Worms Blast, every so often the wall dividing you from your opponent will open slightly, providing an opportunity to ignore your puzzle for a bit and try to fire a few rounds of ammo to the other side of the screen instead. This comes in handy if you'd like to cause an avalanche on the other side of the screen, potentially drowning the opposition.
Personally, I thought deathmatch was the most fun. There are power-up crates mixed in with the puzzle blocks, and gathering them before they sink into the water and using them with some degree of strategic finesse are essential keys to victory. Some power-ups merely change your weaponry, create a protective shield, or improve your health. Others alter the weather, engage attacks by piranhas or giant sea monsters, launch underwater missiles, or plant explosive mines in the water on your enemy's side of the screen. Altering the weather may sometimes have a negative impact on your side of the screen as well, particularly if you happen to cause a solar eclipse or a hail of massive comets. It's the culmination of every fun and challenging aspect of the game.
Hardcore Worms fanatics may whine over a few things (the lack of an edit mode, non-destroyable background environments, a somewhat limited arsenal, and the fact that not all of the characters are worms, to name a few), but it's still great fun and definitely worth checking out, even if only against the CPU. Despite the handful of drawbacks detailed above, overall this Worms game is aptly named: it's a blast!
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