Worms Blast

Worms Blast - Windows, Apple Macintosh, Sony Playstation 2, Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo Game Boy Advance

This entry is part 9 of 19 in the series Worms

It wouldn’t be hard to assume that Team 17 was running low on new ideas for the franchise after World Party. That game had little to offer for those who didn’t own it on Dreamcast, which itself was already near dead by its release. Even Armageddon, its prequel, was more of an improvement upon Worms 2 than anything radically different. One could hardly blame the creators for wanting to try something new, to do something with the worms that hadn’t been done before. More than likely, however, ‘Puzzle Bobble-esque puzzle game’ wouldn’t have been anyone’s guess on what would follow.

There’s plenty of unexplored territory to be seen here, most obvious of which is the chance to play something besides the titular annelids. There’s a male worm and a lady worm, as differentiated by her bow, with the other slots being taken up by what used to be weapons. There’s Calvin the sheep, Starvos the skunk, the old woman Ethel, as well as Chuck the homing pigeon. The only major difference between each of the characters is how the boat they use to travel around the field handles. You may wish to avoid having to risk listening to Boggy B’s (the male worm) particularly abrasive voice clips for terribly long, however.

Whichever character you pick is placed in a small boat that can drive from side to side at will. At the top of the screen are rows of bubbles that come in variety of colors and types. In typical Worms tradition, your boater comes equipped with a bazooka that can be adjusted for angle and power. The shells it fires comes and colors, and if a shell matches the color of one more bubbles, both the shell and the bubbles will vanish. If they don’t match, the bubble and each one connected to it will change color to match the shell that hit it.

If you can’t do anything with the shell color you currently have loaded, you might think you could just fire it off and get a new one. Unfortunately, the game has already planned for that, although in a tight situation, it might still work. Fire a shell into the water and the water level will raise slightly, putting you a little closer towards the bubbles that spell your doom. Fire a shell off the sides, and a heavy object will come raining down upon your head, fast enough that dodging it can be very difficult. Firing into the ocean can be somewhat safer, as the game often spawns stars that’ll lower the ocean when your boater collects them.

Unlike most other games of the style, where the bubbles reaching the bottom of the screen would spell defeat, Blast takes a different approach. Your boater has a health bar, with the boat sinking into the ocean once it hits zero. It’s possible to crash into bubbles that are level with your boater, doing damage until they sink into the ocean and disappear. Matching bubbles in a way that others are no longer connected to anything will also cause them to plummet towards the ground, possibly bonking you in the head that way, as well. In most cases, once the bubbles have reached the point where they can touch you, you’ve already lost.

Besides the plain old colored bubbles, several other kinds will threaten to come down upon your head, as well. Rainbow bubbles will change their entire group to match the shell that hits them, possibly causing bigger chains. Stone bubbles can’t be destroyed, and are generally used to anchor other bubbles to them. Dead bubbles have to be hit with any color before they can be matched at all. Generally, the game will send down patterns towards you containing each and all of these.

Mixed in with the bubbles will be crates, which fall towards the water once there’s no longer anything holding them up. As you would hope from a Worms game, crates contain an array of useful items for your puzzle solving needs, depending on the mode you’re playing. While you can hold as many items as you’d like, you can only use the first one you’ve collected, with all other items coming after that one.. Along with a few new toys to match the tropical theme of the game, many of the Worms classics have found there way here. Some weapons make your bubble matching a little more efficient, like a shotgun that fires in an invisible straight line, or dynamite that wipes out anything within its radius. Others only show up in the game’s VS mode, and are used for hindering your opponent.

There’s three distinct modes of play, with “Puzzle” mode serving as the clear centerpiece of the game. In this mode, you’re given a map to travel on, with each node on the map leading to a separate set of stages. Your eventual goal is to reach the volcano in the center of the map, and while there’s multiple routes to get there, the game can’t be considered truly beaten until you’ve cleared every route. Especially not if you want the chance to earn forgotten mascot and failed Sonic-killer Superfrog as a playable boater. The high difficulty of the puzzle mode even from the early levels is almost assuredly worth it.

Compared to how Puzzle Bubble challenges you to clear varying patterns of bubbles, there’s surprisingly little of that to be found here. There’s a surprising amount of variety to be found even as the game keeps using the base mechanics. You might be challenged to shoot groups of bubbles as they make their way towards the waters below, avoid a ‘snake’ make of stone bubbles as it moves around the screen, or even answer questions about various patterns the game shows you. Even when the game asks you to simply clear bubbles off the screen, there’s always some caveat attached, like not allowing any to fall into the water, or having the bubbles drop a line each time a shot’s fired. Some of these stages can also be unlocked in a rather misleadingly named ‘Tournament’ mode, where the best scores are saved to memory.

Unfortunately, the general difficulty level of this mode a little too quickly. There are many times when a single mistake can instantly fail you, health bar be damned. While you can retry a segment as many times as you’d like, it’s often of little comfort if your aiming skills aren’t up to the job. It’s far from an insurmountable challenge, given enough perseverance, more that it makes for a rather sharp difficulty spike early on in the mode.

