Worms: Open Warfare 2
| Worms: Open Warfare 2

Mum never liked creepy crawlies. She'd complain about their effect on the roses. She was keen on worms, though. Nature's good guys, they aerate the soil and break down rotting plants.

But on that basis, we can only assume Team 17 – creator of the long-running Worms series – has never really gone in for herbaceous borders. Its take on the gardener's friend sees the little critters wielding Uzis and bazookas, as they take turns to fight through a war of never-ending cartoon capers.

And it's this orgy of oligochaetan violence, combined with the simplicity of the gameplay, that's made Worms so successful. After all, ten million game sales can't be wrong, can they? Well, sometimes, perhaps – we weren't convinced by last year's Worms: Open Warfare on DS, after all. It just wasn't up to scratch, nor did it make much use of the DS's hardware features.

Worms: Open Warfare 2 is a different beast, however.

First up, are the sheer range of options. From a quick game to the ability to set up highly customised experiences, head into the single-player Campaign proper (there are also Puzzle, Laboratory and Training options) or delve into the multiplayer modes, there's loads to play with. This attention to detail extends to aspects such as being able to name your four worms, choose a funny accent for their tauts and deathcries, and draw their team flag using a little touchscreen paint package.

Of course, the action itself remains much the same as it's been for over a decade: you have to lead your squad through a number of themed levels, which in the case of Worms: Open Warfare 2 range from pirates, World War I trenches, U-Boat battles and outer space.

Throw in a selection of weapons straight out of a fevered Looney Tunes daydream, and it's time for you to take turns at being the last one wriggling against another squad of four worms. The worms themselves natter and yelp as mines, grenades and sticks of dynamite blow chunks out of them and the landscape. Depending on your accuracy and choice of weapon, each hit will reduce enemy's health points. When all the worms on one team are reduced to zero, it's game over.

As always, the joy of the experience is about expressing yourself with the weapons at your disposal. Why use a shotgun when the Concrete Donkey or the newly introduced Buffalo of Lies are available? Alternatively, a short prod to push a worm into the water – and we all know worms can't swim, right? – can be a winning multiplayer move of beautiful understatement.

Progress through the game does require tactics, not least because some of the challenges you face in the single-player mode are difficult. The artificial intelligence of the other worms can be horrifically accurate, providing a steep learning curve for novices. Thankfully, training sections enable beginners to safely hone their skills, and success on even the most basic of levels provides credits to spend in the shop and unlock more levels, themes and weapons.

Still, there is a fundamental issue with Worms on DS, in that the dual screens are just the wrong aspect ratio for this sort of game. For that reason, the PSP version of Worms: Open Warfare 2 has to be regarded as being the more appropriate option.

In contrast with the PSP's widescreen vision, then, to see the position of far-away enemies on the DS you have to hold down a shoulder button and scroll across maps using the D-pad. In such circumstances, it's almost impossible to score with a well-judged bazooka shot, too often reducing your options to an indirect weapon such as an airstrike, or using up a turn with a move or teleport to get into a more suitable position.

More successful are the new modes, such as Laboratory. This set of three puzzle-like challenges show off the DS's potential. Our favourite, Blast, tasks you with guiding a worm across a map of hazards to a warp exit. The only way to move the worm is to tap on the touchscreen, creating explosions that ping and pop your worm at a breakneck speed, like a rubbery cruise missile. The other modes, involving blowing into the microphone and drawing slides and obstacles with the stylus, are similarly great fun and add inventiveness to an old recipe.

Move onto multiplayer, though, and the worm turns somewhat. Single-cart play, where you can share a version of the game with another player, is extremely buggy with either huge time gaps spent waiting for the game to catch up with your moves or the connection between handhelds being lost entirely. Perhaps the best option is to have what's known as a Hot-Seat game, where players share one DS and take it in turns to have their go, although even in this case, you'll have to set it up using the custom game option, rather than it being a dedicated option.

Thankfully, and surprisingly, going online using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, which includes a global leaderboard, seems to be a much more solid experience.

Are the above few criticisms enough to ruin the game? It really depends on what you're looking for. Ultimately, Worms: Open Warfare 2 is terrifically designed and the range of options, level of customisation and craziness of the experience means the single-player mode will justify the purchase for most. (But if you're picky, and are lucky enough to also have a PSP, on balance we'd recommended skipping the DS version in favour of the widescreen glory to be found on Sony's portable.)

Worms: Open Warfare 2

A combination of cheeky grins and exploding donkeys makes Worms: Open Warfare 2 a simple and enjoyable slice of handheld action
Mike Cook
Mike Cook
Studying Computing in London means that Michael looks for any excuse to get away from error messages and blank screens. Puzzling and platforming on the DS are his ultimate escape.