While we're all usually partial to a twisting, turning plot at Everybody Plays, there are some games that don't really need a big storyline - and Worms Battlegrounds is one of those games. That hasn't prevented it trying to spin one together, however. With a voiceover provided by Katherine Parkinson, better known as Jen from the IT Crowd, Worms tells the endearing tale of a high society tomb raider, who teams together with some wiggly little pink creatures to stop an evil hypnotist/magician worm from taking over a museum full of historical artefacts. How do they do that, we hear you ask? By blowing each other up with sheep.
As we mentioned, the story isn't really the most important thing in a Worms game - it's the battles that'll keep you coming back. Pitting two to four teams of worms against each other on a 2D map, it's up to you to make use of your ridiculously creative arsenal of weapons, and your worms' recently discovered opposable thumbs (must be the radiation in the museum), to put an end to your slimy foes before they can do the same to you. Whether you're trying to fly a Super Sheep (an exploding sheep with a cape around its neck that grants it the power of flight) down a narrow passage, zipping around the map like no-one's business thanks to the new teleportation laser, or simply chucking a holy hand grenade next to an enemy, before legging it as fast as a thing with no legs or bones can, while waiting for the deafening "HALLELUJAH!", there's a huge range of ways to dish out the punishment to your foes - with each weapon having its strengths and weaknesses.
Taking it in turns with your foes to move your worms around the stage, before choosing which weapon would be best suited to your nefarious plots, Worms is probably best described as a strategy game, although it's strategy in the loosest sense of the word. There may be no base building, no resource management, and no unit production, but there's certainly plenty of thinking to do here - with only 60 seconds (or sometimes less) in which to make your move, you'll have to figure out which enemy worm looks weakest, and which weapons you have available to wreak havoc with, all while making sure you can retreat to a safe distance before the end of your turn, so you don't get caught in an explosion, and don't leave yourself teetering on a cliff edge. You wouldn't want to be susceptible to the finger poke of doom, after all...
Whether you're facing off against the computer, or playing in a group of up to four people locally or online, there's a huge selection of weaponry to choose from - some 65 in total, which is the most in any Worms game, ever. From new arrivals like the Winged Monkey, which can transport items across a map, to old favourites like the Concrete Donkey and the aforementioned explosive mutton, there's a crazy amount of variety beyond the standard bazookas and shotguns. The only problem is, things don't react quite as you'd expect them to.
We had a similar issue with the last Worms game we reviewed, as for some reason, despite being a game that isn't exactly grounded in reality, the developers at Team 17 decided to add a more realistic physics engine to the game, giving all of the weapons a meatier, chunkier, and heavier feel. We don't know about you, but "realism" isn't exactly top of our list of wants when we look at a game about worms that have hands and can blow each other up with exploding pensioners, but that's the direction the team decided to take it in - and the same is true for Worms Battlegrounds.
What this means is, somewhat paradoxically, it's now much harder to predict quite how your weapons will work. The bazooka doesn't fire as you'd expect it to, taking a few moments to get up to speed, before not falling quite as you'd imagine; the concrete donkey, which used to smash straight down through a map, will now bounce off any scenery instead, and send itself flying, mostly avoiding the worms who've burrowed their way in to the bottom of the level; and worst of all, the Ninja Rope, is now just a normal rope. Before, it was so much more (see this handy YouTube compilation of awesome Ninja Ropery for more). OK, so maybe pulling our worm in really close, making him vibrate, and then pushing out and making our "rope" work more like a pole vault to reach higher ground wasn't the most realistic thing - but it was fun. And let's face it - worms isn't exactly a game grounded in reality. Yet they've still stuck with this more realistic physics engine, even when it's come at the expense of the gameplay.
The 3D, destructible scenery sometimes doesn't help either. With several "layers" to it - although there's only one that you walk on - it can sometimes be hard to tell which bits of scenery are in the foreground, and will therefore block your weapons, and which are in the background, and therefore don't offer the cover you were hoping they might...
That's not to say there isn't fun to be had here, though. One of the nicer changes is more of an emphasis on puzzles - and not just of the "how can I hit this worm from here" variety. In both the story mode, and the challenge oriented Worms Ops mode, you'll be pushed to use your brain as much as your brawn, as you try and tackle some fiendish puzzles. While the ones in the story mode are more about switches, pulleys and f'n magnets (how do they work), which you can use to set up a chain reaction of mines, explosions, and curved bazooka shots, the ones in the Worms Ops mode challenge you to put your arsenal to the test and wipe out a team of Worms in the shortest time possible. All of these only support a single player, meaning there's plenty to do if you play on your own - but none of it comes close to taking on a group of friends in local multiplayer.
Always the highlight of the Worms games, Battlegrounds is perfect for getting a bunch of friends crammed onto a sofa to have some fun. With the ability to create your own team of worms, customise them with hats, glasses and other assorted decorations, before giving them their own hilarious "soundbank" of catchphrases and taunts, easily the trickiest part is when it comes to choosing a name for each of your plucky soldiers - and then seeing them get blown to pieces, leaving behind nothing other than a comedy tombstone. Better yet, you can play in four player multiplayer, each with your own custom team of Worms, using just a single controller, as you pass it round between turns. With a wide range of weapon sets, randomly generated maps, and awards given out at the end of each round, Battlegrounds is a great reminder of how much fun local multiplayer can be - even if you can't actually read the awards font at the end.
However, perhaps the biggest issue here is the price. Available as a download on the PS4 or Xbox One for around a £20, or on a disc for just over £25 quid, this is a lot more expensive than the previous Worms games, which we thought were pushing it at a tenner. For £8, they were instabuys, at just over a tenner, you had to think about it, but at £20 for a download, or just over £25, that may be stretching our Worms a little bit too far.
In all, perhaps for the next Worms game, a back to basics is what's required. Ditch the fancy voice over work (sorry Katherine), ditch the more expensive 3D backgrounds, ditch the physics engine, and take the game back to what it was - fun, over the top, all out mayhem at an affordable price. Give us a Worms we can't get enough of, rather than one that's just "OK".