Until the last year or so, I had always thought of Team 17 as the “Worms” guys. That’s meant with absolutely no disrespect, but it is the franchise that put them on the map. It’s just one of those games you can keep releasing and loyalists will swarm to in droves, because maiming worms is a sordid pleasure we seem to all enjoy. But it turns out, Team 17 are so much more than Worms. Team 17 are an underrated company, IMMENSELY underrated, in fact. Not just on the developing front, they’ve taken a few gambles on the publishing front, too.
Refusing to be constrained by particular genres, Team 17’s reach even extends to violent, Metroidvania-style games. In a world dominated by game companies that get more publicity than they should do – you know who they are – it’s time to recognize one of the less celebrated, but much respected game companies.
Let’s be honest here, who HASN’T heard of Worms? The sadistic and cruel exploration of worm torture. However you look at it, these instantly recognizable, pink harbingers of destruction have been through many generations of gaming, and they’re still here. Whilst Stormzy is dropping beats, players are still maliciously dropping concrete donkeys onto anthropomorphized worms called Boggy B. Originally making waves in 1995 with Worms, this bizarre, military-strategy game has remained popular ever since. Combining original releases and remasters/remakes, I believe there have been 26 Worms games in the last quarter of a century. And, quite obviously, you don’t commission that many games unless the demand for them is strong.
Clearly people still need their fill of passive-aggressiveness. You don’t want to hurt these adorable guys, but you have to to win! It’s not your fault that the game puts you at the helm of flying sheep with more volatility than when you serve something raw to Gordon Ramsay. A fluffy, IED with a cape seemingly brings out the worst in us. So we should be thankful that Team 17 are creating even more madness for 2020.
As good as anything else that they do, it seems that any attempts to topple Worms as the company’s icon would be superfluous. Worms is a constant, Worms remains a constant, Worms will continue to be a constant as newer generations discover the simplicity of winning a war of words… with Worms. Hallelujah… BOOM.
Ministers Of Multiplayer
One of the reasons Worms has managed to remain a symbol of togetherness is the focus on multiplayer. Whereas others companies channel their efforts into making a single-player beast, and then tacking on a perfunctory, sub-par experience not worthy of tying anyone’s shoes, Team 17 try to harmonize the community. So many of their games can be enjoyed by more than one person. I recently wrote a feature on why I thought that “local co-op never went away“, because much to some people’s chagrin, it hasn’t. I also cited Team 17 as being at the forefront of this sustainment. Even during this period of lockdown, we’ve recommended several of their games to play with people, even non-gamers alike.
Team 17 seem to be moving towards auteur theory territory as the games they develop, and publish, are starting to share some similar themes. For instance, with Overcooked and Moving Out, they both share zany, cartoonish graphics and are intent to cause arguments between friends and family. In one session of Overcooked, I went from loving my fiancee dearly, to wanting to tie her to a railway track because she couldn’t throw me a beef patty. I’m sure the feeling was mutual. Additionally, the art style is akin to Worms, as is the chaotic gameplay. The buck doesn’t stop here as they’ve also helped to publish Golf With Your Friends – sharing similar characteristics – and The Escapists, too.
But Overcooked has really been a revelation for me.
It was free on Playstation Plus, I added it to my library, and subsequently forgot about it. Not for one second did it cross my mind because, “Why do I want to play a game about cooking?” Then, when I needed a game to play with my partner, Overcooked crept its way into the conversation and lo and behold… we loved it. So much so that I got PS Now to play the 2nd one soon after. Team 17 manages to take the simplest, and silliest of concepts, and fashion a rich and rewarding experience out of it. I’ve never gone through the trials and tribulations of it myself, but I’ve heard in the grapevine that the process of moving to a new house sucks.
And yet, Team 17 turns the notion on its head, and creates a full – FUN – game out of it. The company just exudes creativity, and isn’t content to churn out the same generic, open-world game, year after year, charging full price. I feel the success of Overcooked and Moving Out will be pivotal in facilitating the emphasis on local co-op. In an interview with Overcooked makers, Ghost Town Games, it was mentioned that:
By April 2018, Overcooked has sold over 500,000 copies on Switch alone, with Nintendo proudly declaring the figure during its full year financial results. It was such a good fit for Switch that Nintendo agreed to announce its sequel during its E3 press briefing.
