Gaming mascots and characters famously come and go, especially those from the busy 16-bit era, but some have notably stayed with us since their inception. The likes of Mario and Sonic instantly come to mind, but one British-made success still with us today are the cute and characteristic Worms. First released in 1995, the game's winning formula has barely changed in modern releases; controlling a squad of four worms in a randomly-generated landscape, players must take turns to attack opposing teams with a host of madcap weapons, from bouncing sheep to banana bombs. Its tactical yet often unpredictable nature made it an equally tense and incredibly enjoyable social experience.
"The reason [for a drop in releases is] because publishers didn't see that 2D game as a viable option on a mainstream console," said John Dennis, Team 17's head of design. "At the time, certainly in the early 2000s, publishers were having a great deal of success with 3D products, like Tomb Raider, that were forging ahead in creating a mass culture of gaming on the original PlayStation. And maybe, to those publishers at the time, Worms, a kind of old, retro 2D game, maybe didn't seem to be an obvious fit for those consoles."
Despite the reduction in new Worms releases, the studio didn't suffer as a result. Dennis said Team 17 was "knocking along quite nicely" during that time, thanks to successful handheld releases such as Worms: Open Warfare and Worms: Battle Islands, the former of which was praised and highlighted by Sony for making use of the PSP's many features. Portable platforms easily became a natural fit for a 2D franchise, but it was still notably absent from the forefront of the gaming landscape for a number of years.
Worms' fortunes changed with the release of Xbox 360 and the advent of digital distribution. The Xbox Live Arcade marketplace could mean that smaller titles such as Worms could be sold to consumers online, without the need for a publisher and at a far smaller cost to the developer than a boxed product. While Xbox Live Arcade is a thriving destination today, at the system's release in 2007 it was an unknown quantity, but Team 17 decided to self-finance and self-publish the title for the console's launch period, a gamble which paid off dividends.
Worms was back; console marketplaces like Xbox Live and PSN , Steam on PC and especially the arrival of iPhone and iPad's App Store meant that the franchise has seen a strong resurgence in recent years, and one that fans responded to favourably. Team 17 has since released numerous downloadable Worms offerings, many of which have been described as the "ultimate expression" of previous works; Worms: Reloaded and Worms 2: Armageddon are a culmination of their 2D efforts, while the recent Worms: Ultimate Mayhem on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and PC is the same again but with the franchise's 3D editions.
Team 17 is currently working on Works: Crazy Golf, which combines traditional golf elements, such as fairways, bunkers and greens, with Worms' trademark weapons and humour. Featuring puzzle-like elements that has players figure out how to reach the hole, there are old women to avoid, castles that spit out the ball towards a new direction, and mid-air ball modifiers such as parachutes that slow its descent.
But with these "ultimate expressions" released, where can the Worms franchise go next? Perrie teases a "really exciting" announcement next year, which is suggested to merge previous Worms gameplay styles into something new. "As John [Dennis] said, having drawn the line under what we think is the best expression of both the 2D and 3D, we look to take Worms on again into some really interesting areas." He continued: "Whatever we do next, we'll take the best elements from both sides and look to use them as we see fit, absolutely... We certainly think our learnings from what we did with these two versions will be taken into what you see in Worms going forward, next time."
Worms: Ultimate Mayhem is available now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Worms: Crazy Golf will be available on PC, PSN and iOS later this month.