When not crawling through dirt and fertilizing your lawn, worms do what they always do for leisure: unleash hell on each other through warfare. Worms: Battle Islands brings the famous worm warfare to the PSP. Does it do the series justice, or does the move to Sony’s handheld send this game back into the dirt?
If you have played a Worms game before, you already know how this works. You are put in command of a team of worms and go into battle against an opposing worm force. Within each turn’s time limit of one minute, you must have your worm scurry to the desired destination point and unleash an attack upon your enemies. There is plenty of weaponry at your disposal, from the close up attacks (Fire Punch), the ranged attacks (bazookas, grenade launchers), the utility items (ninja rope, parachute), and the downright silly (Super Sheep). Your arsenal not only destroys worms, it deforms the battlefield; in itself an important strategy. The last team of worms still squirming wins the match.
Controls in Worms: Battle Islands are well mapped. The D-Pad moves your worm about the stage, as well as changes the angle of certain weapons that require it. Square will make your worm jump, and double tapping Square results in a backwards double jump. Circle brings up the weapons menu, letting you change to another weapon or utility. X is used to fire most weapons. L and R zoom in and out of the stage, letting you see as much or as little of the action as you desire.
Campaign mode tasks your worm army with the challenge of conquering six worlds of various environments (from nuclear test sites, to jungles, to frozen worlds and more). Each world has multiple stages where you must fight off opposing worm forces, ending in a boss encounter. During these missions, blueprints fall from the sky. Once collected, they will allow you to modify your existing weapons into something more dangerous and powerful, further increasing the worm killing fun. Not all levels are a cakewalk, and as the campaign progresses opponents can get downright ruthless. For that reason, the campaign can take up many hours of your time.
Other modes are also added into Worms: Battle Islands. Puzzle mode is essentially a mission mode where you are given specific challenges that you must complete. You may have to achieve victory with only a certain weapon, or move about the stage using a certain tool. This mode makes you think differently than your standard worm war, and shows off some of the more inventive uses of the items. Of course, I would say that, given the fun of using the ninja rope to swing across the environments! Time Attack challenges you to complete the course as fast as possible to grab the gold medal in each course. Different modes of transportation are used in the levels, such as the jetpack, or the aforementioned ninja rope. These extra modes turn Worms: Battle Islands into more than just a slithering military strategy game by excellently bringing in other genres, such as puzzle and racing. These different approaches to gameplay keep you in the game even when you are getting destroyed by the opposition in Campaign and need a break.
All of this sounds well and good, but there is still even more in Worms: Battle Islands that will make you smile. Not only can you create your own worm squadron, but you can customize each worm extensively. Among your choices, you can give the worm its own accessory, change its color, alter its sound and change its dance and gravestone animations. Your worm can literally live and die in the style you choose. The surroundings can also be customized. This includes the fort you start operations in, how your power and health bars look, and what flag you fly under. Not all of the options the game will offer to you are available from the start, however; you will have to play through the game to unlock those.
Got an itch to create your own battlefield? If you do, you’re in luck! Worms: Battle Islands lets you bring your creativity to the war grounds by making your own war grounds! You can build an entire level freehand if you so desire. Otherwise, you can start out with one of the game’s pre-set categories and generate a level from there. With that done, you can meld the environment to your liking and then add items to it, such as mines, trampolines, and sentry guns. The level can be as generous or excruciatingly painful as you desire.
The worms themselves are spunky little creatures. They will make snarky comments during battle in many different situations, such as if you miss them with a horribly angled bazooka shot, making for some fun audio sound bites. The background music is quiet and does not attempt to catch your attention, but sets the tone of the battle very well. After all, the music being too quiet is certainly preferable to it being mismatched to the setting. The graphics are bright and cartoony; exactly what you would expect out of a game featuring worms destroying each other in combat.
While Worms: Battle Islands does many things right, there is one major flaw: the loading screens. In recent times, games have cut down on their loading times, allowing players to get back into the action almost as soon as they were taken out of it. Worms: Battle Islands does not achieve this goal, instead loading levels and missions at, well, worm speed. Nothing says “I’m having a great time!” like staring at a generic loading screen for what feels like forever. “I just want to shoot the living heck out of worms”, you’ll say, but the loading screen will not take its leave until it is good and ready. In some instances, this even happens in other areas, such as just trying to load up textures in the battlefield creation mode. This can cause frustration in what is otherwise a fun game.
If Worms: Battle Islands looks and feels familiar, that’s because it is. It is very much like all of the previous Worms titles that have come before it. This is not a big issue to a first-time Worms player, but a Worms veteran may be wondering whether it is worth investing time in another title. For experienced Worms generals, I can say that, while Worms: Battle Islands does a very good job of refining and improving on the Worms formula, it is still the same game you have already played. Because of that, boredom may set in, particularly if you were never enamored with the series to begin with.
Worms: Battle Islands expands upon the classic Worms formula and makes it feel more complete than ever. The sheer hilarity of worm-on-worm military combat plus the expansive number of gameplay modes and things you can do in each mode makes Worms: Battle Islands a fun and addictive strategy game that can keep you entertained for a long time. And, when it comes down to it, who wouldn’t want to whip out their PSP and ask their friend, “Want to blow up worms”?