In a rarity for the series, playing against another opponent doesn’t quite feel like it’s the focus quite as much. Only a single match can be played against either a human opponent or the AI, which some battle modes only available for play against a human player. Aside from a ‘deathmatch’ mode in which the goal is to deplete the other player’s lives, other highlights include modes about racing to collect stars, shoot down targets, or preventing a bubble from hitting your waters first. The battle mode has its own complexities to deal with, so many that trying to figure them all out ends up being an exercise in frustration. Compared to the relative simplicity of the game’s inspirations, it often feels like more of your time is spent understand why things happen as opposed to just playing the game.

Obviously, with an opponent thrown into the mix, you know have to deal with potential interference from them. The wooden beam that separates the two playing fields actually has a small gate in it, which will periodically move up and down. Once it opens up, that’s your opportunity to attempt to launch projectiles over to your opponent’s side to the screen. Landing a hit on your opponent will reduce their health, potentially removing one of their lives. Hitting their bubbles, however, will turn them into dead bubbles, potentially ruining potential matches for your opponent. You’ll have to watch your aim, however, as if a projectile hits the separator, it’ll likely bounce off and hit you on the head.

Hidden amongst the bubbles are crates and stars that will plummet towards the water once the bubbles holding them up have been removed. Aside from the weapons that help you color the oncoming bubbles in different ways, there’s an assortment of items exclusive to the battle modes. Mines can be sent over to your opponent, cutting off the area they can safely move around in, time can be frozen on their side of the screen, health can be restored, or a sea monster can grab your foe, forcing them to tap the fire button to escape a watery death, amongst others. There’s also a strange mechanic involving the fish that inhabit the waters – they seem to appear at random, although collecting pieces of meat will attract more. They can help as well as hinder, as they can serve as a defense against incoming torpedos. They can also be converted into piranha by your opponent, and even a handful will instantly destroy your boat — only the shield item can save you from this, and there’s no guarantee you’ll have one on hand.

This is about the point where failure is inevitable. For who is unclear.

The bubbles you destroy will also drop food items, which fall towards the water below. Picking up enough of one kind of food will fill a letter of the word ‘BLAST’. Once you manage to collect all five letters, the bubbles on your side of the board will temporarily vanish, with targets raining down upon you. Each target you take out during the thirty seconds Blast Mode lasts earns you a crate. This will more than likely earn you the round, since not only will the items give you a huge advantage, you basically no longer have to engage with the board for quite some time.

Pictured: A fair and balanced game.

Unfortunately, whatever mode you play, there’s an assortment of issues that make it difficult to recommend as a competitive puzzle game. There’s simply so much to keep track of at all times, as not only do you have to worry about your own board, but you also have to make an attempt to directly attack your opponent, taking your attention entirely off your own bubbles. There’s a lot of times when you’ll end up losing your boat for reasons that don’t seem entirely clear or preventable. The game may seem to arbitrarily kill you off when the bubbles reach too low, even if they haven’t quite reached your head just yet. Or perhaps the fish that have gathered around you without much of your own say in the matter may just wipe out your health in an instant. There’s just far too much of a random, chaotic element to it that makes trying to plan too far ahead far from actually worth it.

The game at least holds up well visually, with a cel-shaded aesthetic that matches well with the game’s cartoony theme. Compared to the surreal environments the mainline games took place in, there’s a consistent tropical aesthetic seen throughout the game, which helps it stand out somewhat against the games it’s competing against. The music leans far more to the less atmospheric, more uptempo styling that matches better with a frantic puzzle game, and has a nice touch where the song playing builds in intensity as the match plays out. Somewhat less appreciated are the constant voice samples that play during the action, which are locked by the character you choose. Most are tolerable, except for the fact that the usual voice of the male Worm has been replaced by a far screechier voice actor.

Overall, there’s not much reason to recommend Worms Blast for competitive puzzle game fans unless you’re dying to check out every game in the series. There’s a lot of ideas in there, some of which are actually pretty creative for the genre. Unfortunately, there’s so many ideas thrown in at once that it often feels like wasn’t ever quite enough thought put into them. It does, at the very least, do its job of breaking up the typical Worms formula with something fresh, even if it never seemed to make much of an impact. While it’d be far from the only spinoff in the series, this particular idea would sadly never be improved upon.

The Game Boy Advance version at first seems like a perfectly adequate port, featuring every character and the entirety of the puzzle mode. Some of the mechanics, however, have been stripped out for no obvious reason. Hitting another player’s bubbles will have the game treat them as if they were your own, which somewhat detracts from the game’s strategic element. Blast Mode has been removed, although the food you need to collect to activate it still remains. The fish have also been removed entirely, and while in some ways this is a positive, the meat item that attracts more hasn’t been removed, which comes off as more than a little unpolished. Finally, most of the voice clips have been removed, which, again, may be considered a plus by some. Aside from those annoyances, it does a decent job of replicating its bigger brother.

The PC version was rereleased on Steam. Unfortunately, this version seems to have no changes made to help it run on modern PCs since its release in 2003, meaning that reviews often complain about low resolutions and constant crashes.

Game Boy Advance Version

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