It’s tough to stand out in the free-for-all of Nintendo’s eShop. Despite this, there can be hidden gems buried in the rubble that need dusting off so they can gleam in the spotlight! Writhe might not be the game to catch your eye, but the worth is evident under closer examination. I’m not saying it’s a diamond, but perhaps a shard of brilliant-green peridot! The game is set in a dystopian Bangkok, where giant, mutated Sago Worms have gone rogue and you are a lone ‘Exterminator’ fending off the hoard. Writhe is a classic arcade FPS experience and the tiny development team at Mission Ctrl Studios do their best to pay homage to a simpler time.
Developed by Mission Ctrl Studios
Published by Mission Ctrl Studios
Released: 15th January 2021
I’d describe the typical round in Writhe as a short burst of soda-can-sugar-rush energy! The game is hard. It’s arcade-game hard (it would have definitely gobbled up your quarters back in the day!). The aim is to survive as long as possible, but on my first round I’m ashamed to say I was a little premature, only lasting 27.37 seconds; this happens to everybody once in a while, right? There’s a relentless barrage of enemies and it’s honestly daunting at first. It’s all reaction speed and intuition until you learn the map’s spawn points and get used to the rhythm. You’ll be moving constantly: running, gunning, jumping, keeping your eyes peeled and constantly checking your back.
Here I am, settled snugly between ‘Ultradaddy’ and ‘Butmaster’ with only 35 seconds.
You’re dual-wielding a pair of futuristic neon guns that mirror the classic Joy-cons. The ZR trigger shoots a continuous stream of ‘bullets’ from your E-4300 Plasma Launcher, and the ZL trigger is a powerful blast from the L3 Phosphorus-caster (a shotgun), with a cooldown period to compensate. No other weapons. No reloading. Just shoot the bug-ers! As you battle you will collect Upgrade Gems that will increase the fire rate for your Plasma Launcher or the shot-count for your shotgun. It’s extremely rewarding because by that point you will be crawling with enemies and you’ll need the boosts.
You’ll come across three enemy types in battle. Mostly, you’ll be surrounded by the fleshy, Giant Sago Wyrms; easily dispatchable in a few seconds. There are also green Fusewyrms that explode upon impact, which you can utilise to quickly finish off a cluster of enemies as long as you keep your distance! You’ll either be very thankful or very fearful when the rarer cocoons show up on the battlefield as they drop Grubjuice (health) if you destroy them and are vital to lasting more than 30 seconds! You won’t want to let them mature however, or they will metamorphose into the third and final variant, the much hardier and much faster yellow Bullwyrms! This mechanic encourages you to move around so you don’t just end up cowering in a corner.
There’s something to say about the effort put into the game-feel. When a toothy monstrosity comes diving at me, I genuinely tighten up. Bursting these nasty grubs with a shotgun blast is, to take a quote from Simba, ‘Slimy… Yet satisfying!’ (Please don’t sue!). On top of this, the Joy-Con vibration makes the pulsing rhythm of the guns that much more gratifying. The developers know what they’re doing here.
Notice how low my health bar is, and only 28 seconds in!
I might have appreciated a radar or a damage arrow signalling where I was being attacked from, but this may be going against what was intended by the developers. Likewise, I may have enjoyed a wider variety of enemy types and guns, a grapple hook to escape from danger, or grenades to clear an area quickly, but I think that the point of this game is to revel in its accessible, concise and addictive gameplay loop without having to worry about the complexities of a modern shooter. One area they could have had added more variety without compromising this quality was in the map choice: there are only three to choose from. They’re creatively named Rundown, Jungle and Factory. All of them play well, each requiring a unique approach to best the onslaught, though I could see them become a little tedious over time. Fortunately, the developers have stated that they intend to add some more stages at a later date as free DLC!
I find that the main incentive to keep playing is probably the Online Leaderboard, along with Lore Pages that you can unlock by collecting Gems as you obliterate enemies. The final unlock is 30,000 gems, so I suppose that might motivate you if you’re the completionist type. Besides the ‘New Game’ option, there are no other gameplay modes available. I found myself wishing there were a multiplayer element, or at least a small adventure mode that slowly ramped up the difficulty. In this way they’d introduce mechanics that naturally improve your survival instincts through the level design. Oftentimes in games, a story will pull me through repetitive gameplay. These additions combined with a more brash and up-front sense of humour (a la Doom) could elevate the game and broaden its appeal. A story mode would get people to care about the world in a natural way, as I don’t imagine many people will go out of their way to look through the Lore Pages or ‘The Museum’ on the main menu screen.
