Worms have a pretty crappy existence. Chased by moles, harried by birds, torn by children, they are nature's whipping boys despite allegedly being able to live on once split in two. Although they have fared better in the world of videogames, a better, less violent life has always eluded them. Earthworm Jim set the ball rolling, but the Lumbricus Terrestris are most famous for blowing each other up using an arsenal big enough to make the US Army blush. Since its first release in 1995 on the Amiga, the Worms series has been regarded as one of the great multi-player games of the 2D era; there's a fair chance that most gamers, and many non-gamers, have ran into the wrigglers at one point or another. In 2003 the series controversially, if predictably, emerged into 3D to a decidedly mixed reception from which it has never really recovered.
Following the popular gaming concept of 'if you can't beat it, remake it,' Team 17 have brought together three 're-imagining'/HD remakes of their original products; the original Worms, the best in the series Worms 2: Armageddon and an effective best of version of the two 3D efforts, Worms: Ultimate Mayhem into one pack. As this is really three games, I will split the review into a section for each game before bringing it all together for the conclusion.
The Worms remake is a very strange effort, itself based on a port of the original named Worms: Open Warfare. Originally released on the Xbox Live Arcade in 2007, it is five years old now and boy can you tell. The graphics are poorly textured and very blocky, attempting a pseudo-3D look but failing abysmally. It is hard to describe the sound due to the fact that there is no music, although I cannot tell whether this is intentional or a glitch of the disc. Either way, this makes Worms strangely harrowing; as each grenade hits, all you can hear is the worm's despairing Yorkshire gurgle, like the noise a pre-teen Leeds United fan makes as another goal hits their net. The game itself doesn't play absolutely terribly, though it is severely dated and there are issues with clarity and glitches. Actually, scrap that – I've just played my original copy on my Playstation One and THAT plays, looks and sounds better than this HD update. And don't get me started on the tacky menu screens and complete lack of charm or humour in the game.
Thankfully, things improve dramatically with the re-incarnation of Worms 2: Armageddon. Widely regarded as the best in the series, Worms 2: Armageddon is also easily the best game of this collection. Everything that was wrong with the conversion of Worms has been rectified with Worms 2, reintroducing all the elements that made the series such a breakaway success. The game plays tremendously well, fusing that classic mix of anarchy and tactics beautifully over the randomly generated battlefields. The graphics are clean, crisp and precise, removing the clarity issues of the previous HD instalment whilst returning to the hand-drawn style of the originals. Weapons are clearly labelled and well arranged, meaning that they are easily found in the tense scramble to finish your move before time runs out. Many of the customisation options are back (My 'Axis of Evil' cowboys making a welcome return), including some not available in the original Worms 2 nor Armageddon. Battles are played out using tunes from the original, a welcome blast of nostalgia. The single-player mode is welcome, as are its challenge modes, despite the fact that one who feels the need to play Worms by themselves ought to find some company. The Worms Collection version of Armageddon includes all the downloadable content released for the Xbox Live Arcade title, a nice little extra. Best of all, the local multi-player (there are online options too) remains absolutely awesome and instantly accessible, reminding gamers (and my flatmates) why everyone loved Worms in the first place; surely the reason why a pack like this should even exist.
Worms: Ultimate Mayhem, however, is more of a mixed bag and any evaluation of it really depends on how you feel about the 3D conversion. Not being a huge fan of the newer editions, I have always felt that the 3D environment fits ill with the precise nature of Worms' gameplay, and Ultimate Mayhem does little to change that opinion. An amalgamation of Worms 3D and Worms 4: Mayhem, it is clear that Team 17 have made some effort into making this a charming little package. Although not fantastic, the graphics are clean and pleasantly cartoon-like, creating a playful yet memorable spectacle. The campaign modes from both Worms 3D and Worms 4: Mayhem have been included, making this a long lasting and good value package. Later weapons are also included; the floating explodable Scouse Grandmother is an all-time series highlight. And yet, it just doesn't really work. Gameplay is stilted, difficult and haphazard; the 3D environments are incredibly hard to judge and require practise and effort that just isn't realistic with Worms 2: Armageddon also on the disc. Although a first person perspective has been included to try and make it easier, it arguably makes judging shots even harder, let alone grenade bounces off the erratically eroding environments. An update of the camera system is welcome, although is does little to aid the overall confusion of the piece. Overall, this is less a criticism of Worms: Ultimate Mayhem itself, which is easily the best of the 3D Worms, but more a reflection of the 3D Worms experience itself. If you liked Worms 3D and its sequel you will love this; if not, then this will do little to change your opinion.
The real problem of this collection, despite its budget £19.99 price-tag, is that there is no real reason or necessity for this package to exist. Each game has been available on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network for a long time (except Ultimate Mayhem) at relatively low prices, and although it could be argued that this is a release for those without online functionality, one must really wonder how much of a market there really is for these updates. However, I would be furious to find out an HD package (and all its shiny implications) contained a port over 5 years old, and the package does stink of cheap opportunism. Likewise, the Collection itself varies wildly in quality; the original re-interpretation is dire, Worms 2: Armageddon is awesome whilst Worms: Ultimate Mayhem is an acquired taste. My recommendation? Just individually download the one you want to and ignore the others.
This review is based on a retail copy of Worms Collection for the Xbox 360, provided by the publisher. It is also available on the PlayStation 3.