Crazy Penguin Wars brings real-time Worms-style combat to Facebook

Play Crazy Penguin Wars for about five minutes, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the craziest thing about it is its shameless emulation of Team17’s popular Worms franchise. Were I the lazy sort, I could probably label it “Worms dressed up in a penguin suit” and leave my review at that. For the most part, I’d be right. But Crazy Penguin Wars brings its own share of surprises, meager though they may be, and it demonstrates just how far multiplayer gaming has evolved on Facebook in recent years. It’s a great game if you’re craving synchronous multiplayer action on Facebook, and even if you don’t care for its mimicking of a beloved franchise, it’s worth playing as a test run for how Team17’s own Worms port will fare upon its release.

Of course, if you’ve never played a Worms game before, it won’t take long to realize why the concept has been so popular for the last 17 years despite only a few changes. Both games center on turn-based combat between four players on a destructible landscape, and you spend each level trying to kill your opponents with an arsenal of weapons that can include everything from boxing gloves to missile launchers. In theory, developer Digital Chocolate has upped the ante here by creating challenging maps that mimic other popular games like Angry Birds. The turn-based nature of the combat also always succeeds in adding a degree of suspense to each round, particularly when you realize that your sloppy firing on the last round will allow one of your opponents to finish you off in the one.


Indeed, that human element is what makes Crazy Penguin Wars (and Worms, by extension) so fun to play, and developer Digital Chocolate doesn’t waste any time in throwing you in with matches with other players in real time. Sure, you can create a practice match that lets you test out your arsenal on the AI, but the core of the game rests on outsmarting other random Facebook members via a synchronous multiplayer setting that works beautifully. Even so soon after its launch, matches come easy and often, with two minutes being the most I’ve ever had to wait to try out whatever toys I earned from the previous round.

Unfortunately, it’s those toys that have the potential to ruin the experience for everyone. With a good chunk of cash, you can buy a set of weapons that render you a god on the battlefield, and for less than the equivalent of $2.00, you can buy boosters that increase your attack power by 50%. It’s still possible for a careful player to win against these odds without buying similar perks, but only in the same sense that’s possible for a flag to stay on a flagpole in a hurricane.

Crazy Penguin Wars

To be fair, Digital Chocolate lessens the impact somewhat by allowing you to respawn randomly after a death (instead of knocking you out of the game entirely, as in Worms); the outcome of a match instead hinges on the number of accumulated points by the time the timer is up. But even so, it’s a dire example of the challenges involved in bringing such a game to a free-to-play social setting, and it’s worth wondering how Team17 will handle it in their own Worms game later this year.

Matches only last for a couple of minutes, though, so you don’t have to worry about wasting your time against these god-penguins for long you’re getting pummeled. Indeed, Crazy Penguin Wars is full of smart little design decisions such as these — decisions that mark a clear attempt to counter concerns of players paying to win and a slavish imitation of its inspiration. They’re enough to mark it as a fun game in its own right, although we’ll be watching to see how it fares against Team17’s own recently announced offering. For now, though, Crazy Penguin Wars is one of those few games that fly in the face of criticisms that there are no “true” games on Facebook, and Digital Chocolate’s gall here may paved the way for similar appearance from other beloved franchises.