Have You Played… Worms?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Worms feels like a joke now: by my count there have been 23 games in the main series, and that’s not including the Facebook version or pinball and mini golf-themed spinoffs. It feels like so much iteration – or milking – glumly undermines the simplicity and silliness of the original I loved as a kid.

Games in which two players too turns to fire weighty projectiles at one another were relatively common in the mid-’90s, but Worms went a step further by i) starring worms, not tanks and ii) having an arsenal of weapons that went further than mere rocket shells. There were bouncy exploding sheep, dividing and destructive banana bombs, hilariously useless grappling hooks. It was a multiplayer game that recognised that its competition would be twice as compelling if there was a chance you could kill your friend in the silliest, most dramatic way imaginable. Worms was the Gang Beasts of its day.

It was also my first experience with level design. Its destructible terrain was simply a bitmap image, meaning you could create your own in Microsoft Paint and have your friends hop inside. I did what every kid did and made a level that was almost entirely solid, with each player spawning inside an underground bubble and weapons being used to tunnel towards one another. It was fun for five minutes – at least for the person who created the level.

I haven’t played a Worms game in years, so it’s entirely possible that recent versions are every bit as silly, simple and fun as the original. It’s also extremely possible there’s a generation of children playing Worms now just as I did, who would have been denied the experience if it still ran at the lowly resolution it did back in 1995. I probably should be happier it’s still around. But I’m not. Worms’ gleeful destruction was innocent in a way barely-different sequels are not, and so I choose to leave the series in the past.

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  1. NetharSpinos says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. I first played Worms on the Megadrive back in the early 90s, later receiving Worms 2 as a cherished birthday present for the pc. Every Worms title I’ve played* (granted, I’ve not played every single one in existence) has been just as enjoyably silly as my childhood memories would suggest. Who cares that each title isn’t radically different? If something isn’t broken, why fix it?

    *actually, not the 3d one. That was a bit shit.

    • Samwise says:

      While they are all good, Worms World Party was the pinnacle for me

      • DarkFenix says:

        Armageddon is where the series peaked for me, since then it feels like it lost its spark.

        • Paladin says:

          You know, you really have to get really nitpicky to consider that Worms 2, Worms Armageddon and Worms World Party aren’t the same game.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Armageddon ripped out and oversimplified most of the customization from 2.

          • Paladin says:

            @LionsPhil – True, but it doesn’t change that gameplay-wise they are so identical that they hardly justified full price stand-alone releases.

          • jon_hill987 says:

            @LionsPhil: That actually made it a better game, Worms 2 was too much of a sandbox, with Armageddon you felt you had to earn it.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Rubbish. Armageddon simply didn’t make half the stuff 2 did possible. If you want to play vanilla, play vanilla; but sometimes you want to throw balance out the window and make everyone poisoned from round 1 as the map sinks into the sea. This “everyone has to have the same experience as me and only have GOODRIGHT FUN as per the purity of the developer’s vision” is a bane on PC gaming.

          • PseudoKnight says:

            I’m going to put my vote in with Worms 2 as well, for the customization options. I liked that it used a launcher too, because the Armageddon in-game UI was pretty trash. There was some later games that did an occasional interesting thing with customization, but I wish they hadn’t taken that huge step back.

          • Nixitur says:

            I absolutely loved the weapon customization in Worms 2. If you wanted to make the Minigun blow 15-foot holes wherever it hit, you could do that. If you wanted to make the Poke catapult the opponent all the way across the map, you could do that. Unfortunately, this was never picked up again to a similar degree.

      • Ztox says:

        Yea I still play the old version on WWW with friends occasionally.
        While I have fond memories of playing the original on the Amiga as a kid, the three Worms 2 engine games were the best IMO. Anything after World Party was rubbish, they changed the physics and IMO this removed a lot of the humour (heavier worms and just try the ninja rope in a W2 engine game compared to all of the ones after this).

        Worms WMD will be the first one in years that I buy as they’ve literally taken code from Armageddon in places and restored or at least have gotten bloody close to the ninja roping of old. I’m genuinely interested in this one.

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    Andy_Panthro says:

    Yeah, I was once in hospital for a week because of a dodgy hot-dog… wait, you mean the game!


    Yes, I played the original to death, usually against either the computer or my brother. Using the weakest attack to drop an enemy worm into the water was the best thing.