The Museum is nonetheless a creative little way to convey the story. You walk through the hall, soaking in the atmosphere, viewing exhibits and reading about the lore. In this way it also acts as a tutorial of sorts, introducing you to enemy types, guns, upgrades, and health items in a less scary setting. It’s preferable to a scroll through of the game models on a menu screen and goes a long way to add some world-building. A good example of this would be the mysterious old Colonel who hangs around the exhibits. This unnamed veteran reminisces his glory days, commanding his Exterminators and plasma-blasting Wyrms between the eyes. Keep talking to him and he might even let you in on how to make crispy chicken!
Isn’t he loveable? It’s like talking to your grandad.
This oddball humour is intertwined with the story and feels vaguely reminiscent of Abe’s Odyssey. If you were curious, the story boils down to a tongue-in-cheek critique on capitalism gone wild. The world has squandered its resources to the point that we now get our essential protein and vitamins through bugs- specifically from Magani’s canned fizzy-drink Grubjuice ‘Energy that gets you wriggling’. The greed of this Corporation has resulted in excessive breeding and genetic modification of Sago Worms to gargantuan sizes, with aims to crush out more delicious goo per abomination. You can imagine why that went wrong! It’s not the most original story in the world, but it doesn’t need to be, it does the job. This darkly comedic take adds some intrigue whilst giving context for the action.
All the options you’d expect are covered. You can invert the camera controls for the Y axis- which hardly feels worth mentioning since you would expect this feature at launch cough 3D All-stars cough. You can alter the control stick sensitivity levels too. I recommend the higher settings considering the fast-paced 1-vs-1000 nature of the gameplay. You will definitely need to be quick on your toes- er, thumbs. The newly added gyro-aiming might be appreciated for this reason, and will feel like home to anyone who’s a fan of it in Splatoon or Doom. I say ‘might’ because I personally found the experience too disorientating due to the cover-your-tuchus-24/7 nature of the gameplay. It’s nice too to have a choice of Graphics Mode: Quality or Performance. As well as this there are some nifty screen filter options: Modern, Retro and CRT- for if you want to fully immerse yourself in the 90s. Whilst it would be better to have a music/ FX slider, you are instead limited to ‘Music on/off’, not that you’d want to turn it off because the soundtrack slams!
Writhe’s techno-heavy, heart-pumping rock charges the atmosphere and compliments the gameplay perfectly. It gets you psyched to play and as the round intensifies the music seems to evolve alongside your mindset as you fall into the flow. The graphics are true to their era and the jagged, polygonal models combined with heavy pixelation put in mind Doom, or Quake, or what a theoretical Metroid 64 could have looked like. The style might be a little off-putting at first glance, especially if you’re younger, but you’ll feel comfortable after a couple of rounds soaked in its pointy glory.
The game was conceived by the husband-and-wife development team, Thomas and Jodi Illari, whose engagement trip to Thailand inspired them to imagine Writhe into existence. I think this explains why there are two Exterminators side-by-side on the start screen, despite the lack of multiplayer. If the passion they put into this game translates to the passion they have for each other, I’m sure they have many happy years ahead of them. Funnily enough, this action-packed gunner about bursting swollen abominations might be the perfect game for Valentine’s Day; symbolising the commitment needed to do anything worth doing.
Just look at them together in this cosy little credits screen. Adorable!
With Writhe, it’s hard to take any criticisms I’ve made too seriously because of the cheap-as-chips price point (US/Canada: $9.99, UK/EU/AU: £7.99). To me, the simplicity of the title is part of its allure, as it’s actually quite refreshing to be limited to such focused gameplay. I will be revisiting the game in short bursts to see if I can beat my high scores, and I eagerly await the upcoming maps. Mission Ctrl Studios have made a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails, and frantically fun FPS of the Arcade era, and I sincerely hope that it’s finding it’s audience! If from what you have read you think you might be one of their targets, let yourself take the (adrenaline) shot to the chest here and blast your way through the slew of nasties to the top of the leader boards!
Go on, see if you can beat my best times:
- Rundown: 120.37s
- Jungle: 156.47s
- Factory: 122.01s