Genre mashups are an interesting thing. They're new, but at the same time they're not; we know how these genres play separately, but how are they when you mix the two together? Fingers are crossed for a good product, but there's always the risk of a Frankenstein's monster in cartridge form roaming the gaming landscape. Nevertheless, sometimes something good comes from these things. Henry Hatsworth for the DS is a recent example; a platformer combined with a puzzle game sounds like it shouldn't mix, but somehow it does. Certain genres go together like peanut butter and chocolate, meshing together to create a delicious Reese's cup of gameplay. Other mixes aren't as good, and come together about as well as oil and water. Finally, you get things that are middle-of-the-road; they don't mix quite as well as they should, but the creation isn't a monstrosity that should be put out of its misery. WURM is one of those middle things, and for what it is, it's not too bad.
With the release of Ninja Gaiden, game developers realized that they no longer had to craft silly explanations for their games. Never again would developers be foreed to craft something completely stupid exclusively for their game's manual, to attempt to justify the 8-bit motives of the characters. (I'm looking in your direction, Higharolla Cockamamie.) Now we could draw little anime cutscenes, and ANIMATE all that stupid shit! The developers of WURM must have really loved Ninja Gaiden, or anime in general, because this game is peppered with cutscenes explaining the "plot". In a nutshell; The year is the far-off future of "1999". Big old drilling machines called VZRs (that stands for Vadolzer somehow, which kind of sounds like an Engrish way of saying "Bulldozer") are exploring deep below the Earth's surface. When four of the things vanish, a fifth one is sent down, manned by some sort of special soldiers, in order to figure out where the hell the other ones went. It's a simple enough plot, but it's mostly backstory; the majority of the cutscenes are your characters in the cockpit of the VZR-5, reacting to earthquakes and monsters and other stuff.
After that lovely thesis statement about genre mashups, it has likely been deduced that WURM mixes popular video game genres together somehow. The first encountered is the ever-classic shmup. WURM does things a little differently than something like Gradius; you actually have a life bar, and it regenerates itself if you lose life. It may sound easy, but there's no invincibility time if you get hit. Running into an enemy or a wall will repeatedly drain your health, and in about two seconds you'll be dead. There's only one life, but you have infinite continues. Compared to other shmups of the era, it's still pretty straightforward and simple. The game throws a few more interesting twists into these sections, like being able to drill through rock to get where you need to go. In another strange move, you have a fuel gauge. The VZR can hover, and hovering drains fuel. Losing all your fuel is a death, but killing enemies will leave behind fuel powerups to refill the meter. Later in the game, the VZR gains different weapons, and the ability to turn into a spaceship that shoots lasers. Also of note is that some of the shmup stages are vertically-scrolling, like 1942. Other than the way the screen moves, these stages play exactly the same as the sidescrolling ones.
The second "genre" in the game is hard to classify, because it's a mixing of genres... IN a mix of genres. Pick up your brain fragments for this one; it's a first-person perspective boss battle mode. You can move your targeting crosshairs around the screen, and moving against the left or right moves you along that direction; so you're kind of like a turret. The boss will show up, and you have to shoot at its weak point. How you find its weak point is the other part of it; every so often, a break in the action will occur. You can take this time to change your weapons to an element that suits the situation, or to talk with your crew. The right crew member will give you the information you need to beat the boss, and increase your possibilty factor. WURM is about the only game ever made to have a possibility meter; successful hits and talking to the right crew members increases it. When possibilty is at 100%, a hit against the boss will kill it. Of course, what this boils down to most of the time is mashing the talk buttons to talk to that one guy who gives you an extra 1 or 2 percent on the meter. It's innovative, to be sure, but it can easily become an exercise in frustration.
The final game mode to pop its head into the fray is good old-fashioned platforming.. sort of. Your player character is the captain of the VZR, a girl (!) named Moby. Moby is awesome, and was with the green hair look a good 3 or 4 years before Terra came along. The platforming sections are somewhat ingrained into the story; you go around a small area, and find NPCs to unlock other sections of the stage, until you reach the end. Each area has several "floors" that you can reach by dropping down pits, and is set up kind of like a maze; it can be easy to lose your bearings. To defend herself, Moby has some sort of laser gun. Don't fire it wastefully, as it has ammo. LIMITED ammo, to be precise. You're better off just using your melee attack, which is a high kick. The platforming elements are much better done than other really awful NES platformers, but it still holds no contest against something like Mario or Mega Man.
One last thing to address, because it needs to be brought up; the ending. Most games of the 8-bit era had simple endings, which were especially common and infuriating in especially difficult titles like Gradius, Ghosts n' Goblins, or Battletoads; after all your sweat and tears, you just get a CONGRATULATIONS and that's that. This is not the case with WURM, but it might have been better if it was. The ending to WURM is, personally, one of the most confusing and anti-climactic things I have ever seen in an electronic video game. Small clues to it were thrown about with ancient stone tablets you find during the game, and it's the payoff that gets you. Not to spoil too much, but it involves:
-thermonuclear war thousands of years ago
-a thinly-veiled anti-nuclear war message
And then that's it. The entire thing is just a black screen with text, and the game just ends. You learn nothing about the fate of your characters, or the other VZR crew members. All you get is this nonsensical exposition, and then it's all over. Endut, go home, turn off the NES and slap some Ninja Gaiden in there. It boggles the mind, and merely thinking about it causes headaches.
So, that's WURM. Two kinds of shmup with a side of platformer, and FPS and RPG to season. How does it taste? ..Okay. WURM is not a bad game, but at the same time, WURM is not an especially good game. The various genres never really mix, and are just kind of.. there. It's short, though, and not all that difficult; a day's work can conquer the thing. The story is cheesy, but it's comprehendable until the ending. (One particular plot twist late into the game was the first time a video game ever made me misty-eyed; suck that, certain woman in pink.) All in all, it's worth looking up. Just don't expect a perfect marriage of genres, or a great conclusion.