A few months ago, I read a horror novel titled, “The Conqueror Worms” by Brian Keane. It tells the story of a world overrun by massive, worm-like creatures that are brought to the earth’s surface after a never ending deluge of rain. The book was the first of a series, which Keane titled the Earthworm Gods. Part creature feature, part H.P Lovecraft-style cosmic horror, the book was a fun bit of fiction that warned of the creeping horror always beneath our feet.
The 1983 game Worm Whomper, designed by Tom Loughry for Activision, and released on the Intellivision platform, provided a similar (if slightly less dramatic) lesson. In the game, you controlled a foolish farmer named Pinkerton Felton, who decided to visit the local fair instead of spraying his crops with pesticide. As a result, he must confront hordes of invading pests, ranging from worms, snakes, and snails to slugs and moths.
The gameplay was somewhat similar to the game Plants vs. Zombies, except if you failed at this, you simply lost ears of corn and not your brain. In Worm Whomper, you fought the bugs off with a spray gun of pesticides and plough balls that destroyed everything in their path. Your crop sat on the left side of the screen and the invading hordes approached from the right. If any critter besides an inchworm touched your gun it was killed, but it also made your weapon dissolve. You then had to run to your toolshed to acquire a new weapon. Snails had a shell which was resistant to pesticide. They also left behind a trail of slime that helped inchworms gain speed when they slipped over it. Moths laid eggs which transformed into inchworms. If an inchworm touched your corn, it would change colors. A second earthworm would make it whither up and die. Other pests (beside moths, which only laid eggs) attacked and ate your corn on contact.
You progressed to new levels by eliminating every pest. With each new level, more pests invaded the farm. They gained in speed as well as number. The game ended when all of your corn was eaten.
The game’s manual included one page of helpful tips titled, “How to Be A Worm Whomper” which was written by Loughry, and included advice about which creatures to focus on first and when to use specific weapons like the plough ball.
Though a bit simplistic, the game was a fun, frenetic diversion that took a little strategy, and quick fingers (which were sure to get stiff if you played for too long).