Team17 has been trying to bring Worms, its rambunctious strategy series, into the realm of 3D for a few years now. Some efforts have been more successful than others, but none have fully replicated the chaotic glee of the 2D original. It's a relief, then, that Worms: Open Warfare for the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS opts for the classic gameplay that made the series a success in the first place. The game is a great fit on the PSP, and the widescreen perspective complements the large, horizontally oriented level designs nicely. By contrast, the DS version is awkward and ugly and generally fails to capture the feel of Worms.
Worms returns to its 2D roots for the first time since 2001's Worms World Party.
There's a good amount of baggage attached to strategy games. Turn-based wargames can feel dense and abstract--like chess with a god complex--and the modern real-time strategy game is thick with years of genre convention buildup. The whole genre often feels impenetrable to those who haven't been immersed in it for years. It can be intimidating, but Worms has always offered a much looser, more accessible take on strategy. There's no resource gathering, no tech trees, and no unit balance issues--just a bunch of worms sitting on a big rock, taking turns enthusiastically trying to murder each other. In Worms: Open Warfare, you're given a team of four cute, anthropomorphic worms and then pitted against up to three other teams of worms, and winning is a simple matter of whittling down your opponents' health before they can eliminate you.
The worms themselves are deceptively cute, with wide eyes and a wide, multicultural array of squeaky battle cries. They also have access to an arsenal of potent weapons, ranging from shotguns and hand grenades to deadly bananas and exploding sheep. There are more than 20 different weapons you can arm your worms with, which sounds like a lot but is actually pretty lean by series standards. How you use what you've got, though, is the main strategic element at work here. Some weapons work only when you're going toe-to-toe with an opponent, while ranged weapons give you a bit of security against immediate retaliation. The ranged weapons, such as bazookas and grenades, are also tough to use effectively, as you're given only a rough idea of the trajectory, which can be hugely affected by the winds. The nuanced ways in which the different weapons work give the action a measure of depth, but they're mostly intuitive enough that the game remains easy to pick up.
The battlefields can be pretty big in comparison to the worms, and hazardous too, with lots of craggy terrain, sheer cliffs, exploding barrels, and touchy land mines. With the camera zoomed in pretty tight it can be tough to get your bearings, which can lead to poorly aimed shots and accidental team kills. This is mitigated on the PSP with the option to zoom in and out using the shoulder buttons, which lets you take in almost the entire map on a single screen or get up close and personal with your worm. The solution on the DS is less elegant and less useful; you're given a paltry amount of zoom control and are required to use the stylus to drag the camera around a minimap on the lower screen to see areas beyond your active worm's immediate surroundings on the upper screen.