Worms Crazy Golf, a strange Worms experiment
I've had some casual fun with the Worms games in the past. I've also had some fun with non-simulation golf games before. Combine those two concepts, and I should have a good time, right?
It's possible to get a hole in one on every single hole, not as a rare random occurrence but as a fairly controlled event if you use the items effectively. It feels weird to say that I've "solved" a Worms game, let alone "solved" a golf game, and I'm going to feel like a real asshole when I get a chance to play against a friend and I totally crush him because the levels aren't random and there is basically a "right" way to approach them.
To play the game, you choose a club, choose which item will be active (only one item per stroke), then you aim your shot like you would any other Worms game. Once you've hit the ball and it's soaring through the air, you can give the ball clockwise or counterclockwise spin (resulting in it tending right or left, respectively), and activate/deactivate your item by hitting the space bar.
Some of the early holes are quite wide and feel like golf, while most of the later holes are more vertical and feel like pinball, with your ball bouncing around while you desperately make it ricochet where you want it to go. Aside from the first couple tutorial holes, most of the holes in the game contain all manner of magnets, reverse magnets, grazing sheep, bats, cannons, gondolas, teleporters; many of these obstacles are similar to pinball bumpers and other pinball mechanisms, moving your ball around long after you've manually hit it yourself. These obstacles are all introduced in the first course, and the three courses that follow do not contain any new or unique obstacles. A few of those objects change in appearance depending on the course (gondolas, teleporters), but most do not.
The 4 courses are visually different (the themes are Britain, Pirate, Graveyard, and Carnival), but are otherwise indistinguishable. The terrain of the holes will sometimes be appropriately shaped to suit the theme, for example Graveyard holes have terrain shaped like a gravestone, or dead-looking trees, or a big outstretched skeletal hand (pray your ball does not land between the fingers), but those are perhaps 10% of the mass in the level, and the rest is your standard Worms caves/rolling hills and water beneath the stage.
None of the courses seem designed to encourage the player to use a particular item or style of play. Each course has a slightly higher average difficulty than the last, but I mean that in the most minimal sense possible.
Throughout the game, there are just two types of levels. The first type is the open level, which is easy because you can just drive the ball really hard then abuse the in-air spin control/Parachute item/Reverse Gravity item to guide the descent of the ball to land directly in the hole. The second type is the enclosed level that is pinball-like and sometimes akin to an elaborate cave system, which is harder because there are many surfaces to hit, causing your ball to lose momentum or bounce somewhere you don't want, thus requiring much greater finesse in your use of items. I got no sense that the challenge was ramping up or down as I neared the end of each course, as those two types of holes are distributed seemingly at random throughout each course.
The impression all of that gives is that the courses are only superficially different, and that you've seen all the game has to offer well before you've played all 72 holes in the game.
Except the game insures that you certainly haven't seen all that it has to offer. When you first boot up the game, you don't have access to a single gameplay item, cosmetic item, or any of the alternate clubs with rebalanced stats. This is true in both singleplayer and multiplayer - in fact, there is no way to unlock any of those things through multiplayer.
Instead, the game asks you to labour through each level in singleplayer, the game's only way to earn coins, which let you buy the various items and clubs. There are a finite number of coins to be earned on each hole, so you must eventually progress through all of the holes to have the money to buy everything. For a series that has always been about pick-up-and-play multiplayer, this is criminal. Thankfully, as long as one profile has gone through this ordeal, those items can be accessed by anyone in multiplayer as long as that profile hasn't been deleted. Nonetheless, with 72 holes in the game, this arduous task will take you at least 10 hours.
Earning the coins could not be more tedious. You get a sum of coins for finishing a hole at par or under, which is required to unlock the next hole. You get a sum of coins for collecting 20 tokens scattered about each hole, usually placed in out-of-the-way spots that are easy to reach but you would otherwise have no reason to be anywhere near those spots; only a few tokens require any sort of clever aim or item use. You get a sum of coins for collecting the item crate found somewhere on each hole, which is also what makes new items available for purchase in the store. Lastly, you get a sum of coins for achieving the skill score for a hole.
Now, a skill score for each hole, rewarding the player for skillful play and not necessarily for their par, sounds like an interesting idea. Especially when it is tied to leaderboards. The skill score goal for each hole is almost universally 100,000. As it turns out, everything gives you points, from interacting with the obstacles like sheep, to what par you finish the hole with, to how long your ball is in the air. The only thing that penalizes your score is if you hit the red bars while aiming your shot, which indicates a poor hit and the ball barely moves. At first glance, this seems to reward the player who takes hard-to-aim high-arcing shots, cleverly ricochets off of several obstacles, and finishes the hole under par.
However, this is not the case. It's hard to interact with the obstacles very many times per stroke, and at best they yield one or two thousand points per hit; they're unpredictable, and you're better to avoid them entirely in most cases. Keeping in mind the skill score goal is 100,000, it turns out that a hole in one automatically yields a 100,000 point bonus; an albatross or birdie yields considerably less than that, and you have almost no chance of making up the difference by hitting obstacles. So apparently the skill score is little more than a "Did you get a hole in one?" indicator.
Or is it? You'll recall that the third way to get points is that you gain a few hundred points each second the ball is in the air. Hit a ball directly up with your driver as hard as you can, you earn about 10,000 points by the time the ball touches the ground again. You may also recall the only way to lose points is to misfire a shot, and there is no penalty for finishing over par. I'll let you figure out the rest.
There is some merit to the gameplay in Worms Crazy Golf, when you execute just the shot you wanted, then use spin and your item to get your ball as close to the green as possible. But the problem is that nearly everything else in the game seems poorly conceived and detracts from the experience. The character customization and incredibly useful items are all needlessly locked behind a tedious singleplayer mode. The multiplayer is local-only, incredibly lacking in features, and can't be fully enjoyed until someone has slaved through the singleplayer. The levels all feel the same, each one as unmemorable as the last. And it's not very crazy, featuring only 6 fairly mundane items and 9 slightly crazy obstacles that you encounter with nauseating frequency.
There's an alright idea in there, and it's interesting to see Team17 do something quite different with the Worms series, but the game takes such great effort to make itself hard to enjoy that I can't recommend Worms Crazy Golf to anyone but the most diehard of Worms fans.