I really feel that Nintendo are the pioneers of multiplayer, and they continue to do so with their plethora of multiplayer games. So it’s refreshing when another company identifies a need for this, and tries to compete. Just to be clear, am I saying that Team 17 are the be-all and end-all of multiplayer gaming? Absolutely not. There are other companies doing the same thing, I just think that Team 17 are doing it as well as anyone at the moment.
It’s easy to rest on your laurels when you have a massively successful franchise. Plus, when your company seems to be attributed to a certain style of games, it’s easy to stick to that, and not fall by the way side. However, Team 17 have dipped their toes into a whole range of pools that they’ve either developed, published, or both.
Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust
What a tragically fitting name. It seems baffling to me that Team 17 would want to work on this notoriously sleazy series as it just felt out of left field for them. Team 17 boss, Martyn Brown, was quick to admit that Leisure Suit Larry “didn’t turn out great”. Box Office Bust is one of the worst reviewed games of all-time. Despite the overwhelmingly negative reaction, I respect the fact that the company tried to do something different, and had the wherewithal to quickly distance themselves from it.
Alien Breed Evolution
Completely ditching their usual Looney Tunes aesthetic, Alien Breed Evolution is a reimagining of one of the company’s first pieces of work. Whilst not breaking any ground in the top-down shooter genre, the game is still a more than serviceable addition to their portfolio. As I said, it dispenses with societies assumption of their work, and the grittier, realistic graphics serve to show another side to the company.
Don’t throw tomatoes at me, I know the game is a blatant Lemmings clone. But whereas every other Worms spin-off tightly held onto its recognized branding, Flockers didn’t. I mean, I don’t think anyone asked for these walking clouds to star in their own violent, slaughter simulator, but they got one. If you notice, there isn’t a single mention of the Worms franchise in the official trailer. It would’ve been very easy to do so, and guarantee a few more sales from die-hard Worms fans. Instead, they wanted the game to stand on its own 4 legs.
Schrödinger’s Cat And The Raiders Of The Lost Quark
You’d have thought that the title was worth the admission fee alone. This over-the-top, science story of puzzles and psychedelicness isn’t one that is going to last long in the memory, but Team 17 felt confident enough in the intriguing concept to publish it.
What could’ve been… My excitement for Playtonic’s beautiful platformer couldn’t be contained. A genre that has died more than Kenny, 3D platformers are something that I sorely miss, you bastards! Yooka-Laylee had lots of Banjo-Kazooie coursing through its retro veins and held lots of promise. Whilst, again, not being bad, some issues starved this game of the ability to chomp its way up the food chain. It still did well-enough to earn a sequel, though.
You blaspheme and display blasphemy with your contempt for the enemies of Blasphemous. This gory Castlevania–Dark Souls hybrid, synergises to create a game worthy of standing on its own two feet. Its religious nature will undoubtedly cause unrest between religious zealots, but it’s just a game. A good one that Team 17 took a gamble on, and added another type of game to their bucket list.
The Company IS STILL Growing And Doing Better Than Ever
A combination of record revenue increases, gross profit increases, and going public has helped Team 17’s stock to rise exceptionally. ‘Team 17 revenue jumps 97%‘ is a headline that would catch the eye of anybody, which is why the company is looking to recruit more staff and smaller independent companies to work alongside them. CEO Debbie Bestwick commented on the company’s stance, with regards to the variety of titles they want to be involved in:
“Blasphemous and Hell Let Loose are both examples of us stepping out of our comfort zone,” Bestwick explains. “They’re for an older age group. We are genre agnostic, and we’re not afraid of taking risks.”
Leisure Suit Larry aside, Team 17 have been attributed with generally good games. Not many that will scoop multiple GOTY awards, but also none that would be found in someone’s toilet paper cupboard. You may argue that Naughty Dog and Rockstar create higher quality games, but they are generally similar games with sparse releases. Team 17 continue to expand and innovate over 20 years later. They’ve helped other companies along the way by publishing their games, and they’re now founding new leases of life with divorce-inducing, co-op classics, and much more.