  3. Sin Vega says:

    Christmas 1995, it was. I started out with the original amiga version, which even had a brilliant level designer built into the game as it was loading – the random level generation process could be interrupted, which would instantly turn the pointer into a paintbrush. Left click added land, right click removed it. Plus and minus changed the brush size. Absolutely zero mucking about.

    And then the never-ported Director’s Cut, which was easily the best, mainly because it had endless customisation options. Want to turn every uzi shot into a gigantic 150-damage mega-splosion, guaranteeing that the match would be over in two or three turns with 90% of the land obliterated? Go for it!

    Worms as an idea could be as fun as ever, but sadly I fear they miled it do death aeons ago. Plus enjoying it for more than an hour or so required that every played be skilled with the basic bazooka and grenades, otherwise you’d end up with one person constantly winning and everyone else getting bored, or adding tonnes of cheap homing missiles and airstrikes, taking so little skill and control away that it’s no fun for the first player.

    The series always struck me as placing too much value on gimmicky things too, with not enough regard for what actually worked long term. I wouldn’t be sad if they stopped flogging the corpse, really.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      As soon as you add a 3rd or 4th played the chaos and collateral damage often even things up against skilled players.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      I don’t remember that level design functionality, but I do remember that you could import Deluxe Paint images as levels.

      I also remember that the Amiga manual listed the dragon punch move, but didn’t say how to do it; apparently it was some combination of cursor key presses — I think left, left, right, right — but I could never get it to work.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The full weapon customization, where you could do things like turn the bazooka into a massive rapid-fire earth-rending splash weapon that does very little actual damage, lived on in Worms 2. Along with the comedy intro videos. Highpoint of the series right there. Unfortunately a right pain in the backside to get running on anything but Windows 9X with a real CD in the drive—it crashes if it can’t read audio tracks, for one.

  4. mattevansc3 says:

    The grappling hook was not useless! Especially after you worked out how to drop dynamite mid swing.

    That look on peoples faces when they’ve got the high ground and think they’ve got the advantage and you grapple hook under the platform, swing 225 degrees, drop that dynamite and swing back to safety.

    • Samwise says:

      True! I could get right cross pretty much any map in under 45 seconds using the grapple hook. It did take a bit of practice and didn’t behave anything like a real grappling hook but it was possible to master and it was devastating!

      • mattevansc3 says:

        It was such a versatile weapon I’m surprised its not as well regarded. The cannonball manoeuvre (letting go mid swing so that you fly into other worms and you all go over the edge of a cliff) was quite popular in my house.

  5. RanDomino says:

    The original Worms had probably my favorite exploit ever: “Select any target with the Uzi, then hold [Shift] + [F1] together and press [Space].”
    Instead of bullets, the Uzi fires bazooka shells.

  6. Baines says:

    I think I still prefer the original Worms to the cuter cartoonish incarnations that came later. Team 17 also began to go overboard with their focus on “wacky” special weapons.

    Worms 3D was an interesting idea, and not as awful as people say. The later 3D games did not improve though, and some got weirder and worse. Worms 3D, perhaps due to the extra fiddling with the 3D camera, seemed to see its single player campaign suffer even worse from Team 17’s “make it a skill based puzzle” approach to level design.

    The worst Worms game I ever experienced was the rather awful Worms: A Space Oddity for the Wii. The base game already felt a bit like shovelware quality, but then Team 17 went further by reducing team sizes to 3 worms and forced (as was too often true for Wii games) barely functional motion controls into the control scheme.

    • Amake says:

      Yay, I thought I was the only one who preferred Worms before they went all cartoony. I liked the starkness of the sparse pixel graphics, ditto interface, ditto action feedback – the impact of the explosions felt more war movie than Tom & Jerry.

      And I liked such a little thing as being able to go up to 500 HP per worm, to hold vast, terrible wars of attrition, with bunker building and landscape destruction and trying to direct a worm’s trajectory with a well-placed dynamite to put them in a vulnerable position or maybe even off the map playing a part just as, if not more important than doing damage.

      And for all that I don’t want to hold it against the much larger numbers of people who enjoy the post-United era of Worms, they have kept Team 17 too busy to make the original, the expansion or the expansion of the expansion work in Windows XP or beyond. I actually haven’t been able to play one of my favorite games since I bought my first computer. More of a bittersweet memory of times lost at this point.

