At the back of every game shelf, at the bottom of every YouTube favourites list, in the dark recesses of every gamer's heart, they live. Games with which we are far too familiar, games that some of us have taken a near-masochistic pride in seeking out. Superman. E.T. Super Noah's Ark 3D. These are some of the worst games ever made. And now comes Paper Wars: Cannon Fodder, the press campaign of which claims to top them all. "This is a warning: do not even try to play it," says the release, speaking of outsourcing to Poland and Hungary to produce the game "in the cheapest way you can imagine," mocking its own hand-drawn graphics and uninspired plot while slyly hinting at its positive aspects. But presentation is about where this "purposely bad game" business ends.
It's one of the smarter ad campaigns we've seen, especially for a downloadable title, and it's definitely better than the alternative – emphasising why yours is the tower defence title that players ought to buy, why its concepts are so original and why you should ignore the fact that it's available for iOS and Android at a lower price. Paper Wars is all of these things, but for 500 Wii Points you're getting a pretty nice package with a good amount of content, even if it is the whole boy-meets-tower boy-defends-tower story all over again.
Your goal is simple: blow up enemy forces before they reach the left side of the screen. If you defeat enough, you win; if too many cross over, you lose. The small stage size is perhaps Cannon Fodder's biggest flaw – there's so little time to destroy your enemies that it's easy to occasionally become overwhelmed. You can fire a normal weapon or a special missile by holding A or B respectively until a gauge fills up to a small degree; you can't rapid-fire, and the longer you hold the button down, the bigger the explosion. This gives things an interesting rhythm that forces you to think ahead instead of button-mashing, and the controlled chaos that results makes the experience quite fun.
You can play either Campaign or Survival mode; the former breaks up into separate solo missions with a bit of narrative in between, while the latter pits you against an endless wave-after-wave onslaught for one to four players. Best of all, the main mode breaks up into three variations: Classic Campaign, Winter Assault and Cyber Wars (which the game hilariously opens with "Welcome in the Cyberspace where everything is possible.") In a game that calls itself the worst ever, you might think that these are simple re-skins, but happily they're indeed unique collections of missions featuring different enemies, power-up, special weapon variations and more. Each feels somewhat unique, especially thanks to new challenges like ammo limitation and the colour-coded weaponry of Cyber Wars – you'll switch between red, green and blue bullets with the D-Pad to defeat the corresponding enemies while knocking everyone else about unharmed. It changes the way you must play and strategise, and that's enough to add a good deal of replay value. Each campaign features 28 missions that you can experience over three difficulty settings, and you can earn medals based on performance as well as unlock achievements.
Unfortunately, the difficulty level spikes abruptly in the latter two campaigns, even on the easiest setting. A challenge is definitely a good thing, and the willing can get through these spots with persistence, but they come unexpectedly early and can really deter you from wanting to continue.
Most of the "worst game ever" claim boils down to Cannon Fodder's presentation. The enemies are crudely drawn, simplistically animated stick figures, everything comes on a cut-out moving piece of notebook paper and the writing is full of grammar mistakes, upside-down or backward letters and, for some reason, the letter "z" replacing "s". To top it off, every level is set atop a JPEG image of a lawn or something. It's actually quite charming, especially when a little paper explosion pops up, and it's good to see such commitment to a style. As for the audio, the menu music may prove odd and repetitive, but in-game it's overall not so bad either.
Paper Wars is far from the worst game ever, though kudos to iFunForAll for getting our attention with its hilarious press campaign. Lots of content and three unique mission sets make it quite the enjoyable tower defence title, and four-player Survival Mode is a treat. Small level size and some unfortunate difficulty spikes keep the experience from becoming as good as it ought to, however, but this is nevertheless one worth checking out.