Worm Jazz (Switch) review
"Feels So(rta) Good"
I don't think I've ever seen a game try to sell itself harder on a quirky title alone than Worm Jazz. Certainly, those are two unusual words to juxtapose. For a title comprising just eight letters, they did manage to cram some of the more obscure consonants in there. Definitely some solid Scrabble plays if you lay 'em right. Say what you will about this game, but SEO is not one of its problems.
Although many games' names don't necessarily tell you anything about their gameplay, for some reason it feels like more of a problem that Worm Jazz's doesn't. The elevator pitch is that it's a mildly novel cross between Snake and Bomberman. You control Mr. Mark, an annelid who, according to promotional boilerplate, likes wearing fun hats and listening to smooth jazz. The hats are not exceeedingly fun, nor is the jazz all that smooth, but we'll talk about that later.
Like the snake of phone gaming's Stone Age, Mr. Mark grows by one square each time he eats an apple. But evolution marches onward, and compulsive forward movement and self-immolation are concerns no longer. The conflict now is external: high explosives. Mr. Mark can't survive run-ins with themónot unless, that is, he eats a glowing green apple first. When he eats one, his back end will stay parked, but he'll keep moving forward from where he ate the green apple. Then, when he touches a bomb, he'll only lose length back to the last green sphere he consumed. There are glowing red apples to eat as well, though unlike green ones, they merely provide an inflection point for an explosion and don't prevent further ones.
Together, the green and red apples form the crux of the puzzle-solving. The idea is to strategically time and place your consumption of these so that your explosive segments come to rest next to breakable walls, which you blow up so you can reach more apples. You don't have to eat every apple in a level to pass it, but you're evaluated more highly if you do. The game is refreshingly unconcerned with how you play it. Get some of the apples, get them all, whatever. Make a mistake? Backtrack as many moves as you wantógo all the way back to the start if you need to. Back out and do a whole other level if one gets to be too much. Level progression is best described as linearish. Later levels introduce gimmicks like teleporters, but they're mostly window dressing. The puzzles stimulate the mind, but rarely melt it, and the low-stakes vibe helps diffuse a lot of frustration.
Worm Jazz's aesthetic is clean, if somewhat drab. It starts out dark and rainy and never substantially brightens from there. Mr. Mark's texturelessness gives him an intestinal aspect that, combined with the squishy sounds he makes when he moves, is at least nominally gross. The hats don't add anything to the gameplay, but it's always fun to customize. New ones are earned in marked levels that are typically a little bit ahead of the learning curve for when they appear. You're liable to face a new mechanic for the first time if you go to these as soon as they open up, and though it may make more sense after you see it introduced later in a more lowkey tutorial context, an industrious thinker can sight-read it without excessive troubleóa testament to the game's tight design.
As for smooth jazz, despite Mr. Mark's alleged proclivity for it, it's nowhere in evidence on the soundtrack. There is, in fact, exactly one song in the game, and it's more of a coffee shop kind of jazz; I would not be surprised if it was a royalty-free Creative Commons track. There's nothing smooth about it in the slightest. Smooth jazz is like, Chuck Mangione, Spyro Gyra, Casiopea, the Yellowjackets, David Sanborn, etc. At the risk of exposing the reader to toxic levels of whiteness, I'll go to bat for smooth jazz as an unfairly maligned musical genre. When done right, it's basically just jazz fusion with slicker production values. Sure, there's the Kenny G element, but you can find a lot of hidden gems in the genre if you're patient and willing to dig. I wasn't exactly expecting a celebration of the format, but I'll admit to being non-negligibly disappointed at seeing it trotted out for such a perfunctory use, with no real love for it or conception of what it even is.
In toto, Worm Jazz is an indie puzzler, with all that entails. It won't blow anyone's mind, except Mr. Mark's, repeatedly. And clocking in at just 58 levels, it's hard to call it worth its asking price outside a sale. But if you dig puzzle games, it won't waste your time. Steam or Switch is the way to fly with this one; the puzzles are a little more refined in those ports than on iOS and Android. There's a lot competing with it for your attention on those storefronts, but as long as you don't care that it's completely lying about having any idea what smooth jazz is whatsoever, it's a fine use of your gaming hour.
Featured community review by snowdragon (April 12, 2022)
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