      • Sin Vega says:

        You’re definitely not alone. I disliked the cartoony style a lot. Doesn’t help that it coincided with an ever-increasing focus on WACKY ANTICS that just felt a bit artificial and kinda lazy. The original graphics style made the weird slapstick even funnier. Plus I liked how tiny the worms were, it just felt right.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        I know the current cartoony style is what the worms always “officially” looked like, on box art and such, but I thought they were much cuter when the in-game worms were about 8 pixels tall and basically looked like pink Lemmings.

        Also, squeaky voices. Why the hell did they remove the squeaky voices?

  7. PokeTheBunny says:

    Worms on the PlayStation was one of the primary Stress Relief tools for us in EOD school back in ’96. We would break out a case of beer and play with 8 people (everyone gets their own worm!) as a nice wind-down from whatever we were dealing with for the day.

    Nothing was cooler than spending a day learning how to blow things up and then coming back ‘home’ and seeing how creative we could get with dynamite. I always liked to try to launch someone’s worm across the screen.

  8. draigdrwg says:

    Worms 2 was the main one I played, so many hours of, mainly in multiplayer with friends. Map editor and weapons editor.. no locking away of stuff (which seemed to be the case with all subsequent titles)

    Of course, using the weapon editor, we increased the force of the “poke” weapons a gazillion times so that it would send opponents flying across the map. Oh and we generally unlocked all weapons, despite how balance breaking that probably was..

  9. buzzmong says:

    The Director’s Cut on the Amiga was by far the best version. Armageddon came close though.

    Best fun was with the cheat modes. Type in “NUTTER” on the TDC’s main screen and Uzi bullets became dynamite. You’d cleave the landscape in two and worms would go flying.

  10. fuggles says:

    I thought it did start as a joke – total wormage.

    I most liked the worms song on the CD, all about boggy b going to war. Wonder if I can find it on YouTube?

  11. fuggles says:

    Damn you lack of edit.

    Turns out you can easily locate the story of boggy b.
    link to m.youtube.com

    When I was little, I really wanted to go on Noel’s house party, on the wait till I get you home section. When I won, I was going to ask for the team 17 back catalogue on Amiga – at the time they were programming gods. True story.

  12. Kefren says:

    I introduced my nephew to this the other day, and he loved it, even in 2016! It’s the only Worms game I like. I could never get into the changed cartoony soft look after the original, so just keep playing the original (even single player – I have completed all the levels many times with my crack team of customised worms).

  13. Asurmen says:

    I remember my brother and I coming up with the concepts on Worms before it was released, using Lemmings 2: The Tribes and a few house rules.

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    Syt says:

    Worms Armageddon, with some friends, beer & snacks – many a happy evening was spent that way.

  15. jonfitt says:

    My friends and I put many hours in to the demo which I believe was released a while before the full game (imagine!) then even more time into the actual game.

    We would house rule some things like having a certain number of turns to turtle up and make a “base”.

    I liked that it was more calculated than later games. There weren’t so many “blow up everything” powers. Aside from knocking people into the water, a shotgun’s guaranteed 25+25 damage with good hits was a solid choice.

  16. binkbenc says:

    I can’t believe no-one’s mentioned the sound. The voices (and crazy voice packs you could find on the fledgling internet) were amazing. I have a feeling we recorded our own at uni, but I might not be remembering that 100%. One of those great ‘universal’ games that you could get non-gamers playing too.

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    Skabooga says:

    My two brothers and I played the original Worms to death. I remember early on, in one particularly tense match, I had already been knocked out, and my two brothers each had one low-health worm left. They had exhausted all their special weapons, so it had turned into game of who could get the first skillful shot with a bazooka or grenade.

    Then, one brother sends a beautifully thrown grenade towards the other: it gets stuck right on the other worm’s face. And in the one-second delay before the ordinance went off and won ended the match, this little worm meekly says, “Grenade!”, and with perfect timing, the grenade explodes right after and sends him sailing off the map.

    We all fell out of our chairs laughing.

  18. onodera says:

    Worms 2 were the pinnacle of the series. Maybe that’s because we played them in high school over modem.

  19. zipdrive says:

    Played and loved Scorched Earth, and Worms and some of its descendants.
    Should play it with my son now, though…

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    Harlander says:

    The original has the fondest memories for me – but I give the series its biggest point of credit for inspiring Liero and its ilk.

  21. thatfuzzybastard says:

    Worms World Party was my favorite for a long time, but Worms Clan Wars has, miraculously, managed to unseat it. They finally came up with some new ideas that serve the game instead of mucking it up. Plus multi-controller multiplayer on the PC works beautifully.